Race car driver turned professor teaches business sustainability

Joseph Sulentic, a UI professor and former race car driver, is teaching a new course for undergraduates focusing on the environmental impacts of business.


Shivansh Ahuja

Professor Joe Sulentic poses for a portrait in the Pappajohn Business Building on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

Joseph Sulentic says the best part of his job is seeing how his students progress, both in business and as human beings.

Sulentic is an associate professor at the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center in the Tippie College of Business. He will teach a class in the spring of 2019 that will make students more aware of the connection between business and environmentalism.

“One of the main things that I learned in school was this concept of externality, relating to all the things that happen because of our actions,” he said. “I want everyone to be aware that everyone, whether an individual or a company, should be responsible for cleaning up after themselves.”

The one-semester-hour seminar will take an intersectional approach to understanding of modern entrepreneurship, focusing on economic, social, and environmental issues faced by companies today.

“One of the critical issues businesses face today is that of sustainability — how to most effectively acquire and use scarce resources while limiting their overall environmental impact,” the course description says.

UI freshman Julia So, a business major, said that while she hadn’t previously heard of the course, she believes it to be a step in the right direction.

“I know a lot of business students getting certificates in sustainability,” she said. “This seminar sounds like a great first step toward [encouraging] sustainability practices in business.”

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Sulentic, an Iowa native who earned a B.A. from UCLA in 1984, started his first business while in college.

“I knew that I wanted to go to Europe and go race cars, so I knew I had to start a business to fund that,” he said.

While working for a Formula One team in Europe, Sulentic noticed Ferrari brand clothing and noted that he had never seen that type of apparel in the United States. Sulentic decided to begin importing the clothing to the U.S.

Sulentic moved back to the U.S. after a few years of racing cars in Italy and headed to Iowa City at the urging of a friend.

While in Iowa City, Sulentic began working toward an M.B.A., which he earned in 1987.

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Sulentic eventually sold his clothing company and began looking for new opportunities. He contacted a former professor of his who suggested that Sulentic become a professor himself.

Sulentic began teaching in the Entrepreneurship Center in 1990. Since then, he has won a Collegiate Teaching Award and was nominated in 2016 for a President and Provost Award for Teaching Excellence.

UI senior Nick Battaglia, one of Sulentic’s students, said he appreciates his approach to teaching.

“I would just say [my favorite part is] just his overall teaching styling and how he cares individually about all students and breaks it down so we feel more than just a piece of the puzzle,” Battaglia said.

Sulentic said his experience will aid him in instructing the new course, noting that filling up a tank of gas costs much more than the price displayed on the pump.

“It is easy for me to get out of my comfort zone,” he said. “I always viewed [trying new things] as an adventure.”