In Search of Deans, B-Schools Eye Top Execs

Search committees at business schools are increasingly considering chief executive officers for top administrative positions, with two business schools in Boston and New York recently tapping former CEOs to head up their schools as deans.

This week, Kenneth Freeman, the former CEO of Quest Diagnostics Inc. (DGX), a Teterboro (N.J.)-based provider of medical testing services, is starting his new role as dean of Boston University School of Management (BU Full-Time MBA Profile). Neil Braun, the former CEO of Viacom Entertainment (VIA) and former president of NBC Television Network, joined Pace University's Lubin School of Business (Lubin Full-Time MBA Profile) as dean on July 1.

The two men join a handful of American business schools that have tapped corporate executives as deans in the past five years, including Wake Forest University's Schools of Business (Wake Forest Full-Time MBA Profile) in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business (Fisher Full-Time MBA Profile) in Columbus. These schools are recruiting outside academia in an attempt to raise their visibility, differentiate themselves from competitors, and bring a more business-style approach to running the institution, says Dan King, executive director of the American Association of University Administrators, a nonprofit in Stoughton, Mass., that offers programs and services for university administrators.

"That kind of narrow and bounded perception of what deans do has changed really dramatically, so now in many places there is really a heightened expectation that the dean should be the public face of the school," said King in a telephone interview on July 27. "Business schools, in particular, want to present a prestigious public face. One way of presenting that image is showing they can recruit a leader who has been a successful executive in business and industry."

Though schools like Boston University and Pace are turning to the corporate world for leadership, business school deans who are former executives remain a minority in the management education world, according to a 2007 survey of 355 U.S. and international business school deans done by the Tampa-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), one of the leading accreditation agencies for business schools. In the survey, 15 deans came from jobs as corporate president or CEO and four came from a vice-president or senior manager role, compared with 328 who had other academic posts.

"It is still the exception, but maybe the exception isn't as odd or as unusual as it was 10 or 15 years ago," said John Fernandes, president of AACSB, in a telephone interview on July 27.

BU Goes Corporate Again

Boston University School of Management was one of the first business schools to tap the corporate world for a dean, hiring Louis E. Lataif, the former president of Ford Motor Co.'s (F) European operations, as dean in 1991. When it came time to search for a successor to Lataif, the school looked at candidates from both the academic world and the business community, said N. Venkat Venkatraman, a management professor who chaired the business school's dean search committee, in a telephone interview on July 21. Of the 10 finalists for the job, four were from Fortune 500 companies, while the remaining six were academics, he said. With the business school coming up on its 100th anniversary in 2013, the committee was looking for a person who could improve the school's visibility in the Boston area, as well as nationally and globally, and Freeman's track record impressed the committee, Venkatraman said.

During Freeman's time at Quest, the company's market capitalization increased to about $9 billion from $350 million in 1996, when it was spun off by Corning Inc. (GLW), according to a press release by Boston University. He was also familiar with the business school world, having spent time as an executive-in-residence at the New York-based Columbia Business School (Columbia Full-Time MBA Profile), as well as teaching classes on executive compensation and health care at various business school campuses, Venkatraman said.

"We wanted someone who could think outside the box and the committee felt that Ken Freeman brought something new and exciting to the school," said Venkatraman. "He was someone we felt could take the school to the next level."

Freeman's experience working at business schools in the last few years convinced him that he wanted to play a stronger role in shaping the future of management education, which is why he applied for the deanship opening at Boston University, he said in a telephone interview on July 20. Among his goals are improving the reach of the management school's brand in the U.S. and globally, as well as broadening the school's relationship to the larger business community, he said.

"The search committee told me that they hoped that the next dean would be a builder and evolve the school's strategic plan to the next level," Freeman said. "I'd like to raise the bar in terms of getting the ranking of the school from where it is today into the top tier of business schools."

Pace Embraces CEO-as-Dean Model

The business school dean search committee at Pace University's Lubin School, which has 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students at campuses in New York City and White Plains, N.Y., interviewed about a dozen executives for the dean opening, as well as academic candidates, said Bill McGrath, chair of Lubin's dean search committee, in a telephone interview on July 28.

