Please remember in your prayers Dr. Susan Heckler, a longtime University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business faculty member and the Opus Distinguished Endowed Chair in Marketing, who died Tuesday morning, Jan. 18, of complications due to kidney failure. She was 55.
Heckler began her professional career as a chemist, earning her undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Minnesota. She worked as a research assistant for Honeywell , then as a development chemist for Celanese Corp. in Louisville, Ky. She went on to earn an M.B.A. and Ph.D. in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing, from the University of Minnesota in 1987.
Heckler first joined the University of St. Thomas in 1984 as assistant professor of marketing. She went on to serve as visiting assistant professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan, professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Arizona in Tucson and visiting professor of marketing at Georgetown University. She rejoined St. Thomas in 2003 as Opus Distinguished Endowed Chair in Marketing at the Opus College of Business, where she not only taught classes, but mentored new faculty.
“I was just a freshly minted Ph.D. when I arrived at UST in 2005,” says Avinash Malshe of the college’s marketing department. “Susan was already an accomplished scholar and a renowned teacher in her own right at that time. But a genuine human being she was; she literally took me under her wings … guided me, counseled me, and allowed me to find my own rhythm within the demanding UST MBA program. Even after five years, I still vividly remember and will forever cherish my first semester at UST since I co-taught that entire semester with Susan.”
As a founding member of the core faculty of the Full-time UST MBA program, Heckler was very influential in the program design and formation. She taught the core marketing course and a course that she had designed earlier in her career and modified for the program.
“The Applied Business Research course is one of the signature experiences in the full-time program,” says Dr. Teresa Rothausen-Vange, founding director of the Full-time UST MBA program and professor of management at the Opus College of Business. “It is a carefully designed real business project in which our students investigate a business issue for a real company, perform original research and make recommendations. In addition to these contributions, Susan mentored colleagues with less experience and worked with the program director and other administrators to help them develop the key pieces necessary for a world-class, full-time MBA program.”
Dr. John Sailors currently teaches the Applied Business Research course. “I have the tremendous privilege to teach our Applied Business Research course, which Susan conceptualized and developed and which she helped me understand when we co-taught the course in the spring of 2007. Not surprisingly, Susan was ahead of her time when she first began putting together the experiential learning course in the mid-1980s that would one day become ABR. Susan had the vision to see this course not only as a means of making managers better users of research, but also as a vehicle for fostering and developing their project management, client management, communication and leadership skills.”
Heckler was a key contributor not only to the curriculum but to the promotion of the Full-time UST MBA program when it was launched in 2003. “She provided me with wonderful advertising expertise when we were beginning to promote the college to a regional and national audience,” recalls Joanna Nute, former executive director of external relations for the college. “For three or four years, she and I would meet to discuss the year’s ad plan. She was a great strategic thinker.”
A gifted scholar, Heckler used her considerable analytical skills in her research. Her findings were published in top peer-reviewed journals throughout her career, including the Journal of Marketing Research, the Journal of Consumer Research and Psychology and Marketing. She served on the editorial board of the Journal of Marketing for 10 years and contributed chapters to numerous scholarly works. In addition, she was a sought-after conference presenter.
Heckler was also a passionate teacher. “Susan brought a deeply caring personal touch to her teaching that students responded to in combination with her experience and expertise,” Rothausen-Vange noted. During her teaching career, Heckler won numerous awards, among them Outstanding MBA Faculty from the University of Arizona in 1995-96 and again in 1998-99, and a Special Award for Excellence in Service to the Faculty from the University of Arizona in 2000. Also while at Arizona, she was elected to the position of secretary of the faculty, one of the highest-ranked governance officers among the 3,000-member university faculty.
“She challenged the students but also supported them every step of the way,” remembers Sailors, “and that legacy is one that I try to honor every spring when I begin working with the current first-year MBAs on a new set of projects.
“More than a passionate teacher and brilliant researcher, Susan was the most gentle of souls and generous to a fault. I am richer for having known and worked with her. Her time with us was too short and she will be missed every bit as much as she was loved.”
Heckler is survived by her husband, Dr. Christopher Puto.
Visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 20, at the Welander Quist Davies Chapel, 2301 Dupont Ave. S., Minneapolis. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 21, at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.
In lieu of flowers, memorials will be donated to organizations of which Heckler was an ardent supporter: Susan G. Komen for the Cure, The Nature Conservancy and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.