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Interview: Dr. Bob Castaneda

Interview: Dr. Bob Castaneda

“Teaching gives me the opportunity of sharing my experience on what is important with students.” — Dr. Bob Castaneda


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Teaching Teamwork

What is the secret to success for non-profit organizations? Dr. Roberto Castaneda says it comes down to working together as a team

Dr. Roberto Castaneda sounds a little bit like a baseball coach as he preaches the value of teamwork, but his field is the world of nonprofit organizations.

Castaneda, who goes by Dr. Bob, is an adjunct faculty member in the Master of Science in Nonprofit Management Program at Spertus, where he teaches two courses on nonprofit leadership. No matter the class, his message is the same: in order to find success, individuals need to work together.

“The entire organization will succeed if everyone works as a team,” Castaneda said. “That probably is the overwhelming thing to provide an organization.”

He speaks with plenty of experience, both in the nonprofit and for-profit realm. Castaneda worked in senior finance positions and traveled around the world for the McDonald’s Corporation, PepsiCo, and American Express. He worked with multiple consulting firms for the past decade before opting to become a financial consultant last year. He also currently serves as treasurer for Friends of the Orphans and the Illinois Literacy Foundation.

Throughout it all, his goal has remained relatively the same: find ways to help organizations grow financially. One method he found to be successful was looking at, and helping to improve, an organization’s financial literacy. Simply put, Castaneda focuses on understanding the power employees provide when they understand how their decisions impact the organization’s bottom line.

“Financial literacy is everybody’s job in the organization,” he said. “Everybody needs to work as a team in order to make this happen.”

Organizational financial literacy was Castaneda’s dissertation topic when he received his Doctorate in Business Administration from Argosy University. He also earned a Master of Management / Master of Business Administration degree from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and an undergraduate degree in Accounting and Marketing from DePaul University.

But when it comes to learning the value of nonprofit organizations, Castaneda learned that lesson much earlier. He was just 6 years old, growing up on the Southwest side of Chicago in a family that had little money. There were not enough funds for Christmas presents that year, but on December 25, Castaneda and his siblings received presents thanks to a local nonprofit organization.

“Being a 6 year old without Christmas presents is not an easy thing to overcome,” Castaneda said. “Ever since, it just stuck with me as to how others can reach out and help people feel good about themselves.”

It was about 10 years later when Castaneda was a student at Gage Park High School on the West Side of Chicago that he discovered his passion for accounting. It was the 1971-72 school year and there was a racial segregation issue in the neighborhood that eventually led to 90 percent of the student body boycotting classes.

Castaneda was not in the majority.

“People were outside picketing and I would just go to class every day going through the picket lines,” Castaneda remembered. “Instructors, because there weren’t so many students, they were working with students practically one-on-one.

“One of the classes I took was accounting, and it was interesting because I showed up and the instructor gave me one-on-one, hands on experience in high school. From then on I decided to go into the field of accounting.”

That accounting teacher clearly played a pivotal role in Castaneda’s life. Now Castaneda hopes to have a similar influence through not one, but two teaching endeavors. At Spertus he is able to help individuals who want to help others through nonprofit organizations, while at the same time giving back to his hometown.

But Spertus is not the only school Castaneda is affiliated with. He is also an adjunct professor for Walden University, which offers an online degree program for internationals students. Castaneda deals with Latin American students in the program, and has been doing so since 2006.

“I found (Walden University) to be most intriguing mainly because of working with students who don’t have a lot of money and are looking to improve their livelihood by getting an American degree,” he said.

In retrospect, Castaneda has spent his career trying to help companies grow. Now his focus is directed at the next generation, and helping them grow in any way he can.

“I’ve had a lot of experience,” Castaneda said as he thought back on his career. “Teaching gives me the opportunity of sharing my experience on what is important with students.”