The Professor Who Wears Two Hats
“I always want to be doing more than one thing at a time,” Gordon Patzer says, “and that creates problems. I want to be in university life and I want to be in the entertainment industry, and I really can’t do both, so I move from one to the other.”
Restless and ambitious, Patzer by his own description is “a manipulator” who finds special satisfaction in being “a person in control, behind the scenes.” He has the tense, breathless manner of a man stepping gingerly on a path strewn with pins and needles.
Patzer, 33, teaches at Loyola Marymount University and works in marketing research at CBS Television, where a major part of his job is to help collect and analyze audience reaction to pilot shows for possible TV series, and then to recommend action to CBS management.
Between the two jobs Patzer, a bachelor, earns close to $37,000 a year. Additionally, he has built up a nest egg of $85,000 as a result of doing part-time consulting work and spending little money on himself. But he has been “too busy,” he said, to invest that nest egg creatively to make it grow, and “it’s merely earning interest” at a current money market rate, which brings him approximately $5,000 a year.
He referred to his nest egg as “practically nothing” in terms of purchasing power. “It’s ironic, but I feel financial stress, because I realize if I tried to buy housing, I couldn’t do it. And I do need housing. I need a car. I need clothes.
“So when I stack up my needs against what I have available, I actually feel poor. Sometimes it gives me second thoughts about why I’m working as hard as I do. I’m practically killing myself, putting 60 to 70 hours a week, or more, into a couple of jobs. I should really slow down to a less hectic routine.”
Not least of the ironies in his life, Patzer said, with an air of self-deprecating amusement, is that “I’m doing the very thing I faulted my father for. He seemed to be working all the time, when I was a little boy, and I really resented that.”
His father, who leased heavy machinery to construction companies and to farmers, conducted business from an office at home in suburban Washington. “He took phone calls morning and night, weekdays and weekends,” Patzer said. “There was no clean distinction about being at work or not being at work.
“My friends seemed to take normal vacations with their parents. But my father didn’t take vacations unless my mother really made him go somewhere to visit. He just seemed too busy with work to do anything else.
“I thoroughly disliked that life style then. I hated it. But now I’m leading a remarkably similar life, almost an identical pattern, with no distinction between working time and non-working time.”
The youngest of five children in “a conservatively religious Lutheran family,” Patzer characterized his boyhood attitude in a sentence: “I was extremely self-centered and manipulative.”
In elementary school, for example, “If I wanted someone’s lunch, I’d persuade friends to steal it, and then we’d all share it. But I’d feel totally innocent because I hadn’t done the stealing.”
The family later moved to North Dakota, and there he practiced more mischief. One time he urged a group of chums to stack “a whole bunch of junk on railroad tracks. The idea was to derail a freight train.” The blockade was discovered and the derailment averted, “but regardless, I felt innocent because I hadn’t personally done anything--I simply planted the idea with others and they were the ones who did the dirty work.”
Patzer fast-talked classmates into helping him during school tests. “But if I had studied, I never helped the others. I didn’t share information. I didn’t share my car. If they needed transportation, I’d charge them $1 or more. I was strictly a selfish schemer.”
He found plenty of jobs in off-school hours: hashing in a fast-food restaurant, pumping gas at a service station, waiting on tables in a strip joint.
“My parents had no interest in higher education. They wanted me to go to a trade school and find something steady and reliable, like factory work.” Defiantly, Patzer enrolled at Moorhead State University in Minnesota, and on the side he operated a one-man entertainment agency, booking rock bands.
“It was illegal to run a business out of a dorm,” he said, “but I did it anyway. I’d take phone calls day and night, booking bands into proms, school dances, bars, parties. It involved lots of headaches, but I got 15%" of the fees.
Always there was a temptation to rush toward the unknown, to live dangerously. After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, he traveled West, aimlessly at first.
He stopped in Las Vegas and “I thought, ‘boy, this is scary and big. Wouldn’t it be great if I could be comfortable here?’ I kept feeling tempted to go to places where I was uneasy and to imagine how wonderful it could be if things were different.
“In Las Vegas I enrolled in an eight-week course to be a croupier.” But it required a certain dexterity, “which I lacked, and I dropped out. Still, I didn’t want to go home and admit failure.”
To make matters worse, “I tried gambling. I’d saved about $800 over a long period of time, a dollar here and a dollar there, and I lost it all in two weeks. Blew it just like that. It was ridiculous.”
He found a room near the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. “Every day I’d go to the student union and the library and read the classified ads. I was floundering. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
He returned to North Dakota and, after taking a class in welding, landed a job in a farm equipment factory. “I’d seemed to do well in the training class, but on the assembly line it was real harsh.
“People were hollering, ‘hurry, hurry, hurry.’ First I’d get the (welding) rod stuck in the metal. Then I drilled a hole through the metal where I was supposed to weld it. It was just total chaos. So after a day and a half of work, I quit. I couldn’t handle it.
“My parents were upset. They saw the welding job as something secure, paying good money. But I decided it wasn’t for me.”
He found other work, this time as a drill press operator in a plant manufacturing aircraft parts. “I hated the job,” Patzer said, “and I made a mess of it. I’d go into the bathroom and sit there for 45 minutes, waiting for the day to go past.” He soon quit.
“My parents were getting more and more upset. I could see their thinking: ‘Here this guy went through college, got a BA in psychology, which was useless, and now he won’t stay with a nice, secure job.’
