College of Business > News & Events > DePaul Sales Program Celebrates 15th Anniversary

DePaul Sales Program Celebrates 15th Anniversary

Student at career fair
The Center for Sales Leadership supports DePaul's academic sales programs through corporate partnerships and year-round events, such as career fairs, alumni panels and more.

Fifteen years ago, four business faculty members came together at a Chicago Thai restaurant to hatch a plan to teach sales classes to students. Each faculty member – Dave Hoffmeister, D. Joel Whalen, Dan Strunk and Clancy Ryan – had years of experience in sales they wanted to pass on to students in the classroom.

Their plan, which they originally wrote on a cocktail napkin, eventually led to the Center for Sales Leadership at the Driehaus College of Business, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.

Associate Professor of Marketing D. Joel Whalen
Associate Professor of Marketing D. Joel Whalen co-founded the center 15 years ago.

DePaul’s sales leadership academic program is supported by nearly 30 corporate partners at the Center for Sales Leadership. Nine of those partners – which include large corporate brands such as PepsiCo and 3M – actively recruit sales students at DePaul.

“[Our partners] are critical to the success of the students because not only do the program partners hire for internships and full-time jobs or both but they’re also in classrooms,” says Deirdre LaVerdiere, program partner and operations director at the center. “Students get that real-world experience and it is very hands-on as opposed to learning from a textbook and taking a test.”

The sales leadership academic program is considered the largest in the country, which is based on the number of students and number of classes. The college currently offers an undergraduate minor and concentration in sales leadership, plus a number of graduate- and doctoral-level sales classes.

Focusing on the Future

Twice a year, the center invites their program partners to discuss changes in the industry as well as ways to update the sales curriculum. “We ask them, ‘What kind of skills do students need to have that you’re not seeing them have? How is the industry changing?’” LaVerdiere says, adding that the center will now start focusing on ecommerce in its category management classes.

Associate Professor of Marketing Richard Rocco, who serves as the center’s executive director, says the program’s growth has partly been driven by curricular input from leading companies.

“The sales profession has seen significant evolution over the past years, so identifying relevant key competencies and then uniquely adapting the program offerings to address those needs gives our graduates an edge,” he says. “Partner-faculty collaboration has helped us design highly relevant courses focused on category management, sales technology, inside sales, social impact sales and analytical sales.”

Associate Professor of Marketing Rich Rocco
“The sales profession has seen significant evolution over the past years," says Richard Rocco, executive director of the center.

Rocco, who has 20 years of sales and marketing experience in a variety of industries, says the center is among only 157 sales programs nationally.

“As we look to our next 15 years, the center remains focused on preparing our students for successful sales careers. This includes continuing faculty-industry partner collaboration to provide highly relevant courses and student opportunities,” he says. “It also means recognizing the increasing importance of technology, especially in the post-COVID business environment, and working to leverage even more sales technology applications and partnerships within our program to address these evolving business needs.”

The center’s success is also fostered by its tight-knit community of alumni, faculty, staff and students. Five years ago, the center launched a student ambassador program to attract prospective students and educate others about the sales program and industry. It also hosts several events throughout the academic year – networking events, industry panels, branding workshop and more. Those efforts have paid off. Typically, over the course of a year, hundreds of students at DePaul enroll in sales classes while 75 to 100 students declare the concentration in Sales Leadership, LaVerdiere says.

“[Through our events] we usually try to get students who are in the program now or alumni talk about what they’ve learned, and every single one of them will tell you ‘If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, I wouldn’t have this job right now,’” she says. “And they talk about the instructors and how much they care and how much they learn from them. I think every school or department tries to help their students get jobs, but our instructors really get to know the students because it is so hands-on.”

Learn more about the Sales Leadership Minor

Learn more about the Sales Leadership Concentration