The office door of BYU Marriott School of Business professor Jim Brau is always open. Brau, an Airborne Ranger Army veteran, believes making connections with his students is the most important part of his job. He continually strives to facilitate moments where he can create those connections. Brau’s consistency in leaving the door open through the years has resulted in countless opportunities to serve those around him.
Brau’s journey to becoming a finance professor, teaching both undergraduate and executive MBA (EMBA) classes, featured several important stops along the way. His family has a longstanding tradition of military service, and Brau continued the family legacy by attending the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1991 with a degree in geography. After his time at West Point, Brau joined the 24th Infantry Division as an infantry officer.
While Brau enjoyed the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dreams by serving his country, he recognized he had a bigger purpose in life: being with family. As an active-duty army officer, Brau was away from home more than 300 days a year, which was not conducive to his ideal family life. Because he disliked this type of time commitment away from home, Brau transferred to the National Guard and Reserves for another five years of service after three years of active-duty service. This move allowed him to be with his family during the week and still be a soldier on the weekends.
A career change in the military also meant a change for Brau’s academic path. He needed a job on weekdays, so he decided to obtain a graduate degree to further his career opportunities. Brau enrolled at Florida State University and chose to study finance because the field was closely related to math, a subject that had always interested him. He completed a PhD in 1999.
The first job Brau took after graduating from FSU was as an assistant professor of finance at BYU Marriott. Once he began teaching at the school, he quickly realized his favorite thing about being a professor was creating connections with students, something he stands by today. “I have an open-door office policy,” Brau says. “Many of my students come by and chat with me about various issues, enabling me to connect with those I teach.” The open-door policy Brau embraces has facilitated numerous meaningful connections throughout his 22 years as a professor.
Brau is thankful for the opportunity to be a resource to his students, especially since he personally understands the difficulties of navigating higher education. He was one of the first in his family to attend graduate school, so he did not have any personal PhD examples to follow when he began at Florida State. “I had no idea what I was doing. My father dropped out of high school to fight in the Korean War, so I didn’t know a lot about graduate education,” Brau explains.
His experience with receiving help from others to navigate graduate school is especially useful when he teaches in the EMBA program at BYU Marriott. Brau relishes the years of practice this particular set of students can share with him. “I absolutely love the EMBA students. The wealth of experience and real-world knowledge these individuals bring to the classroom is awesome,” he says.
Brau says his personal experiences from his journey to becoming a professor will continue to help him for as long as he teaches. Although Brau has published more than 60 peer-reviewed articles and presented more than 100 peer-reviewed conference papers, keeping students as his top priority will always remain his goal because of his respect for them. “My favorite part about teaching is working with students,” he says. “BYU Marriott students are conscientious and want to do what is right.”
Writer: Mike Miller