Alumni spotlight: Cornell Batie

"Your work should be a product of what you love," is what Detroit Jazz Festival executive vice president and chief operating officer Cornell Batie (M.B.A. 2002) said led him to this point in his career.

Planting and understanding the seeds of success

Batie, who is also the vice president of finance at Mack Avenue Records, said obtaining his M.B.A. from Wayne State University School of Business taught him not only a lot about business, but also about himself. He heard great things about the school’s M.B.A. program and said the admission process was seamless.

Batie chose two concentrations for his M.B.A., finance and international business, which have aided him in different aspects as he has grown with the Jazz Fest. Batie joined the organization in 2006 as its finance manager, and from 2007 to 2014, he served as the chief financial officer before being promoted to his current position.

He said studying international business helped him appreciate and understand the different barriers that come into play when dealing with different individuals for the Jazz Fest. Batie learned firsthand about international negotiations while on a study abroad trip to Germany. In one of his business courses, students interacted with students from Germany and Japan. The group did a teleconference and then went over to Germany to give a recap.

"Interactions with the other students were priceless," he said. "The biggest thing that came out of the Germany trip was how the dominant voices in the group had one particular means of negotiating. The techniques they were utilizing were based on how they perceived Americans."

Batie said he and a few other students in their group wanted to change the negotiation styles because of a standstill; however, the dominant voices in their group would not listen, and the negotiations fell through. Batie said the experience taught him a valuable lesson.

"The problem is they didn’t understand what they didn’t understand," Batie said.

Batie enjoyed his organizational behavior class which discussed the different theories and models companies use. Batie recalled there were about six theories. The theories talked about a company’s guiding principle, morale and ethic atmosphere.

Batie said he didn’t agree that just one model is a true representation of how companies actually run. Based on his work experience, Batie said companies change models depending on their current vision, which is generally based on what a company is doing during a given time.

Batie believes the theories are interchangeable. He said politics dictate how organizations are run, and companies switch the policy and models to reflect the status quo.

"The organization does not benefit from the models," Batie said. "People who work for the company know the organization and do as they see fit."

… and all that Jazz

Batie credits Gretchen Valade, chair of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation Board of Directors and board chair and co-founder of Mack Avenue Records, for identifying his special skills and work ethic. In 2009, Batie became vice president of finance for the record company and manages the Harper Woods office. Batie said he appreciates that Valade allows him to navigate different outlines.

"I am constantly instituting tools, while trying not to push too hard that it turns individuals off," Batie said. "While there are times that the larger voices disagree where I am coming from, I believe it is her trust in me that still allows these conversations and dialogues."

Robert McCabe, who helped found the festival in 1980, died in 2013. Batie said McCabe was a great mentor.

"I would have to say out of all the people I worked with at Jazz Fest, he and I wanted to build the festival from the same mindset," he said.

Batie said taking the festival from Music Hall to Hart Plaza was a twist … an expensive twist, but one that was completely worthwhile.

"We are now really engaging the entire city with the festival," Batie said.

Batie said he is always trying to ensure the organization is operating the way it needs to operate and is being as big as it can be.

"We want to be the best festival, but we also want it to be around forever," he said. "We have to somehow help to ensure that the movement of jazz continues. To that end, we are consistently developing and cultivating the next generation, so being involved with youth and having a partnership with Detroit Public Schools, WSU J.C. Heard JazzWeek@Wayne, etc. are critical if we are going to continue our mission and vision."

Playing to the tune of life

Batie said he enjoys being able to see appreciation from Jazz Fest fans.

Batie said he spoke with a couple from New York that travels to all the major jazz festivals, and the couple said, "This festival was the only one for the people."

Batie made it clear that the Jazz Fest is the only major jazz festival that is completely free. Batie said he doesn’t think the fest would ever go to a model where people have to pay admission.

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