The school also recently had a former CEO at the helm, Joseph Baczko, founder of Wayne (N.J.)-based Toys "R" Us International, the largest U.S. toy store, who stepped down this summer after five years as dean. "We saw the model of CEO-as-dean worked because of that experience," McGrath said.

Braun emerged as a front-runner for the job because of his 30 years' experience as a senior manager, including his work running small business startups, McGrath said. Prior to coming to Pace, Braun was CEO of The CarbonNeutral Co., headquartered in New York and London, which helps small businesses and corporations reduce their carbon footprints.

Braun said he intends to spend the next few months visiting with faculty, students, and alumni, getting a sense of the direction the school wants to take, and articulating his vision. He plans to take a close look at everything from how the school is spending and raising money, to ways to make the curriculum more challenging for students.

"I'm bringing to the table a real business perspective on how organizations are run," he said in a telephone interview on July 27. "I feel like this place, because of the recession and other financial issues they've had to deal with over the last several years, needs a little bit of a shot in the arm with leadership."

Former Execs Lead at Ohio State, Wake Forest

In the last few years, at least two other business schools in the U.S. announced they were naming former executives as dean.

Most recently, Christine Poon, the former worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals at New Brunswick (N.J.)-based Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), the world's largest health-products company, joined Ohio State's Fisher College of Business in 2009, becoming the school's first dean to come directly from the private sector. Since arriving, she's established new programs in health care and energy, and forged partnerships with companies like Dublin (Ireland)-based Accenture (ACN), Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY), and Dublin (Ohio)-based Cardinal Health (CAH).

"I do think that having the experience in the corporate world has influenced how I approach the role," Poon said in a telephone interview on July 28. "I'm a much more externally facing kind of dean, and am spending a lot of time with the business community, trying to connect them with the college in as many ways as I can."

In 2008, Wake Forest University's Schools of Business appointed Steve Reinemund, former CEO of PepsiCo (PEP), the beverage and snack-food company based in Purchase, N.Y., as dean. He quickly used his management background to help implement change at the school, he said in a telephone interview on July 27.

About a month after he arrived, he hired a management consulting firm that in 90 days helped the school revamp its system for performance reviews and salary increases for professors, giving faculty the option of deciding whether they want to spend more time on teaching or research. Under his leadership, the school has launched a new Master of Arts in Management program for undergraduates with liberal arts backgrounds who are considering business careers. He's also helped raise money for a new building that will house both the school's graduate and undergraduate programs; the school has received $25 million so far for the new building and expects to raise an additional $20 million by the end of the year, Reinemund said.

"We have a very aggressive provost and president at Wake Forest, so the school has a strong desire to continue to get better," he said. "It's been every bit as challenging as any corporate experience I've ever had."

Combination Doesn't Always Work

Sometimes the partnership between the former-executive-turned-dean and the business school doesn't work out, as has been the case most recently in Europe, where three business schools have moved away from the CEO-to-dean model, said AACSB's Fernandes. John Wells, the former chief financial officer for Pepsi Europe, stepped down this summer as president of IMD (IMD Full-Time MBA Profile), a business school in Lausanne, Switzerland, after just 16 months in the job, the Financial Times reported on June 25. He has since been replaced by Dominique Turpin, a French professor of management and strategy at the school, as interim president, the school said in a news release on its website on July 1.

London Business School (LBS Full-Time MBA Profile) found itself in a similar situation not too long ago, when Robin Buchanan, a former senior partner at the global consultancy Bain & Co., stepped down as dean in January 2009 after 16 months in the role; he was replaced by Sir Andrew Likierman, a longtime professor at the school, according to a Dec. 22, 2008, press release on the London Business School website.

On July 9, the Financial Times reported that Dipak Jain, the former dean at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management (Kellogg Full-Time MBA Profile), will be taking over as dean of INSEAD (INSEAD Full-Time MBA Profile), the business school with campuses in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi. He'll be replacing Frank Brown, who spent 26 years with PricewaterhouseCoopers, before joining the school in 2006. Brown is expected to step down at the end of his five-year term in 2011, according to the Financial Times article. INSEAD has not yet made an announcement about a new dean.

"Schools may be tempted to bring in someone that is proven in a professional capacity, but they don't always work out," Fernandes said. "A lot of 'corporate deans,' as they call them, crash and burn mostly because the environment is so different and faculty, as independent contractors, don't always have to march to the dean's drum."

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