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Former Executive Helps Students Explore Global Business

Luis Larrea
Photo by Kathy Hillegonds.
By all accounts, Luis Larrea's teaching schedule is rigorous. He teaches three classes each quarter. Each year, he co-leads four international business seminar trips to far flung destinations, including India and China.

He has a grueling travel schedule that has him away from home for months at a time. And while his teaching commitments would seem arduous for the most committed professors, it is all the more impressive when you considered that Larrea just celebrated his 83rd birthday.

"I'm an old guy. I need to slow down," Larrea says with a laugh, as he recites the seemingly endless list of duties he has as an executive in residence in the Department of Marketing at the Driehaus College of Business. "I am going to slow down."

But you get the sense that he doesn't really want to. In fact, Larrea seems to defy the principles of time as he continues year, after year, for the last 25 years, to shape the global worldview of DePaul business students.

Of War and College

Not many octogenarians would have the wherewithal to teach dozens of millennials each year, but Larrea isn't your typical senior citizen.

Raised in Manhattan, Larrea came of age in the 1940s just after World War II, when the United States was just coming into her own as a global power. His parents were Mexican immigrants and Larrea lived with them and his three sisters in the multicultural neighborhood of Washington Heights.

By the time he graduated from high school, Larrea got a job working for AT&T as a line technician. But he also took advantage of the free tuition offered at the City Colleges of New York.

Still, Larrea wasn't happy in school. And each day, when he took the trolley uptown to go to class, he'd see the local boys hanging out on "the wall," a brick structure positioned at a neighborhood park. His friends would yell at him, asking him to skip school and come hang with them.

"I was an engineering student at the time and I didn't like going to school," Larrea says. "I knew if I hung around, I'd drop out of school and I'd end up on the wall."

So, like other young men in the 1950s, Larrea enlisted in the Marines. He spent 13 months fighting in Korea. After being discharged, he went back to work at AT&T and earned his bachelor's degree from City College of New York. And that's where his 30-year global business career began.

"Once I got my degree I started moving up within AT&T," says Larrea. He would go on to get his MBA and work all over the world doing marketing and sales for telecommunications companies.

Larrea spent about 20 years at AT&T International, eventually becoming responsible for all marketing in South America. It was during his tenure as global marketing executive that the passion for teaching was ignited.

Finding The Right Fit at DePaul

While working with AT&T International, Larrea worked on a project with seven Harvard graduate students.

The project looked at market entry strategy in Brazil. Larrea spent several months mentoring the students and working with them on their project. And he was hooked.

"I just loved working with students," Larrea says. "It was just great. They had such enthusiasm, they were gifted and very intelligent. I just loved working with them."

Soon after, GTE recruited Larrea to come to Chicago. He went on to a position at Northern Telecom, where he worked for six years. He then had a brief stint as an entrepreneur, founding a telecommunications company in Mexico. But in the 1990s, after nearly a generation working in the corporate world, Larrea harkened back to his time with the Harvard students and decided he wanted a career change.

But his passion for teaching met with rejection. A lot of rejection.

"I sent out all kinds of letters to, I don't know, maybe 200 schools in the Midwest region," Larrea laughs. "They all came back with a response something like, 'Good background, but no fit.' Or something like that."

It wasn't until a friend referred him to DePaul that his dream of teaching came to fruition. He received the title Executive in Residence and joined the business school faculty. He taught a variety of classes, including undergraduate and graduate courses.

As time went on Larrea found himself teaching classes that concerned international business and international business marketing.

"Everything I do is around international business and I love that. I love to travel, and I love learning about other countries and what they do and how they do things," Larrea says.

Academic Globetrotter

Not only did Larrea teach at DePaul, he also taught in various parts of the world, including Mexico, the Czech Republic, France, Belgium and Thailand. When a colleague suggested he take students with him abroad, he thought it was a great idea.

"It's essential that students are exposed to the way business is conducted around the world," Larrea says. "We're so connected and so intertwined, and business students need to understand that to be competitive, companies have to think globally."

Larrea has led business students on short-term study abroad trips to India, China, Mexico, Japan and several other countries. The trips include visits to companies, universities, suppliers and manufacturers, as well as cultural stops.

Through the trips students learn the intricate details about how businesses in other countries operate and how to collaborate with them.

Now, as Larrea enters the second half of his third decade at DePaul, it seems that his fervor for teaching hasn't waned at all. And though he promises he'll cut back on his teaching schedule soon, there's a twinkle in his eye that says, "Don't hold your breath."

"I just love it," Larrea says. "I just love being in front of students and helping them to learn about the world."

Learn more about DePaul's international study abroad seminars.​​​