April 19, 2005
Ted Andersen to Celebrate 60 Years Teaching at UCLA
Popular professor is a classroom inspiration
By Natalie Banach, DAILY BRUIN Senior Staff
He was accepted into Harvard Business School without even having applied.
He helped plan the invasion of Normandy during World War II, a move which ultimately helped lead to the defeat of the Nazi regime.
And in his 85 years he has shaken the hands of U.S. presidents and foreign dictators and doled out management advice to dozens of companies – from Sparklett's Water to Gucci.
But when talking to UCLA Anderson School of Management Professor Theodore Andersen, it's not his worldly experience that causes his students to pause, but the enthusiasm with which he speaks.
"Students know I love them. Some of them have never failed before and I scare them. But all of it is my philosophy, and I'm just passing down my life experiences," Andersen said in a dimly-lit office cluttered with dozens of fading photographs and sentimental trinkets.
A professor who has probably heard every excuse there is for not turning in homework, Andersen began teaching in 1946 and is on contract to teach at UCLA for one more year – acquiring a full 60 years of teaching experience when he retires in 2006.
"He gave us his resume. I think it's awesome that he's done so much. I feel like I can ask him any career question," said Kenny Chow, a fourth-year sociology student currently taking a management class with Andersen.
"Johnny Wooden" and Torpedoes
Born in a small town in Indiana in 1921, Andersen's family owned a grinding mill but soon found themselves in the bustling heart of Chicago as the Great Depression set in.
For Andersen, growing up meant living with what he called "the gift of poverty." His mother worked two jobs to make ends meet and taught her son the value of a strict work ethic and an independent spirit, he said.
"The older I got the more I appreciated her. Once a guy stole her purse and she ran after him and beat the hell out of him," Andersen added laughingly as he remembered the event.
It was with the same kind of determination that this young kid from the country pushed his way through Tilden High School, a large public school with 7,000 students.
Andersen soon became captain of the swim team and chairman of the school chapter's Red Cross. In addition, he became one of six students to make it to college where he majored in economics, saying he always "liked numbers."
Purdue University was Andersen's first encounter with higher education, and he willingly soaked up the atmosphere like a sponge.
He watched "Johnny Wooden" play basketball, bonded with his fraternity brothers, and continued to pursue his love of swimming.
"College was not so serious, not like it is now. I had my girlfriend, my frat, my swimming," he said.
Little did Andersen know the fun and games would soon come to an end in the grimmest of ways.
He was a senior in college when the Japanese war planes attacked Pearl Harbor.
"After that, I was sure I was going to go fight. I was thinking about the navy, but then the dean called me in."
It was at this point Andersen learned he had been accepted into Harvard's business school as a member of the Transportation Corps – a federally sponsored unit that would help the military manage supplies.
And while he didn't know how he got accepted into Harvard, Andersen began working 16-hour days with the eventual knowledge that he would enter the navy and fight in World War II.
"At the end of each semester I would check into the infirmary on campus. Many of us needed it," Andersen said.
After graduation he began planning the invasion of Normandy.
At that point the military was losing 30 percent of its ships due to torpedoes, Andersen said. In fact he was on a ship when it was hit with one, but it didn't puncture the hull.
Toward the end of the war Andersen traveled throughout Europe, stopping in locales such as Berlin.
Meeting up with an old college roommate back in the United States, the former navy officer decided to become an entrepreneur and started a housing business.
"We thought that it would be a good idea, so we would both put on our uniforms and went to beg for business. It was hard work," Andersen said.
The housing business could only hold Andersen's attention for so long. Soon he began thinking of academia and promptly entered a doctorate program – the beginning of a career in teaching.
Back to the Basics
In a profession that is sometimes considered to be under-respected and under-valued, students say Andersen is one of those teachers who really make a difference.
Currently teaching Basic Managerial Finance this quarter, Andersen has taught both undergraduate and graduate classes in management and finance, according to the UCLA Registrar's Web site.
At a research institution like UCLA, students can at times be saddled with professors more interested in their own research than undergraduate curricula. But students currently taking a management class with Andersen find out almost immediately that this professor is different.
The jovial professor assigns 12 hours of homework a week and expects students to turn the work in promptly at every lecture.
"I like my students to learn. ... If you do the homework, you learn from mistakes. Sometimes we learn from success, but I must admit we learn more from failure. (Automotive giant Henry) Ford had two bankruptcies before he made it," Andersen said.
As much as Andersen strives to teach his students at every occasion, he also admits he learns a lot from the more than 20,000 he has taught.
"In the old days," Andersen said, he would invite his students to his home for Sunday brunch. Even now, with many students' schedules and responsibilities making that unfeasible, the professor expects every student to visit him in office hours at least once.
Currently taking Basic Managerial Finance with Andersen, Chow said he has gone in to see the professor during office hours and was impressed with the way he interacted with him.
"He basically talked about learning from your mistakes. I was confused on a problem and he made me figure it out. He was like, 'I'm not going to give you the answer.' He's great like that," Chow said.
With a particular penchant for asking students where they're from, Andersen said he was "particularly interested in their grandparents."
"I get students from all over the world, and it's so amazing. ... Once I had a student from Mongolia, and it makes you wonder, what's life like in Mongolia? So I ask," Andersen said, adding that he has had students from Cambodia who witnessed the rule of Pol Pot and one from South Vietnam who escaped the country in a small boat.
The relationships Andersen has forged with some his students is special to him in that they go beyond the classroom. In fact, the professor has loaned many of his students money for down payments on their first homes – up to $10,000 or $20,000.
"I trust my students, and I don't even hesitate when I loan them money. ... I always know they'll pay me back. I've never had a student not pay me back," he said.
Andersen also remembers students who continued to have less than reputable careers. Both Charles Keating, indicted for violating congressional ethics standards, and Bill Haldeman, who was made infamous in the Watergate scandal under President Nixon, were his students.
"Out of all my students only four have ever gone to jail on fraud charges. I consider that pretty good," Andersen said with a smile.
"The Word is 'Variety'"
As soon as his students hear that Andersen has been teaching for close to 60 years, they almost immediately ask why.
"I'm having a good time. Why stop?" Andersen responded. For Andersen, he can't imagine another profession as beneficial as teaching, and in fact advises many of his students to think about becoming professors.
Teaching allows Andersen not only to see the world through his students' eyes, but to also visit exotic locations as a consultant or government representative.
Whether it's working a government job for a trade council in Peru and meeting former President John F. Kennedy, or working a corporate job with Ford Motors, Andersen has done much while being a teacher.
"When you become a professor you have a lot of control in your life. ... The word is 'variety,'" he said.
Andersen has even had the opportunity to work with Sean Penn and Madonna when they were dating, and the professor was asked to get involved in the now infamous fiasco in which Penn punched a photographer who shot a picture of him coming out of a hotel.
"The photographer wanted lifetime wages and I did law work for damages. That's why I got involved. ... Working with law firms can be an adventure," Andersen said.
Jovially reminiscing about the various experiences that have come to define the professor's life, Andersen makes it a point to learn every step of the way.
He likes to make sure every student knows, "You have to lose about 2,000 games of chess to learn."