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Northwood to hood first DBA grad in university history

May 2, 2023

An experienced professional in the automotive industry is the first doctor of business degree recipient in Northwood University history.

“It worked out great, and it is an honor to be the first DBA graduate,” stated Kevin D. Parlette, who will be among the roughly 500 graduates walking at Northwood University’s Spring Commencement on May 6.

Parlette was among the first cohort of students in Northwood’s online DBA program. For two years of coursework, Parlette would log on from his home in the Toledo, Ohio, area.

Northwood University’s Richard DeVos Graduate of School announced the addition of a DBA degree program in April 2020, and the first cohort of 15 students started their doctoral journey in August of that year.

“The DBA program is a natural next step for those with a master’s degree in a business-related field who want to enhance their knowledge and expertise to transform themselves into better problem-solvers, business leaders and scholar-practitioners,” stated Dr. Lisa Fairbairn, dean of the DeVos Graduate School.


One man’s journey

Parlette, who is approaching 54 years old, said he was mid-to-late career when he decided to pursue a DBA. The last time he was in school was in the early 90s, when he earned his graduate degree from the University of Toledo, which was also where he earned his undergraduate degree.

He spent most of his career — 25 years — with Dana Incorporated, an American supplier of axles, driveshafts, transmissions, and electrodynamic, thermal, sealing, and digital equipment for conventional, hybrid and electric-powered vehicles. In 2017, he took on the role of vice president of finance for Martinrea, a leading Tier One automotive supplier of vehicle parts, assemblies and modules. In 2021, he left to take the position of chief financial officer for GlassTech, Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of glass bending and tempering technology for the solar, automotive and architectural glass markets.

At one point in Parlette’s career, he was colleagues with Dr. Peter Bush, a professor and division chair from the DeVos Graduate School at Northwood University. Parlette heard about the creation of Northwood’s DBA program through Bush, who became Parlette’s recruiter and ultimately his dissertation committee chair.

While a DBA is an important tool for career advancement, Parlette didn’t set out to earn his degree to help advance his career. Rather, he viewed it more as a new personal goal.

“This was something to give me another challenge,” Parlette explained. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it earlier in my career, so from a time perspective, it was most appropriate for me to do it at this stage.”

He said he didn’t know what to expect going into the program. However, he was interested in the program at Northwood because of its online format.

“Like anything, it was good yet challenging,” Parlette said.

He noted there was a diverse group of people in his cohort — including some who have a lot of work experience and others who are earlier in their careers.

“The downside is I haven’t met any of them because COVID canceled the on-campus residencies — and that is certainly no fault of Northwood,” he noted.

Parlette said as a long-time professional in the automotive industry, it is an honor to be Northwood’s first DBA graduate. As for the future, he said he is considering teaching in the fall.

Parlette is optimistic about the DBA program’s future at Northwood University.

“It’s only going to get better,” he noted. “Being in the first cohort, there are growing pains on the school side too. It’s not a negative, just a statement of fact. And I prefer the fact that we got to plow to new ground.”

Because Northwood was able to be so flexible with Parlette’s classes, he was able to graduate earlier than the rest of his cohort.


Dissertation was most challenging part of program

After two years of rigorous coursework, students move on to the dissertation stage in their doctoral journey. Parlette’s dissertation looked at executive compensation and company performance (with the population being North American publicly traded Tier 1 auto suppliers).

“It took me a little over a year, and it ended up being around 200 pages — and the text portion alone was 150 pages,” Parlette said, noting the dissertation found a positive relationship between executive compensation and company performance.

Three years ago, Parlette wouldn’t have imagined taking on an assignment as significant as a dissertation.

“The hardest part of the program was doing the dissertation,” he said. “It’s a lot of work — I had over 200 sources.”

Parlette said he worked closely with Bush as his dissertation progressed.

Bush said it was a fantastic opportunity to help a former colleague.

“Since I am the one who recruited him into the program and guided him through both the classes and his dissertation, this means a great deal to me,” Bush added. “Most importantly, supporting my colleague and friend through this process was an honor, and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Bush called Parlette a model student who will serve as an outstanding ambassador for the program for years to come.

As his chair, Bush will be the one to honor Parlette during his hooding ceremony on graduation day. During a hooding ceremony, a faculty member places the doctoral hood over the head of the doctoral degree candidate, which signifies their success in completing the program. Bush said it is an honor to be the one who will hood Parlette on May 6.

“To see all of our hard work pay off and to have our first DBA representative in the field means a great deal to the DeVos Graduate School of Management and to Northwood University,” Bush added. “I am proud of the DeVos team and all that we have accomplished since the launch of the DBA program, so hopefully everyone on the team feels the same pride that I do regarding Kevin’s graduation.”


A bright future

Looking to the future, Bush is optimistic about the continued growth and development of Northwood University’s DBA program.

“I feel confident that we have developed a top-notch program that is one of very few application-based programs in the country,” Bush added. “With the heavy emphasis on analytics and leadership curated into the core of the program, the personal focus, and the drive to help every student succeed, I believe that the program is unique and will continue to draw students looking to make a difference in the practical environment.”

Parlette said he would recommend Northwood’s DBA program to others.

“I would say No. 1, make sure to know why you’re doing it and what you’re committing to, and No. 2, you have to have time,” he said. “The only person depending on you is you. No one is going to write for you or do your assignments. So it’s truly a personal achievement.”

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