Living on the Wild Side

  • September 2nd, 2016

Elephants represent a theme in the two worlds of Dr. A. J. “Lonnie” Strickland, Culverhouse professor of strategic management. This fall Strickland started his 47th year at The University of Alabama, where he will again be surrounded by Big Al images roaming the sidelines of Bryant-Denny Stadium. That’s one world.Africa Wait is that Big Al It's hard to tell from this angle

The other world, if you can believe it, is even wilder than a Saturday football weekend here on campus.

The Crimson Tide mascot and Bryant-Denny Stadium can’t compare with the real-life elephants and wide-open fields that come to life with wild animals. That’s where Strickland lives every summer. He and his wife Kitty savored their 31st season in South Africa in Krueger National Park.

Lonnie and Kitty spend three months each year on their South African game preserve, where 90 miles of remote roads provide photographic access to zebras, hyenas, lions, rhino and giraffes. It’s not unusual to see 14,000-pound elephants stroll across their lawn. Sometimes the animals might even creep in to watch as Strickland grills dinner.

“All the African animals live right in our yard,” Strickland said. “In the evenings, since there are no lights, the stars appear to be sitting on top of the trees. It’s a magical place.”Africa giraffes and zebras share the water at a local watering hole near the Stricklan's home

Strickland called Kitty “a really great sport” about their drop-in neighbors. One afternoon she opened — and very quickly closed — their screen door, so as not to disturb a large leopard sleeping on their stoop.

The idyllic atmosphere accommodates more than large catnaps. Strickland said his stays on a game preserve in South Africa have had a profound impact on his knowledge of strategic management and the classroom experience.

“Every species can teach us something about strategy, from the dung beetle that rolls dung back to its den, never giving up when it reaches an obstacle to feed their young,” explained Strickland. “Take the leopard that studies his or her prey until they identify a weakness before they attack, and the elephants that are masters of a shared vision where the matriarch rules the herd in such a way that each elephant contributes to the achievement of the vision.”

When he does return to Tuscaloosa, Strickland tries to bring back some lessons learned from the wild to teach his students.

“In the classroom, my technique is to cover the material by telling stories of how the concepts work,” said Strickland. “Cheetahs are my favorites because of how they communicate a kill strategy where each cheetah listens to the plan with a very faint whistle and then when they make the kill, each cheetah is treated the same as the one that actually did the kill.”

Strickland said his doors are always open to visitors. “A lot of my students come over and visit,” Strickland said. “They come and stay with us and go on photographic safaris. We’ve had encounters with baboons in the house, which is not ideal. But we’ve never really been in an unsafe situation.”

“We’ve never had any of our guests eaten,” he said, suppressing a smile.Africa Lonnie MBA students