A Great Communicator

Terry Heagney's Management Communication class at MIT goes way beyond memo writing

BusinessWeek asked business undergrads to tell us about their favorite professors. Here is another installment in the series.

Top-rated lecturer Terry Heagney has been teaching management communication at MIT's Sloan School of Business for the past five years. "But don't get the idea that I'm young," says Heagney. &quote;I had a previous life”—over 25 years of a &quote;previous life,&quote; to be exact.

T Heagney

Terry Heagney


Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management



Heagney served as corporate vice-president for external affairs at Houghton Mifflin. On the road to becoming a vice-president, Heagney acquired the formidable communication expertise that he shares with Sloan students. And it is his &quote;previous life&quote; that makes MIT undergrads think Heagney is an asset to their campus.

&quote;He was the perfect fit to teach management communication,&quote; says Anjum Sharma, a 2006 graduate of MIT, who now works at Lehman Brothers (LEH). &quote;It's hard to find professors who have gone out into the business world and done something that students want to do, so we were able to really relate to him.&quote;


  Although Heagney's business experience is making him a star in academia, he didn't always dream of a career in the publishing industry. In fact, Heagney initially had his sights set firmly on the classroom. After earning a PhD in English literature from Boston College in 1974, Heagney found he couldn't land any college teaching jobs. Instead, he reluctantly began to work his way up from the bottom in book publishing.

Heagney's first publishing job kept him close to campus. Working as a field editor for publisher Prentice-Hall, Heagney sold engineering, science, and mathematics textbooks to MIT. He later joined Houghton Mifflin, where he worked for 22 years.

While a vice-president at there, Heagney was invited by Lori Breslow, director of the Learning & Teaching Laboratory at MIT, to speak to 100 students at Sloan's annual business lunch. &quote;Terry struck me as someone who was very coherent in his conversations,&quote; says Breslow, &quote;He understood who his audience was, and he had a wealth of professional knowledge.&quote;

Heagney retired from Houghton Mifflin when it was sold to Vivendi Universal in 2001. Not long after, his current position at Sloan surfaced. Heagney's knack for effective communication converted immediately into his new role.

&quote;It usually takes someone who hasn't been in the classroom some time to get up to speed, but he was great right from the beginning,&quote; says Breslow. Over five years, his course evaluations, scaled from 1 to 5, consistently rate close to a perfect 5.


  But do MIT students, where classes, majors, and even the campus buildings are known primarily by numbers, not names, really respect a class frequently referred to as &quote;Memo Writing&quote;? &quote;Absolutely,&quote; says Ali Wyne, a management and political science major in MIT's class of 2008. &quote;Management communication admittedly sounds like one of those fluffy classes, but it's one of the most useful courses I've taken at Sloan. It gets you past the superficial things, like dressing nicely, and tells you how to communicate and negotiate successfully. It gives you a lot of foundational skills that you will require to be successful in the business community.&quote;

Heagney says the course was designed to &quote;help students look good while they're being looked at.&quote; This means making sure Sloan graduates feel empowered when giving formal presentations, writing a memo, or talking to other people in the business. &quote;The whole idea is that people with really good ideas should be confident about expressing them to others. They shouldn't be sitting in the back of the room, quietly solving problems. They should be showing people that they're prepared to discuss their ideas in a very forthright manner.&quote;

During the course, a requirement for all undergraduate management majors, lessons of effective communication are peppered with relevant scenarios. For example, if students attend a wine and cheese reception with a CEO, they learn that it's important to be involved in the event. &quote;Be the person with a piece of cheese in your hand,&quote; says Heagney. &quote;Talk to other people. Demonstrate that you like the other people your company has chosen to hire. Show everyone that you're a bright light in the business."


  Although students don't have class exams, they're graded on a series of written and oral presentations, and a final team report. Class participation is an opportunity to hone presentation skills, so it counts for about 10% of the final grade.

Heagney imagines his students enjoy the course for other reasons as well. &quote;Students love the class because they get to talk to each other a lot while they build team skills,&quote; he says. &quote;They make friends, and they like that part of it.&quote;

Over the past five years, he's adapted his course to include a section in media relations, and a case study on electronic communication. &quote;The course gives these kids so many good insights into things that I didn't have a clue about until I was 30 or 40 years old,&quote; says Heagney. &quote;It's very easy for me to teach this course, because everything I do I really believe makes my students better prepared than they could ever otherwise be.&quote;

As for Heagney's own career, he plans to teach at MIT as long as he's able. Last fall he began teaching MBA students, as well as serving as an academic adviser to the MIT women's soccer team. &quote;The great thing is to be able to work with students who are so amazingly intelligent and resourceful,&quote; says Heagney. &quote;Teaching at MIT has made things come around full circle for me. I hope I've communicated that I couldn't be happier.&quote; His students say this is one message that comes across loud and clear.

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