Many experts consider 1968 one of the most consequential years in U.S. history. The nation was at a crossroads after terrible tragedies, looking for young leaders to pave the way for a better tomorrow. UNC Kenan-Flagler was among those in higher education molding the next generation of leaders expected to fix so much of what had gone wrong.
That year, Douglas A. Elvers arrived on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. Since then, he has dedicated himself to shaping young leaders and making extraordinary contributions in research, teaching and service that have influenced young lives and the School’s trajectory.
Elvers’ service to School and the University are legendary and includes leading in two roles twice: associate dean of the Undergraduate Business Program (UBP) and area chair of operations. He also served as associate director of the full-time MBA Program and associate dean for administration. In recent years, he has contributed extensive and essential work on accreditation for UNC Kenan-Flagler. Elvers oversaw the transformational procedure of devising a separate admissions process for business majors, and the UBP received top rankings and assessments.
When the School planned the move from Carroll Hall to McColl Building in the late 1990s, Elvers put his operations expertise into practice. He analyzed Chapel Hill Transit bus routes on Skipper Bowles Drive, which resulted in adjusting a route schedule and introducing a new one. The result was more timely travel for undergraduate students from central campus points and McColl, which aids in class scheduling and continues to serve the campus community today.
Developing a Global Perspective
Elvers made his biggest impact by looking at business education through a global lens – some 30 years before study abroad experiences were an expectation for undergraduate students.
As the Berlin Wall fell in Germany in 1989, Elvers recognized something lacking in the Carolina curriculum. “We were not teaching enough about what was going on in Europe and elsewhere,” he says.
Elvers changed that. He shifted from teaching operations to focusing on international studies. He created the initial undergraduate course in international business, and it was a game changer for Elvers – and the UBP. He has taught that class every semester since 1990, and he is teaching it again in the 2018-19 academic year.
From 1990 to 2004, he taught 48 courses outside the U.S. in conjunction with the UNC Summer School and endorsed by the UNC Kenan-Flagler faculty. He took students to England, Germany and Belgium, and taught as a visiting professor in Nigeria, Germany, South Africa, England, Venezuela and Austria.
“By teaching in these different environments, I picked up different viewpoints,” says Elvers.
Going the Extra Mile
Elvers also contributed through his research. His scholarship focused on job shop schedules and project management. When former UNC Kenan-Flagler dean Paul Rizzo asked the operations area to consider establishing a Center for Manufacturing Excellence, Elvers led the initiative. He surveyed all the manufacturing centers that existed at the time, published two papers and became a recognized expert in center organization and management.
He taught eight different operations courses in the operations area, including business statistics and quantitative methods. And he won numerous awards, including the Tanner Award, the UNC Kenan-Flagler Undergraduate Teaching Award (now the Weatherspoon Award), Senior Class of 1994 Favorite Faculty Award and the Phi Beta Lambda Best Professor Award.
Devotion is a key word in Elvers’ life. It does not just apply to his role at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Having earned his bachelor of science, mechanical engineering degree from Purdue University, his master’s in business administration from Indiana University and his Ph.D. from University of Michigan, Elvers remains loyal to all three alma maters. Notably, he was the chief drum major of the Purdue “all American” Marching Band and still leads the alumni band for homecoming weekends.
Elvers also sings regularly in a church choir and formerly sang in a barbershop chorus, and he has conducted hefty genealogical research. His family is, of course, important to him. His late wife Carol, to whom he was married for 54 years, often joined him on trips abroad with students and was the ideal “den mom.” Elvers and his wife had three children – one son and two daughters –and their granddaughter studied abroad in Prague as a student at North Carolina State University.
The ‘Best Type of Colleague’
“All faculty who have worked with Doug over the years have described him as the best type of colleague,” says Doug Shackelford, dean and Meade H. Willis Distinguished Professor of Taxation. “He is an incredibly kind and charming person who has worked tirelessly for the last 50 years to make the School a better place.”
When Richard Bettis, Ellison Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, first arrived at Carolina in 1992, he noticed Elvers wearing one of his many European currency and European flag ties. They began a conversation about the EU that continues to this day. “Because of Doug’s deep knowledge of Europe and Germany, in particular, it’s always engaging to discuss the latest – usually unexpected – developments. Who would have thought in 1992 we would be taking about Brexit in 2018?”
“Doug is extremely accomplished in multiple ways, but always humble,” says Bettis. “He has had a profound impact on the lives of many students that is unmeasurable, but is enormous. He is what was once referred to as a ‘gentleman and scholar.’”
For Elvers, interacting with students has been deeply rewarding. “It’s a case of enjoyment of being with students at the age they are. I teach mostly seniors, who are well prepared and inquisitive about the world,” says Elvers. “I feel all students, when they leave this class, will carry on discussions about what will happen in the world.”
He has faith they will change it for the better.