How Literary Reading and Expository Writing Helped Corts become a Successful Entrepreneur
David Corts loves to hire English majors. Corts is the COO of Fresh Technology, a software company that tries to make technology seamless for restaurants so they can focus on food and customers. Corts explains, “I‘ve spent most of my career in software and technology, and truly the best engineering leaders that I’ve worked with happened to all be liberal arts majors.” His preference for English majors and other humanities majors comes down to strong critical thinking skills that translate into business aptitude, problem solving, and good management.
”There‘s a word that‘s going around everywhere, at least in my circles: framework. I think what a liberal arts education, especially being an English major, is a framework for how to think. Yes, it is a little more amorphous than accounting. But it‘s amazing how many really smart people that I work with didn’t get that type of education during those really formative years and have struggled to figure out which problems to solve.”
Literary reading and expository writing helped make Corts a successful entrepreneur, though in ways he couldn’t have anticipated. As an example, he notes that “reading Joseph Conrad’s novels and having to come up with an original argument, then communicate that argument in a convincing way is actually so applicable to everything else you’re going to have to do in life, particularly in business. When you’re writing, you have to manage information. How do we formulate a framework to think about it? How do we determine what matters? And then how do we communicate it?”
Corts believes that English majors have a vast array of options and finds the assumptions about needed an overtly practical major to be false and misleading. As an entrepreneur, he has found that the human brain is wired for stories. “People need a story. When I first got to this company, I said, what‘s our story? It was all over the place.” So, Corts asked the team to explain why what they were doing matters to the rest of the world as well as to the employees who spend up to 12 hours a day there. The result helped Fresh Tech focus their business model and grow their market share.
Corts is a true Vol with deep roots in both academics and athletics. He remembers coming to home games as a child and staying at the home of Cordelia Hodges, the widow of John C. Hodges, former department head and benefactor of the library. When he was in high school in Nashville, Corts shared the football field with another famous UT English graduate, major league pitcher R. A. Dickey, whose literary memoir Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball quickly became a classic.
Corts recently interviewed a new candidate for a job that is highly technical and quantitative in nature. In the middle of the interview, she said, “look, I’ve got to tell you I‘m an English major, but the value that I‘m going to bring to the table is that I can understand your business. I can synthesize all this information. It means I can put myself in the shoes of your customer and understand why they’re making decisions. I can tell the story.” His team smiled, knowing how much he values his English major education and employees who understand the value of storytelling in the business world. And yes, she got the job.