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Jan Rutherford

CU Denver Professor of Business and Leadership


Jan Rutherford spent six years in Special Forces as a medic and “A” team executive officer, and three years as a military intelligence officer. Jan has over 25 years of business and healthcare experience in executive roles in business development, marketing, sales, training, product management and as a CEO.

To get to know Jan better, watch the video and then check out some of his answers below...

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Why did you get into teaching?

I became an instructor and started teaching right after I earned the Army’s Green Beret when I was 19 years old. I have always wanted to teach at the university level, and didn’t see a leadership class at the center for entrepreneurship, so with a lot of help, I created one. The first time it was marketed, nobody signed up.

As part of the doctor of nursing practice program, students had to take a Business 101 class. We all thought that was crazy; they aren’t going into business, but would lead change. N​ow my leadership class is a requirement for the DNP candidates, and at the Jake Jabs Center, students going through the entrepreneurship program can elect to take my class.

I created another class, Leadership and Entrepreneurship in Ireland, and take business students to Ireland every Maymester for two weeks. We meet business, academic and government leaders, and work on actual projects in startup companies. Upon return to Denver, the students present what they learned to a number of business and community leaders. What we’re doing is building a bridge between Colorado and Ireland - a gateway to Europe.

Why teach online?

We heard somebody in Ireland use the term “pracademic.” I thought it was great because that’s what an adjunct faculty brings – the practical side of business. I’m a practitioner, I’m in a leadership role, I’m in business, and I’ve been there, done that. The courses I created are centered on students forming teams and going out into community to study a leader and learn their leadership philosophy, talk to their followers and find out if they walk the talk. That helps internalize what leadership is. It gives them the confidence to call people on the phone and understand that people are willing to help, that they don’t have to necessarily get another degree but can create their own learning environment.

Online instruction allows us to reach students all over the world who are already doing important work in real organizations. In some ways, I get to know the students even better, because everyone participates at the same level, and the interactions are almost daily versus weekly.

What one thing do students quickly learn about you?

I’m fair, but demanding. I expect a lot from my students and I ask tough questions. As a former CEO, I have a pretty good sense for who is really putting in the effort, and I’m not afraid to push the students to do more than they think they can.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?

Hearing the success stories of the students as they advance in their careers, and make a difference in the lives of others.

What is your favorite quote or philosophy on teaching?

I have a quote that I love. “He who knows how to suffer everything can dare everything,” from Vauvenargues.

Adversity is like an anvil that makes you stronger. I don’t think you have to make yourself miserable and suffer, but when you know that you can suffer through things and you’re not going to quit, you can dare things, you can take a risk, you can do more. That’s one of the reasons I love hiking so much. When you climb a mountain, you feel like you just pushed yourself, that you’ve accomplished something. The view didn’t come free, I toiled.

Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. -Lao-Tzu

Self-Reliant Leadership is knowing which questions to ask, and having the courage to answer them and act. -Jan Rutherford

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