Success Stories, Alumni, Doctor of Education

Ed.D. graduate’s journey to business success

Deborah Watts (’13) got her first job when she was 15 years old. Since then, her career has flourished, spanning across industries from academia to banking and start-ups. The Trevecca graduate now heads up her own consulting firm, Hayde & Company.

Named after her son, Hayden, Watts’ firm provides general HR consulting, leadership development and talent optimization for organizations across the globe. This past year, Watts was named one of the Nashville Business Journal's 2019 Women of Influence.

Watts launched her post-graduate career in the banking industry, making the move to Music City to work at Bankers Trust.

While working in the banking industry, Watts soon shifted her career, working in an executive role with America's Powersports, one of the largest retail dealer networks selling recreational and utility vehicles.

Brought on as the first employee by America's Powersport’s CEO, Watts spent nearly a decade building the company into a multimillion-dollar business with 18 dealerships across the country.

“I learned a lot throughout that time,” Watts said. “I was getting good real-world experience in the business sense.”

Creating a future of success

In 2006 while pregnant with her son, Watts left the company with plans to one day become her own boss. “Where do I go from here?” she wondered.

Taking some time off from work to figure out her next steps, Watts found herself thinking back to her MBA program.

“I thought about what I would want to do when [my son] went to kindergarten,” she said. “I looked back to my days in the MBA program and decided to go back to get my doctoral degree.”

With her sights set on earning a doctorate, Watts began scouring the internet for doctoral programs that suited her business and professional background.

“I knew I wanted a practitioner degree that [focused on skills that would] make the workplace better,” Watts said.

Trevecca’s Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in leadership and professional practice fit the bill.

“Looking into the Trevecca program, I said this is exactly what I’m looking for,” Watts recalls.

Designed for adults working every day to improve the lives of others, the Ed.D. program equips those in various industries to strategize, analyze, motivate, spearhead and transform their work environment for the good.

For Watts, who came into the program with an extensive professional background, the Ed.D did exactly what it was designed to do, according to Dr. Ryan Longnecker, program director of Trevecca’s online Doctor of Education (Ed.D) in leadership and professional practice.

“With Deborah, the Ed.D. gave her the tools to see leadership from that very high view and take those skills and affect hundreds, if not thousands [of people], across the globe,” he said.

Putting skills into practice

After completing her doctorate, Watts spent a few years working with graduate students and teaching at a local university. But Watts, who had thrived in corporate America before entering academia, knew a university setting wasn’t exactly the right fit.

Watts left the classroom for the boardroom, a place she always loved and thrived in.

“I knew that wasn’t for me because I’m a corporate girl,” Watts said. “I need that thrill and excitement and creativity piece of it.”

During her time in higher education, Watts began to grow more assured about going into business on her own, thanks in part to a speaker at an event for the National Association of Women MBA board she served on.

“A speaker had us take the Predictive Index (PI) assessment and instantly that changed my life,” said Watts. “It was a visual of how I felt and showed how I was adapting to my day-to-day.”

The Predictive Index is a behavioral assessment designed to be an effective, simple and easy measurement of current and future employee work skills—a tool Watts continues to use in her work today.

After that speech, Watts was ready to get back into the corporate scene. It just so happened the speaker that gave the PI assessment wanted to interview Watts for a position at the consulting firm, Oliver Group, which is a certified partner for the PI.

Thrilled to get back into the swing of a corporate environment, Watts took the position. She spent the next three years learning the consulting business—eventually becoming certified with the Predictive Index.

“After that, I knew I could do my own thing,” Watts recalled.

Watts left the Oliver Group in 2017 with her sights set on becoming her own boss. That same year, Hayde & Company, Watts’ own consulting firm, became a reality.

And thanks to the skills Trevecca’s Ed.D. program helped her develop, Watts says Hayde & Company is thriving.

“Most start-ups fail within the first year,” Watts said. “Here we are two years later and running strong, and I’m going to companies all over the world teaching leadership.”

Trevecca’s Ed.D. program strives to develop graduates like Watts, who are using the skills she honed in the program to become successful entrepreneurs, says Dr. Alice Patterson, program director of Trevecca’s campus Ed.D .program.

“This program has the academic foundation to provide individuals [like Deborah] the undergirding needed for success in their professional endeavors,” Patterson said.

By Blake Stewart
Media contact: Mandy Crow,, 615-248-1695