Wharton’s New Dean Garrett Promises to Bring Global Perspective

Geoffrey Garrett, the next dean of the Wharton School, has spent the past six years explaining the U.S. to Australians. Now, he plans on helping Ivy League students understand the rest of the world.

Garrett, 55, dean of the Australian School of Business in Sydney, will bring two decades of experience in international business and politics to Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, when he begins July 1. Penn announced his appointment yesterday.

Working in Sydney, and before that at universities in Los Angeles, has given him a perspective on the importance of Asia for future generations of business leaders, Garrett said in a phone interview from Canberra.

“It’s something I’m very passionate about,” Garrett said. “If you’re in the Northeast U.S., there’s an understandable geographical proximity that makes the transatlantic and Europe loom very large. But people in the Northeast, including Barack Obama, understand it’s the Asia-Pacific century and that’s the sensibility that I’ll bring to the Wharton job.”

Wharton, founded by industrialist Joseph Wharton in 1881, was the first business school to be part of a university, according to its website. It has about 1,700 MBA students, 2,500 undergraduates and more than 600 people in either Ph.D. or Executive MBA programs.

Garrett “has a deep understanding of Wharton’s distinctive mission and a compelling vision for the role of business schools in an era of rapid change and globalization,” said Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, in a statement.

Strong Credentials

A native of Australia, Garrett received a Ph.D. from Duke University. After a two-year stint teaching multinational management at Wharton in the mid-1990s, Garrett taught political science at Yale University and international relations both at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. He also was the president of the Pacific Council on International Policy, a nonprofit research organization based in Los Angeles.

Garrett wrote “Partisan Politics in the Global Economy” a text that explains how domestic politics shape international trade, said Mauro Guillen, a Wharton professor of international management.

“He brings very strong credentials in terms of understanding where the world is going,” said Guillen, who was Garrett’s colleague at Wharton. He also has the leadership and communication skills necessary for running a business school, Guillen said.

‘Unusual Combination’

Garrett has tremendous energy and a great capacity for dealing with people, said Frances McCall Rosenbluth, who led a search committee at Yale that brought Garrett to run the Georg Walter Leitner Center for International and Comparative Political Economy.

“This is an unusual combination in academics,” she said. “He’s quick to challenge and to enjoy pushing the envelope on intellectual inquiry.”

In Australia, Garrett ran the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney before becoming dean of the Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales.

Garrett succeeds Thomas Robertson, who will have served a seven-year term as dean at Wharton and will return to teaching.

Robertson’s tenure coincided with the financial crisis, which helped prompt the school to unveil a new curriculum that placed greater emphasis on ethics and gave alumni the opportunity to return for refresher courses.

Application Decline

Applications for the MBA class of 2015 dropped 5.8 percent to 6,036 from a year earlier, even as rival institutions such as Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business reported gains. Wharton’s admissions director at the time, Ankur Kumar, attributed part of the decline to the school’s new team-based admissions interviews, where applicants meet in small groups to solve a real-world business problem.

Last fall, Wharton expanded its offering of free courses through the online platform Coursera, duplicating much of what its first-year MBA students learn. Hundreds of thousands of students around the world have enrolled in the courses.

Almost 40 percent of Wharton MBA students take jobs in the financial industry, more than any other field, and more than graduates of Harvard Business School, where 27 percent choose finance careers. Wharton should continue to draw on its ties with Wall Street, Garrett said.

‘Coming Back’

“Since 2008, finance as an industry has taken both financial hits and reputational ones,” Garrett said. “Finance is coming back and Wharton is too. There are opportunities to take a big picture view of the role of finance after the financial crisis.”

He’ll take over Wharton as MBA programs around the world come under pressure as too time consuming and expensive for most potential students.

“It’s increasingly difficult for working professionals, at say age 30, to take two years out of a career for study,” Garrett said. “Most of the global MBA market has moved to part time to cater to very busy people who work full time.”

One year in Wharton’s MBA program costs $97,080 including room and board and other expenses, according to its website. While Garrett said “you get what you pay for,” he said it’s important that Wharton maintain a scholarship program to ensure a diverse mix of students.

“Wharton does a lot of scholarship support for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to come,” Garrett said. “I don’t think anyone wants a financial hurdle to prevent anyone from getting a Wharton education.”

Schools like Wharton can continue to attract high-caliber students because they know they can develop a network they will draw on throughout their careers, he said.

“That’s invaluable and worth the massive commitment that a two-year, full-time degree entails,” he said.

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