“One of the things that always interested me as a kid was being a detective and solving problems and mysteries. As I got older, I discovered it’s very similar to what academics do on the research side. They solve problems by researching, analyzing and coming up with conclusions,” he says.
McKelvie, chair and associate professor of entrepreneurship, joined Whitman in 2007, and the following year he received the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) best doctoral dissertation award. Since then, he has published widely in leading entrepreneurship and management journals on topics such as new firm growth, innovation and entrepreneurial decision making.
A native of Pointe-Claire, Quebec, McKelvie pursued his bachelor’s degree at Bishop’s University, a small liberal arts college in Lennoxville, Quebec, just east of Montréal. The school is home to 2,000-plus undergraduates and boasts a residential, tight-knit community experience. Both of his parents are also Bishop’s alumni.
His mother, Janet, went on to become a teacher, then an elementary school librarian. His brother, Peter, followed in her footsteps and became a high school teacher. His father, Don, became an accountant, worked for a few large firms such as Chanel, and now works for a start-up finance company in Montréal.
“My dad has the business sense. My mom has the reading and teacher-type of approach. Growing up, she encouraged my brother and me to do a lot of reading at home,” shares McKelvie.
McKelvie showed early on that he had already picked up a keen sense of business from his father. “My mom often reminds me of the many times I would try to sell people stuff. I was a swimmer, I was about 8 years old, and the swim team would go on out-of-town trips. We’d go to dinner at a restaurant and I’d order 10 escargots for $4. I’d sell four of them to my friends for $1 each, so I’d make my $4 back and get six escargots for free,” he recalls.
He took that business sense from Bishop’s to Jönköping International Business School in Sweden, where he had the opportunity to attend a weeklong international business conference. The trip was made possible through Bishop’s participation in an extensive international business network of more than 300 partner universities.
“One of my good friends had been [to Jönköping] and I had several Swedish friends at Bishop’s. They all said I should go to the conference and take a look around,” he remembers.
McKelvie finished his master’s as well as his Ph.D. at Jönköping. When it was time to look for a faculty job, the McKelvies found Syracuse to be exactly what they had in mind. The young couple considered that, if they were going to be far away from Lena’s family in Sweden, they wanted to be relatively close to Alex’s family in Montréal.
“We said we’d like to be somewhere in the Northeast. That was the first thing. The second thing was I wanted to be at a place where entrepreneurship mattered,” McKelvie says.
Syracuse met both of those criteria. With a top-ranked entrepreneurship program and several young, highly regarded faculty already at the school, Whitman seemed like the easy, perfect choice.
“Mike Haynie (Barnes professor of entrepreneurship) had just joined the faculty and Dave Wilemon (now an emeritus professor of marketing) and Minet Schindehutte (associate professor of entrepreneurship) were here. They also had a developed entrepreneurship department with research, teaching and outreach in place that made it quite unique in the world. The other thing is that we really liked the Syracuse area—it is a relatively small town, friendly people, easy to get around, low cost of living, has good sports teams and other cultural and outdoor things, so we felt it was a good fit,” he says.
And McKelvie, who has worked with a number of informal businesses and start-ups, has been a good fit for Whitman. Granted tenure last May, McKelvie was a 2012 recipient of Syracuse University’s prestigious Meredith Teaching Award. Over the past three years, he has been recognized with Whitman’s Guttag Junior Faculty Award. In 2011, he was a finalist for Whitman’s Teaching Innovation Award and the winner of its Outstanding Entrepreneurship Educator award. Most recently, he received the Stevens Institute/Wesley J. Howe Best Paper Award in Corporate Entrepreneurship at the 2012 Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference.
Now, McKelvie has helped the department establish a fourth track focused on family business. He also works with Whitman’s Career Center in educating recruiters about the unique skill sets of entrepreneurship students, and, on the flip side, helps entrepreneurship students articulate what they can do for a more established company.
McKelvie says he likes the private detective part of being an academic—research, analysis, drawing conclusions. But when it comes down to it, his “wow” moments are seeing his students thrive and grow.
While teaching the Capstone course (EEE457 – Entrepreneurial and Strategic Management), a required course of all Whitman seniors regardless of their major, McKelvie says he’ll get resistance from some students who feel an entrepreneurship class is not for them. But the students undergo a transformation throughout the semester as they realize how important entrepreneurship is for every type of company regardless of size or industry.
“Over the process of 13-14 weeks, I see them coming up with their own idea that’s creative and novel, collect all their research from surveys and through secondary sources, then put their business plan together. Then I watch them perform and make this business plan pitch to a group of professionals in suits” says McKelvie.”They’re truly amazing.”
[Reprinted from the Fall 2013 issue of Whitman magazine]