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        Faculty, School of Accountancy

        Coming full circle: Auburn alumnus and Harbert instructor Cochran retiring

        April 16, 2024 By Laura Schmitt

        All News


        Bob Cochran has commanded sailors and Marines, flown Navy aircraft around the world, argued on behalf of clients in court, and taught thousands of students business and aviation law at Auburn. On June 30, he will officially retire from his alma mater, ending his working days at the place that gave him his professional start.

        Bob Cochran

        Senior Lecturer Bob Cochran, who teaches business and aviation law at Auburn, is retiring in June.

        For the past 19 years, Cochran has been teaching the Business Law (ACCT 2700) class in the Harbert College of Business—a required course for all business students. The highly popular instructor is known for his laid-back teaching style and memorable stories that illustrate the finer points of contracts, sales, torts and the legal system.

        On a recent spring morning, the tall former Naval commander with the deep Southern drawl moves from behind the lectern in the auditorium-style classroom and slowly paces back and forth as he tells the first of several real-world stories that explain contract law concepts like the mode of timeliness, consideration and forbearance.

        Accounting junior Emily Koevary, a teaching assistant for the Business Law course, recalls looking forward to attending Cochran’s 8:00 am class when she was enrolled as a sophomore because he made abstract and complicated topics interesting and memorable.

        “I remember a number of times taking an exam and coming across a question that I could answer because of his engaging stories,” said Koevary, recalling Cochran’s description of the Palsgraf vs the Long Island Railroad case, where a passenger boarding a departing train with help from railcar employees dropped a package that exploded and injured a woman standing on the platform. “This case is famous for its judgment about foreseeability. His stories helped connect the dots.”

        Sophomore Kate Rees appreciated Cochran’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of business law. She also admired his concern for students.

        “His door was always open for questions related to the material covered in class and he wanted to see his students succeed in the [course], as well as in their careers,” Rees said.

        Alumna Lauren Horstman (marketing ’17), an American Airlines flight attendant and virtual reality new hire training instructor, can attest to this.

        “He’s very encouraging about your career path and he takes an interest in what’s going on in our lives,” she said. “He’s also one of the reasons why I like to travel so much. He wrote a recommendation letter for me, which helped me get into a Harbert study abroad program in Rome. This was the first time I’d ever been out of the country and now my entire career is flying.”

        Horstman has returned to campus as a guest speaker in Cochran’s Aviation Law and Policy course (AVMG 5090), instructing the students about safety issues and the relationship between commercial pilots and flight attendants.

        Cochran said the best part about teaching has been interacting with students.

        “I’ve worked hard to welcome students to come see me, especially those who are struggling,” said Cochran. “I try to show the students how to organize themselves, including planning study time, so they can work harder and still have time for a good social life, too. A lot of students don’t realize that’s possible.”

        The Navy career

        Bob Cochran in Navy uniform

        Cochran, who began his Navy career with Auburn's NROTC unit, served as a Naval officer for 20 years.

        As a business student in the 1970s, Cochran joined the Naval ROTC unit at Auburn, thinking he’d serve one tour of duty then go to graduate school. The Navy had other plans, offering him the training to become a naval aviator—a position that required a seven-year commitment from the new ensign.

        Cochran said he liked flying and he enjoyed his assignments, so he stayed on after his commitment was met.

        As an aviator, he primarily piloted the P-3, an anti-submarine and surveillance aircraft. He flew more than 200 transit flights across the Atlantic Ocean and landed on six of the seven continents.

        “I have vivid memories of sitting in the cockpit, cruising at altitude at 2:00 AM, dreaming of whether there was a way to get back to Auburn,” he said. “My Auburn memories were a great comfort to me on lonely nights flying north of the Arctic Circle or across the mid-Atlantic. We were away from home for long periods of time.”

        Cochran also became a Naval flight instructor for several aircraft, and as he rose through the officer ranks, he served on three Navy aircraft accident investigation boards.

        In July 1983, he married Karen Recknor and for the next 10 years, the couple made 11 moves, mostly to different bases in the United States. However, they spent two years in the late 1980s in rural Wales, United Kingdom, where Cochran was the commanding and executive officer of a Naval facility that had about 750 service members and family on the base.

        “It was the most beautiful tour we ever had,” he said.

        During the Gulf War in 1990 and early 1991, Cochran and his family were stationed at a Naval school near Norfolk, Virginia, where he designed and conducted training sessions for battle group staff, including admirals and other high-ranking military personnel.

        In late 1991, the Soviet Union disbanded, marking the end of the Cold War, and Cochran realized that his Naval career was also drawing to a close.

        “I would have loved to have stayed in the Navy another 10 years or so, but after the Berlin Wall fell, anti-submarine warfare became obsolete,” he said, referring to the historic November 1989 event that was the beginning of the end for Soviet communism.

        He completed his Navy career as a faculty member at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

        The attorney career

        Rather than retire and move near a Naval base reminiscing about his career like some fellow Navy officers, Cochran chose to earn a law degree from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.

        “The Navy made law school a lot easier for me,” Cochran said, referring to the discipline he developed during his 20-year military career.

        After graduating in 1997, he and Karen moved their family—daughters Christy and Kelly and son Clint—to Auburn, where he practiced law for a number of years. 

        According to Cochran, he spent a great deal of time in court representing clients in criminal, juvenile and civil cases early in his law career.

        “I enjoyed going to court, but saw that sometimes it wasn’t the best thing for the client. What I enjoyed most was helping clients solve problems,” said Cochran, who relished the opportunities to help clients set up a business or acquire property.

        Completing the circle

        The thought of teaching at Auburn crossed his mind, Cochran said, but he didn’t see any path to making that happen until the School of Accountancy (SOA) chair contacted him in February 2005 about teaching the business law class after the existing instructor became seriously ill.

        “Everything in my career seemed to happen by accident,” said Cochran, humbly adding, “There wasn’t a whole lot of making things happen myself. Everything turned out much better than I would have ever dreamed. Teaching here for 19 years was a great way to end my working days."

        Bob and Karen Cochran

        The Harbert College of Business is hosting a reception on April 29 in honor of Bob and Karen Cochran's retirements. Karen has worked for the Department of Finance for nearly seven years.

        During his Auburn career, Cochran has earned several awards, including the 2015 School of Accountancy teaching award and the 2016 Robert L. Burns Award given to the most outstanding faculty advisor among the 120 collegiate chapters of Sigma Pi fraternity. Although he was selected in 2020 by the Auburn student body to present the Final Lecture—an annual distinction for a single faculty member who has made extraordinary contributions to Auburn—he wasn’t able to deliver the talk due to the pandemic restrictions.

        Karen Cochran is also retiring from the Harbert College of Business, where she has worked as an administrative associate for the Department of Finance for nearly seven years. Prior to this, she worked in administration with the Department of Chemical Engineering for 10 years.

        Jonathan Stanley, SOA acting director and Taylor professor, is grateful for Cochran’s unselfish contributions to the university and students. “We have been so fortunate to have him serve on the faculty, and we’re excited for him and Karen as they embark on their next journey.”

        According to Bob, they’ll continue to enjoy attending shows at the Gogue Center for Performing Arts, as well as Auburn Tigers basketball and baseball games. And the couple plans to continue their involvement with the Lee County Alabama Sunrise Rotary Club among other activities.

         The Harbert College of Business is hosting a retirement reception for Karen and Bob Cochran on Monday,   April 29, from 3:30 – 4:30 in the Alabama Power Room, fifth floor of Lowder Hall.