John Torrens, professor of entrepreneurial practice (Pop), started his collegiate studies at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music to pursue a music education degree. He changed his major to speech-language pathology his first semester after a visit to an area elementary school to watch a clarinet lesson made it clear to him that was not the right career path. His love for music never waned and, today, he quenches his thirst for performing as a fill-in saxophonist in a local cover band called The Mere Mortals.
As is typically the case with successful entrepreneurs, Torrens did not visualize himself owning a business when he took his first job as speech-language pathologist. Also common to many entrepreneurs, he could not help but notice areas for improvement in the company where he worked. He had a knack for seeing where efficiencies could be gained and processes improved.
After a few positions in speech-language pathology, he started his own practice, InterActive Therapy Group (ITG), a provider of medical and educational rehabilitation services for young children with disabilities. It was a small, solo practice he started out of his home, but he began adding therapists and services and grew the company into five locations with 250 employees. “I was earning my PhD as I was growing the company. I treated the business as a lab experiment for all my courses,” explains Torrens. He decided to sell the company in 2008. In 2011, he bought back three of the sites.
While trying to organize an entrepreneurship boot camp for teenagers for an organization near to his heart, Torrens met Mike Haynie, the Barnes professor of entrepreneurship at Whitman and executive director and founder of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse, who helped him set up the program. “When Mike learned I was an entrepreneur with a terminal degree in business, he thought I should teach a course,” says Torrens. He was hired as an adjunct, and quickly fell in love with teaching.
Today, Torrens is a full-time PoP and engages more fully in his business and consulting practice during the summer months and on school breaks. He also travels to military bases around the globe to teach in the Institute for Veterans and Military Families’ Boots2Business Program through which transitioning service members are given classes on small business ownership as a vocational option after separation from military service.
“We have a fun, collegial group of dedicated teachers and scholars,” Torrens shares of the entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises department. “It is a privilege to be part of this team.”
Including personal experiences in his teaching is common for Torrens. He believes those stories help illustrate the key takeaways of the lesson. “I find that making it personal on occasion really resonates with students. By sharing where things went wrong for me, they can learn from my mistakes.”
Beyond the obvious value of his first-hand business perspective, students also benefit from Torrens’ network of professionals and executives. “I feel that a lot of the value I deliver comes outside of the classroom when I mentor or coach student teams and connect them to people in my network who may be of help in their career pursuits.”
Torrens thoroughly enjoys teaching—and learning—at Whitman. “The thing I love most is the opportunity to connect with and learn from my students. They constantly teach me something new, and I enjoy staying in contact with them as they go out into the world and take on greater leadership roles. It is rewarding to watch their career trajectories.”