Joseph Helgert

Nov. 24, 1952 - Feb. 16, 2024

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Joseph P. Helgert, a professor of business and communications whose work led to a deeper understanding of Japanese business practice, died Friday, February 16, 2024, in Tempe, Arizona, from pancreatic cancer. He was 71. A creative academic writer whose work was widely published in Japanese, Korean and English, Helgert wrote case studies of contemporary Japanese business in which case participants were the main characters in a unique short story introduction to the standard business case. He was able to place Japanese business practice into cultural context based on years of work, study and teaching in Japan. A well-received contribution was his 2005 book, Comparing and Contrasting Marketing Assumptions and Advertising Strategies in Japan and the United States: Case Studies published by Edwin Mellen Press of Lewiston, New York. Helgert wrote about his experiences as a supervisor of Japanese advertising in Tokyo for Motorola, an American electronics company that succeeded in breaking into the tightly controlled Japanese merchant semiconductor and telecommunications market. During the eighties, Japanese business acquisition and market domination filled the news and American businesses struggled to understand how to break into the Japanese market and offset the growing trade imbalance. Professor Ellis Krauss, a preeminent Japanese scholar in the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, said of Helgert, “I know of few people who combined his academic and real-world business experience with his knowledge of US and Japanese business environments acquired through academic training and personal experience.” Helgert was born November 24, 1952, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He received his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1974 before completing an M.A. at the University of Iowa in 1974. He met his wife, the former Sharon M. Hankwitz, in Madison after a brief period of teaching and graduate school. The couple moved to Arizona and were married in Phoenix in 1982. After earning an M.B.A. from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in 1983, he joined Motorola and began traveling to Japan. He earned a Ph.D. in Business Management from the Union Institute and University while working at Motorola. He was appointed assistant professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, in 1988 and was promoted to associate professor in 1994. He retired from Grand Valley in 2012. He taught some of the first graduate courses in the School of Communications, founded and was the first coordinator of the East Asian Studies Program, and finished teaching honors students in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies. Upon retiring, he took an academic staff job at Michigan State University as Managing Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. A student at the University of Arizona stated, “Dr. Helgert was one of the most innovative and exciting teachers I ever had. He made learning a joy. Having him as a professor changed my view of learning. He helped me make the learning connection from the classroom to the real world.” Helgert’s major awards included a Sasakawa Fellowship in 1994, nomination as Outstanding Professor of the Year at Arizona International College at the University of Arizona, New York Art Directors Award for Copywriting, Phoenix Art Directors Award for Copywriting and the Hayden Excellence in Advertising Award. He was the first Visiting Scholar from Grand Valley at the Michigan Center for Japanese Studies in Hikone, Japan. In addition to Grand Valley, Helgert taught at the University of Arizona, the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, Central Michigan University and the College of St. Francis. Helgert was an avid movie buff, an inventive electronics hobbyist and a tireless world traveler. He is survived by his wife, Sharon Helgert, of Tempe, Arizona; one sister, Patricia Striker of Iowa; and two brothers, Daniel and Thomas Helgert, both of Wisconsin. Special thanks to Pine Park Health, Hospice of the Valley, and Mirabella at ASU for the care and encouragement provided. Services are in the care of Bunker Family Funeral Home in Mesa, Arizona, and the Earth Funeral Group, Inc., in Auburn, Washington. A guest book can be found at this site.


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