Steve Tufts
Clinical Professor Dr. Steven Tufts

Leading future leaders

Clinical Professor Steve Tufts inspires tomorrow’s leaders by leading his classroom with energy and dedication.

The sunset over the water was spectacular from the view in the Jacksonville waterfront restaurant. Clinical Professor Steve Tufts (BS ’76, DBA ’17) admired the scene as he walked through the restaurant, trying to ignore the feeling of being watched. He made eye contact with a familiar face who was smiling at him. He returned the smile. His former teaching assistant rose from her seat, made her way through the tables, and a big hug was exchanged.

The former student’s parents, somewhat surprised by the interaction, immediately rose from their seats and approached to check out the situation. Excitedly, the young woman stated, “Mom and Dad, this is Dr. Tufts! You know, my professor from UF.”

Mom smiled, extended her hand and said, “Oh my gosh, finally! I feel like I know you already. She has talked about you frequently over the past several years.”

Steve Tufts. Tufts lit up at the comment, shaking hands and introducing the family to his wife, Barbara. As a marketing professor at the University of Florida Warrington College of Business, nothing makes him happier than hearing that he has made a difference in the lives of his students.

“My favorite thing about teaching is having the opportunity to shape the thinking and career trajectory of high-achieving young people,” he said. “The business students at the University of Florida are so bright and eager to achieve that it is rewarding to be able to have an impact on what they will eventually become in life.”

Tufts’ career in academia began with a white paper that he co-authored that ended up on former dean John Kraft’s desk. Despite having spent 25 years climbing the corporate ladder in the financial services industry, where he became CEO of an insurance company, and an additional entrepreneurial career of owning over 20 companies, Tufts entered Warrington’s first DBA cohort in 2014, believing he’d never have the chance to become a professor at a school such as UF. All of that changed when the dean read his paper on the opportunity to create a professional selling curriculum at UF.

“He agreed that UF needed a sales curriculum and I guess he thought I was the person to do it,” Tufts explained. “He forwarded the paper to Marketing Department Chair Dr. Richard Lutz and the rest is history.”

Since becoming a UF professor in 2017, Tufts is best known for his Professional Selling (MAR3400) and Advanced Marketing Management (MAR6818) courses. Tufts takes a practical approach in both courses, combining textbook knowledge with his 40+ years of industry experience to set students’ expectations for sales and marketing in the real world.

“Most students in their early 20’s have never encountered a ‘professional’ salesperson, particularly in a business-to-business environment.” he said. “The undergraduate Professional Selling class opens their eyes to these opportunities and helps them discover that there are many exciting career options available to them that they previously did not even know existed.”

Teaching in a way that inspires students to make the most of their brainpower and motivation is important to Tufts. His approach may not be typical for most classrooms, but it aligns with his goal to push students to find their own path.

“In the Advanced Marketing Management class, the capstone course for the MS-Marketing degree, we take them through a combination of reading and case studies that put them ‘in the room’ where a team would be conceiving of and implementing a marketing strategy,” he described. “They learn how to brainstorm ideas, challenge each other (and me), and look at a marketing strategy from a real world ‘in the room’ perspective. A unique highlight of the course is a forensic analysis of a failed marketing strategy where students are required to do an in-depth analysis of a failed marketing initiative, identify the flaws, and recommend revisions to the strategy and/or the managerial processes that would have made it successful.”

Steve Tufts with the UF shooting team. A photo from behind of a group of 5 men stand together wearing vests with competition bibs. In his classroom, Tufts often encounters high achievers who challenge him to bring the real world of business into a softer focus. Responding to their questions makes the experience go both ways, engaging Tufts to critically analyze the insight he shares. He also finds himself challenged by his students outside of the classroom as a member of the Gator Shooting Team. Tufts uses sporting clays competition as his primary stress reliever.

“Although I am the worst shooter on the team, it is a great stress reducer and a ton of fun,” he joked.

Though Tufts anticipates retiring from full-time teaching at the end of this year, he intends to continue to be involved at the University of Florida while immersing himself in his entrepreneurial ventures, which mainly centers around the real estate industry. Out of the tens of thousands of real estate companies in the nation, Tufts’ Jacksonville-based real estate group was recently ranked in the Top 100 nationally. But he states that what really makes his work special is that he does it alongside his family.

“When I met my wife 14 years ago, she gave up a long career as a paralegal to join my real estate company,” he shared. “One of my daughters is my Director of Operations. Another daughter is one of our highest producing young Realtors and a member of our Associate Leadership Council. Both of their husbands are also affiliated with my company.

“I know many entrepreneurs whose families want nothing to do with the family business. It is a wonderful thought to know that your family is proud of what you have built and wants to be a part of it. My family is all in.”

With a deeper dive back into entrepreneurship comes a commitment to check a few items off his bucket list, as well. Avid travelers, Tufts and his wife are looking forward to visiting Turks and Caicos later this year and going on a Mediterranean cruise next spring.

Though he leads a busy life, Tufts is adamant that he always has time for meaningful conversations with emerging leaders, whether during his office hours, over Zoom, or at a restaurant in Jacksonville.

“One of the things that I am thankful for at the UF Warrington College of Business is that the students that I deal with are here to become educated, gain real skills, get a job, and become productive members of society,” he said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to be involved with students that are grounded in the reality and potential of a capitalist economy. They desire a high achieving life, and it is my honor to be able to help them attain it.”