UB MBA Alumnus Tackles Consumer Neuroscience, Head-on

Alumni Spotlight

Josh Penrod

Josh Penrod, MBA ’10, “Leadership is still the most important skill.”


Joshua Penrod, MBA ’10, is Senior Vice President for Source and International Affairs at a biologic and biotechnology industry trade association called the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association. He also is an adjunct professor in the Merrick School of Business. In 2018, he earned his Ph.D. and completed a dissertation titled “Innovating the Mind: Three Essays on Technology, Society, and Consumer Neuroscience,” at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The research paper focused on emerging practice of consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing. Among his dissertation advisers was UB Professor of Marketing Ven Sriram.

Penrod recently sat down with The Merrick Exchange to share some thoughts about the field of neuroscience and neuromarketing, his career milestones and to share some valuable advice for our students.

Merrick Exchange: Why is the field of neuroscience and neuromarketing so important in better understanding the decision process of consumers? 

Joshua Penrod:  I think the verdict is still out on how important it is in a general sense for marketing; the theory is that if one has a better understanding of brain activity, one will also have a better understanding of psychology and consumer decision-making.  It’s likely to be true and interesting in some cases, but perhaps not in others.  It has the potential to be very useful in regard to branding and product design, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.  We are more than just our brains.

Merrick Exchange: How does technology play a part in better understanding a consumer’s decision-making process? 

Joshua Penrod:  This is a great question that kind of was the crux of my dissertation.  I’ll skip a lot of the history but some researchers interested in business and consumer behavior started to use long-standing techniques such as eye-tracking and electroencephalography (EEG) in the 1970s and a bit later.  These started the idea of measuring behaviors which acted as a measure of a mental state…eye-tracking studied eye focus and fixation, which acted as a surrogate for the mental state of attention, for example.  This sort of thing has been around for decades.  It’s only been in recent years where the sexier technologies, such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) have been deployed in an effort to relate brain activity to things such as emotional states, decision-making, and perception.

Merrick Exchange: What is the most interesting or most fulfilling aspect of your work in the field of neuroscience and neuromarketing?

Joshua Penrod:  The entire neuroscience area is an emerging one and bursting with opportunities for science, technology, and enterprise.  Ultimately, the hope is that improving our understanding of the brain will lead to better understanding of ourselves not just for business but for basically everything.  There are so many ongoing controversies right now in the whole discipline that it’s hard to keep track of, but for someone with more of an observational role, such as mine, it’s a lot of fun to follow the arguments and discoveries.

Merrick Exchange: Please describe what you do at the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association.

Joshua Penrod:  I lead the international affairs department and source plasma division for the trade association.  All of PPTA represents the leading global  manufacturers of plasma-derived medicinal products and collectors of human plasma.  I do a little bit of everything, getting involved in our industry’s legislative, regulatory, and trade efforts all over the world.  A major part of it is the perception of the industry, the economic value of the industry, and the health care potential for patients.  I have an opportunity to interface with industry experts, policymakers, patients, and health care practitioners in many different countries and heath care systems.  I also work with a wonderful team of professionals.

Merrick Exchange: What are some of the business challenges that you face with your current projects at PPTA?

Joshua Penrod:  As a trade association, we’re on the cutting-edge of all of the health policy issues faced by a global industry.  We have to assist our member companies in many different facets and in many different cultural environments, and yet we a have a very small staff.  At the same time, our industry has been successful in meeting the needs of a medical infrastructure which has been achieving higher rates of clinical diagnosis for our patients, all of whom are afflicted by extremely serious and rare diseases.  It’s not unusual for myself or a colleague to be at a symposium in China, then in a meeting with European Union officials, in time to make it back for a conference with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration all in a 10-day period.  Managing the many different issues, attaining a deep cultural understanding and appreciation, and building relationships all require time, attention, and skill.

Merrick Exchange: You selected UB Professor of Marketing Ven Sriram as a dissertation adviser/mentor. Please share your thoughts on the importance of having a mentor in your professional life.

Joshua Penrod:  I knew Ven from when I did my MBA at UB many years ago.  We stayed in touch over the years and when I chose the direction I did for the dissertation at Virginia Tech, it made sense to “recruit” him and his expertise for the committee.  He didn’t seem to suffer too much, but you’d have to ask him.

But more seriously, he has been a wonderful guide and adviser both inside and outside of academia.  A good mentor is a sounding board and gives new perspective on issues that you may face, without being a de facto helicopter parent…and at the same time, the mentor has enough humor to see that when you ignored advice and made a mistake, more advice will cheerfully follow anyway.  And hopefully the mentee listens a bit more carefully the next time.

Merrick Exchange: What advice would you give to students who would like to pursue a career that combines marketing and technology?

Joshua Penrod:  It’s almost impossible to get away from technology in any field of business and management today.  There are so many interesting things happening now, not with just neuroscience, but in data analytics (Big Data), artificial intelligence, combining more and more techniques and insights.  It’s a dazzling time, but in the same context, the importance of listening carefully and having good judgment has also increased.  One can only hide behind data for so long before you just have to make a decision with conflicting, or even no information.  Leadership is still the most important skill.

Merrick Exchange: What is the one job-hunting secret you wish all students knew?

Joshua Penrod:  I wish I knew some secrets, but I don’t.  I do think that sometimes some of us may be too quick to hop from place to place without fully exploring the opportunities within an organization.  Ultimately, there’s always a time to move on, but oftentimes this is done in haste.  Another challenge is in confusing education and credentialing.  There’s no doubt that an MBA can open doors, but it’s also about the skills that you learn and practice in the workplace where it really pays off.  I worry sometimes that folks get lost in the notion of having a degree, without taking account of the actual practical skills that you refine as a professional in your field.  We all need to build on education.  It starts with an education, but career success takes practice and hard work to generate greater skills and expertise, and those skills and expertise are what generate value for organizations.

Merrick Exchange: Why did you choose to attend UB for your MBA?

Joshua Penrod:  It had (and continues to have) a wonderful flexibility to its online program, and I was attending in the Dark Ages compared to what it is now.  I had the good fortune to run into a number of professors during my time who really discovered how to use the online interfaces and get great value delivered to the students.   The curriculum was directly and immediately relevant to my life and career, and I learned just a tremendous amount.

Merrick Exchange: How has attending UB helped you in your career?

Joshua Penrod:  The substantive work in the classes all have direct relevance to my role in general and senior management.  So finance, accounting, marketing, economics, and operations have all been areas that I continue to draw on regularly.  The online interface increases pressure on the student to be self-starting and disciplined, which also helps in terms of execution and leadership.  Last, but certainly not least, to the extent that I engage in teaching, my role as an instructor at UB has been greatly informed by my time there as a student.

Merrick Exchange: What personal goal have you set for yourself for 2019?

Joshua Penrod:  I have a bunch of writing projects in the works, almost all of which come from the dissertation.  There are at least three articles and a book coming, so this is an excellent opportunity to practice even more self-discipline and get those projects done.  I’ve had a few things published in recent years, and I always feel great satisfaction to see the results of that sometimes difficult process.  I’m also looking forward to spending more time with UB teaching some courses, and getting to know more students.  I learn so much from my students every term; the diversity, the commitment, and the talent in our student pool all amaze me. That’s something you get from teaching that’s simply priceless.

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