Talking career, passion and life lessons with ONU Global's Jeff Doolittle
Olivet Nazarene University proudly graduates students each spring in anticipation of sending alumni into successful careers in a variety of industries. While proud that its alumni find ways to serve God and humanity throughout the world, Olivet also celebrates when its alumni return to the University to work as a faculty or staff member.
After two decades of human resources work with Fortune 100 and Forbes 25 companies, Jeff Doolittle ’90/’98 MBA, “came home” to Olivet as the associate dean for the Institute of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship with ONU Global.
Jeff’s responsibilities include overseeing four programs and working with corporate partners to provide educational solutions ranging from non-credit-bearing professional development courses to degree programs. Jeff and his wife, Kelly (Morse) ’91 live in Byron Center, Michigan. They have three children: Cole ’19, current Olivet sophomore Morgan and MacKenzie.
The following is the extended version of the interview published in the winter 2020 issue of Olivet The Magazine.
Olivet The Magazine (OTM): You have earned two degrees from Olivet. Were there any faculty members who had a significant impact on your time as a student?
Jeff Doolittle (JD): In my undergraduate program, my mentor was Dr. Randy Johnson. His first year at Olivet was my freshman year. I had moved from South Carolina and didn’t know many people in the area. Dr. Johnson opened up his life and family, accepting me as a quasi-member of his family. His guidance and leading transformed me both academically and spiritually. A few years later while working on my MBA, I had an organizational communication class with Dr. Jay Martinson ’86. He introduced me to organizational structure — a combination of organization communication and human relationships — how people work and interact. It was the combination of the passion that Dr. Martinson brought to the class with the topic of organizational communication that interested me and eventually led to one of my most significant decisions to change my career and move into human resource development.
OTM: With more than 20 years in human resources, ranging from training coordinator to manager to director to global leadership across different industries, what were the most pressing issues or challenges that you encountered with the leadership teams of Fortune 100 and Forbes 25 private companies?
JD: I’ve worked a lot in talent management and talent acquisition. After briefly working in a lab, completing my MBA, then working for Pfizer — which at the time wasn’t a huge company — l had various operational responsibilities for companies including Meijer, Sears Holding Company, Spectrum Health and Gordon Food Service. And I believe there are three significant challenges across all contemporary organizations:
(1) Attracting and retaining top-tier talent is a common challenge. There is a highly competitive market — a “war for talent.”
(2) Identifying high-potential employees that are able to take on future leadership roles and live out the values and culture of the company. Leaders struggle to measure employees’ potential for taking on broader responsibility and stepping into new positions.
(3) Creating and sustaining a healthy business culture, where employees are valued and work relationships are significant. Organizational culture is often misunderstood and minimized by employees and leaders, resulting in organizational dysfunction.
OTM: What brought you back to Olivet?
JD: While I was at Gordon Food Service, I was reading Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. In the book, Chan quoted evangelist D.L. Moody: “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.” That hit home. At a global leadership conference I attended, the focus of the speakers was on finding your purpose and driving force. I had been successful in my career, but wondered if I was where God wanted me to be. After praying and planning with my wife, I decided to leave Gordon Foods in January 2018 with no work prospects, but with plans to begin my own consulting firm. Over the next few months, I networked with different individuals, one of whom was (then) dean of the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies, Rob Simpson. After more prayer and consideration, I took the job hoping to reach and teach students the knowledge I’d accumulated from my corporate career thus far.
OTM: Tell us about the impact and reach of our online programs at Olivet?
JD: In the traditional brick and mortar campus, we are impacting the physical regions we exist in. Now, with vast changes to technology, the whole world is at our doorstep. While the student interaction and community are still available online, the cost and time constraints are less in a virtual environment. Transforming student lives is done on a bigger scale because we’re not restricted by the location of the campus. Students are able to work, travel and still complete their studies. The community connection can be dynamic within that online environment, and Olivet works hard to achieve a sense of community as if students and faculty were interacting across the room.
OTM: How is the mission of Olivet advanced through Olivet Online?
JD: Technological advancements in the past few years have changed the mobility of office environments as well as the opportunities for higher education. ONU Global offers fully online education, where students connect via phones and computers. Our mission field is considerably broader than before, as we are no longer restricted by limitations of classroom space. The possibility for successful completion of a degree is greater now than ever before. Our studies of our students outcomes — the assessments we complete to measure the growth of our students — show us that online camaraderie, connection and meaningful interaction are truly available in an online environment. Olivet has adopted a best-practice method for online education built on the concept of community, and the School of Graduate and Continuing studies works hard to develop a sense of community online. Our students, faculty and administration are always seeking to transform students’ lives of service to God and humanity.
OTM: You’ve been connected to Olivet since before you attended the University. What is your favorite part about being a multi-generational Olivet family?
JD: My father and my brother attended Olivet; my wife and I both graduated from Olivet; and my in-laws are also ONU graduates. Our son, Cole, graduated from Olivet last year, and our oldest daughter, Morgan, is currently an ONU sophomore. We have one other daughter in high school, MacKenzie, who is also planning to attend the University. Working for Olivet allows me to visit my kids during my days in the Bourbonnais office of ONU Global. I love know my kids are part of a Christian-influenced community with challenging academic experiences, surrounded by faculty that chose to be a part of Olivet's mission and fellow students that will have positive impacts throughout their lives.
OTM: Beyond work, what inspires and drives you?
JD: God has blessed me tremendously in my career and family life. God has moved me out of my comfort zone but never left me alone. I love that Olivet continues to emphasize to students that only when they step out in faith and really lean into God’s plan will they see His hands and His feet. I used to want to leave a legacy, but now I just want to follow God’s will and direction so that one day He will say, “Well done.” My motivation is seeking God in everything I do.
For more information about the ONU Global and the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies, visit online.olivet.edu or call 877.465.4838.
Photos submitted and used with permission.