Rick Watson is the real-world embodiment of a tall tale. The Terry College professor of management information systems, who has lived in Athens for 22 years, likes to say he’s from “Southern Georgia.” But listen to him describe the farm of his youth and within seconds it’s obvious Watson is not even remotely Georgian.
However, as any self-respecting southerner will attest, at the core of every humorous yarn lies an unassailable fact. And when the J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy says he’s a true southerner – and one of the few people in Athens with a genuine southern accent – he speaks the unadulterated truth.
Watson’s youth wasn’t just spent below the Mason-Dixon Line; he lived at the bottom of the globe on the edge of the Western Australian bush country – an undulating landscape of wheat and sheep farms, punctuated with clumps of mallee scrub or the occasional gum tree reaching skyward like a giant exclamation point.
The south of his past and present may be worlds apart, but Watson still manages to draw from both – right down to his unique greeting crafted from two distinctly “southern” words from opposite ends of the earth:
But Rick Watson is more than a true southerner; he’s a model citizen of the planet. If he has his way, he’ll combine his talents and resources to turn us all into good citizens of the world – and he’ll do it with the same ingenuity and two-worded efficiency that it takes to greet us, and communicate the homes of his past and present, at the same time.
Watson is a 21st-century Johnny Appleseed, a conservationist whose seeds are information; his land, the energy grid; and his harvest, intelligent and energy-efficient models that solve today’s problems with tomorrow’s technology.
The former MIS department head and past president of the Association for Information Systems is highly regarded in academia for his pioneering research, his innovative classroom instruction, and his bridge–building outreach with the Global Text Project and the Ph.D. in IS program in Ethiopia. However, Watson doesn’t just have the attention of academics. As the research director for the Society for Information Management Advanced Practices Council (APC), Watson works with CIOs representing global corporations that seek research with practical application.
Students, peers, and industry professionals rave about Watson, marveling at how he finds the time to excel across a broad array of projects – especially when academics are highly encouraged to have a deep, but narrow focus.
“He’s a visionary; he often sees the big trend, the important phenomenon, and where it’s going next,” says MIS professor Maric Boudreau, who has partnered with Watson on numerous research projects, including cutting-edge academic research on “Energy Informatics,” a term Watson coined for plugging energy into the information equation to generate an energy savings. Boudreau says being the first to tackle a subject in academia isn’t a conventional path to success, but Watson is comfortable with the risks.
Watson’s vision comes from the talent he has for connecting with people and ideas around the world that represent a variety of disciplines – and then thinking tangentially to find solutions as if they’re pieces to a puzzle.
“It’s just amazing what he can come up with. You give him a question and his response is never what you’d think,” says senior MIS student Tyler Williamson (BBA ’11), who describes Watson as a master delegator because he provides a framework for success and expects others to work independently at a high level. “I have worked with him for three years and the one thing he has never done is tell me how to do something. He always gives me an objective and lets me figure it out. That’s honestly the single greatest thing that he’s taught me. It’s changed the way I think about things.”