Pioneer Spotlight: L. Joseph Barnes

L. Joseph Barnes

L. Joseph Barnes, assistant professor in the School of Business at UW-Platteville, decided to pursue academia after the encouragement from friends. “I was told I should try teaching because they thought I was passionate, had good subject matter knowledge and thought I was good with young people,” he said. “I was doing something different at the time, looking for a career change and someone suggested teaching based on those three attributes.”

Barnes received his undergraduate degree in accounting from Howard University. He earned his master’s degree in finance from Duke University and is currently working on his doctorate of business administration from UW-Whitewater. Barnes is also a level two certified financial analyst candidate.

For more than a decade, Barnes has brought his business experience inside the classroom where he teaches courses in finance and accounting. Barnes notes he is always impressed by UW-Platteville students with their willingness to learn. 

“The students here are respectful and eager to learn,” he said. “The biggest thing the students have going for them is their work ethic. I always valued people who have great work ethics. Having the qualities of a strong work ethic and interpersonal skills are crucial in the world of business.” 

How did your interest in the area of business begin?

My mother was a bookkeeper and she worked for a gentleman who had a local business. He was a real estate developer and property manager. He was the person who attracted my interest into business. He was articulate, very smart, well dressed and had impeccable manners. I thought, “Wow, I like to be him someday.” To have someone like that to aspire to. When I visited the office, he always took time, no matter how busy he was, to talk to me about life. He would ask me questions pertaining to potential career aspirations. He took an interest in me. At a young age, it’s always important to have a role model. Something as simple as that, attracted me to business and has given my advising role at UW-Platteville much importance because I personally saw the benefits of advice earlier in life. 

Throughout your career, you have operated hedging and asset securitization programs for multinational corporations, provided investment analysis and provided business development services. How has your professional experience helped you bring industry insight into your classes? 

What makes UW-Platteville a special place is a lot of the academics have professional experience. It helps the students when you are able to break it down to their level. Because you have a lot of years of experience, you know what they are about to go through. At some point of time, you were in your early twenties starting your career. In hindsight, you know what a young professional has to go through in order to continue their growth and move up in the organization or if the student wants to be an entrepreneur. 

Actually, having this business experience gives you credibility with your audience. You are not only teaching out of a book, but you can also relate to things you did when you were working; it gives a lot of substance to the students. The students feel good about it. It really helps them relate to you. It’s a transfer of theory and practice. The intersection of both of those worlds that allows students to appreciate the subject matter in your domain of expertise a lot more.

What do you hope students take away from your classes?

I always tell students the three things that are most important; basic skills you learned in elementary school – the three ‘Rs’ – reading, writing and arithmetic. It enhances your potential workplace value. Arithmetic means excelling in analytic type of thinking. It’s the development of an individual’s intellectual capital which you sell in the marketplace.  Reading and writing are important because students need a vehicle to articulate their intellectual capital. Intelligence means nothing if a person can’t transfer knowledge to a potential buyer. 

In a lot of my classes, particularly my 3000 level or above, I’m always trying to get my students to practice the process of problem-solving. When students get out in the real world, they are going to get valued on how well they can solve problems. I’m not necessarily interested in the answer per say, but I’m interested in the thought process on how they go through the iterations of breaking down the problem, and how they are able to come up with a solution. The thinking of how to solve problems. It may seem rudimentary, but to me it’s a fundamental skill. If you have that functional knowledge, you can transfer that skill to any functional discipline once you graduate and start your career. I wish I would have thought about that or been taught that skill when I was a young person. I had to acquire the skill through trial and error. A good GPA gets you in the door, but it doesn’t do anything after that. You have to be able to continue to add value to an organization as you progress throughout your career.

The second thing is don’t be afraid to diplomatically or politically ask questions. Part of the problem-solving process is being able to ask the right question. Asking the question, especially when you have a very ambiguous task, can lead to a discovery of the right answer or the right approach.

What is one of your proudest accomplishments during your time at UW-Platteville?

The thing that keeps you going in this business is when a student who graduates writes you and tells you what you taught them in your classes or through advising made an impact on their lives. Those letters really make the job very satisfying because it means your job has meaning. It’s the most important thing. You may think people don’t really appreciate you or appreciate what you do, but when you get those letters and a student tells you, “Wow, my boss thinks I’m great and I used what you taught me,” that touches your heart; it makes the job worthwhile.

What are your interests outside of campus?

I am in a doctoral program; I’m getting close to wrapping it up. I’m an avid reader. Before the pandemic, I liked playing sports. I loved the ability to compete – the passion of it and I love the aspect of teamwork. I like setting a goal and getting it done. I like exercising and playing basketball. 

I love my family. They have supported me throughout the process. I’m a proud father of my daughter, Lauren, and along with my wife, they are the light of my life. I’m a family type of guy.