“But I was 21, turning 22, and I was frightened. I didn’t have control of my life, and it really bothered me.”
Patzer meantime had applied to nearly two dozen graduate schools. “My overall GPA (grade point average) was poor. I took the GRE (Graduate Record Examination to enter graduate school) and (the result) was terrible.” He took the GRE repeatedly, “each time trying to increase my overall quantitative scores.” Eventually he was accepted at five schools.
Realizing at last that his best chance to succeed depended upon studying hard and applying himself diligently, he earned a master’s in psychology at Pittsburg State University, Kansas, and then a second master’s degree in marketing and business administration at the University of Minnesota.
After that he headed to Los Angeles, for once again he was drawn to the unknown, tempted by the notion of tackling something “scary and big.” On a previous visit to Los Angeles he found it “huge and frightening,” and now, with “a little experience in a band-booking agency, and three degrees, I began imagining how great it would be if I could feel comfortable here. I wondered if I could make it on the business side of the entertainment world.”
What he found was a job as a houseboy in Beverly Hills, working for a married couple who were both employed outside the home. “I’d set the table, do the dishes after meals, make the beds, do a little vacuuming, water the lawn. This gave me room and board and allowed me to have most of the day free.”
Patzer attended seminars and workshops dealing with the role and responsibilities of the business manager in the entertainment industry. He perceived gradually that he was “merely one of thousands standing in line, waiting for a break” to enter the business side of entertainment. He could see that he needed something more, probably a Ph.D., “so that I could come back here at a higher level and compete successfully” for available jobs.
He enrolled in a doctoral program in marketing at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and he wrote a doctoral dissertation dealing with the phenomena and effects of physical attractiveness on marketing. Having obtained the degree, he routinely identifies himself as “Dr. Patzer.”
What drew him to the subject of marketing? “At a conscious level,” Patzer said, “I see it as a service to others. But at a subconscious level it can be seen as manipulating people,” just as he had been doing since childhood.
“I worked very hard for my Ph.D.,” he said, “practically killed myself with overwork, so I decided I was going to slow down.” He took what he suspected would be “a relaxing job,” teaching marketing at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, but he found that it was a full-time affair.
Patzer added to his university income by earning outside fees as a marketing consultant. “Suddenly I was doing just what I’d tried to avoid--working every minute of the day.” The following year he landed a less demanding post at the University of North Dakota, teaching marketing courses twice a week to Air Force officers. In his spare time he expanded his doctoral thesis into a textbook.
But he grew restless again and in August, 1984, after two years in North Dakota, he moved to Los Angeles, this time to become an associate professor of marketing at Loyola Marymount University.
“But I always read the classified ads,” he said, “no matter where I am or what I’m doing,” and shortly after he arrived in Los Angeles his attention was riveted by an ad indicating a job opening in the market research department at CBS television.
Patzer not only applied for the job but followed up with weekly queries to CBS during the next four months. CBS subsequently interviewed him five times, Patzer said, before hiring him in March, 1985.
Then, Patzer added, “I went to my dean and the academic vice president (at Loyola Marymount) and asked for a leave of absence. They said, in effect, ‘You can’t have it; you’re not tenured, you’ve only been here a few months.’
“It caused a real inconvenience for them.” Was Patzer troubled by that? “I gave it a thought but not that much of a thought. I didn’t lose sleep over it. That’s been my situation a lot of times when I left jobs. If I feel any guilt or remorse, I express it, and then the feeling disappears in about five minutes.”
Loyola Marymount agreed to let him become an adjunct professor, teaching a once-a-week course in marketing, and this enabled him to take full-time employment at the television network. “In fact,” Patzer said, “I’m once again working seven days a week. I leave my apartment (in Playa del Rey) around 8:30 in the morning and I get home around 8:30 at night.”
Patzer’s job title at CBS is “manager, program analysis.” One function of the department, he said, is to recruit viewers to watch pilots of TV shows in a special screening room at CBS, and afterward to fill out questionnaires.
“We bring in focus groups to give us their reactions,” Patzer said, “we analyze and evaluate the data, and afterward we make a recommendation to top management as to whether the (pilot) show should be made into a series.
“I love university life and I enjoy teaching,” he said. “But I also enjoy CBS and I really love the entertainment industry.”
What attracted him to the business side of the entertainment industry? “It’s glamorous and interesting combined with the fact that I like to be the manipulator, the person making it all happen, the person behind the scenes.”
Does manipulative ability alone account for his achievements? Patzer told an interviewer that there are other “less visible” but equally important components, specifically “hard work, ambition, determination and persistence,” as demonstrated by his diligent efforts to gain admission to graduate school and later to be hired at CBS.
Patzer’s desire to be “a powerful person in control” stands somewhat short of fulfillment. He said: “I feel lots of stress these days. Stress about work because I always want to be doing more than one thing at a time, stress about doing everything I want to do and knowing it can’t all be done.
“I also have stress about finances because--in a strange way--I feel rich and broke at the same time.
“I save money because my rent is only $350 a month, I drive an older car, I seem to spend very little on food and I’m just too busy to have any kind of a social life.”
But the savings will vanish, he said, just as soon as he tries to buy housing, a new car and makes improvements in his social life.
When will his personal situation improve? “I don’t know,” Gordon Patzer said, with the sigh of a man who has uncommon ability coupled with a strong drive to achieve his goals, yet has not quite managed to get his own life under control. “But I hope it’s soon.”