More Business Schools Want CEOs For Deans, Not Academics

Posted by: Geoff Gloeckler on December 29, 2011

Educators who act and think like CEOs are nudging academics out of coveted dean positions at U.S. business schools, according to new research from The Korn/Ferry Institute, a talent management think tank.

“Just like private enterprise, (business schools) are undergoing a fundamental transformation” in response to changing student values, the Internet and unprecedented economic pressures, the report says.

Applications to two-year, full-time MBA programs declined an average of 10 percent in 2011, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. And, “lower starting salaries for MBAs (relative to the pre-financial-crisis years) make the high price tag of an MBA education a more difficult sell,” reads the report. As a result, B-schools are “hungry for alternatives to the traditional dean candidates, who historically possessed deep backgrounds in core areas such as finance or economics.”

The report specifically mentions Sally Blount, who was named Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2010, as an example of the new prototype. Blount worked at the Boston Consulting Group for two years, her academic expertise is more in management than in finance, and she credits Boeing CEO Jim McNerney Jr. for giving her valuable advice on how to approach her position, the report says.

Also, there are a handful of business schools that have cut right to the chase and named executives as their deans outright: Pace University hired former Viacom Entertainment CEO Neil Braun in 2010, the same year that Boston University named former Quest Diagnostics CEO Kenneth Freeman as its B-school dean. Additionally, former PepsiCo CEO Steven Reinemund moved into the dean’s office at Wake Forest University’s Schools of Business in 2008.

At the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics, David Blackwell will be taking the dean’s office on January 1. Blackwell served in director positions at KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers before migrating to academia.

Is this trend of bringing business leaders into the dean’s office a good idea in the long run for management education? We’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

-Erin Zlomek

Reader Comments

Der Chao Chen

December 29, 2011 12:27 PM

That will not be the trend, at least in Taiwan. Here we have some strict rules for hiring administrators (Dean, Principle) in higher education institutions, especially for those National universities.

However, that kind of regulations also limit the flexibility about the development of business schools here and development of business/management education, in particular.

Nilay Yajnik

December 29, 2011 1:20 PM

I don't think this trend of making a Dean out of a Corporate CEO , who has never taught in a class is correct.The Dean of a B-School has to earn the respect of his Faculty colleagues and that can only be done by the breadth and depth of knowledge of the subject which he teaches/researches. A Dean is not just an administrator.He/She is first and foremost an Academic
Nilay (Mumbai , India)


December 29, 2011 2:50 PM

About time that eggheads were replaced by real businessmen and leaders. Remember, "who cannot do can only teach".


December 29, 2011 5:50 PM

Ummmm....yeah, Northwestern is not a B school for business.


December 30, 2011 8:17 AM

Sounds like the B-school pendulum is now swinging in the other direction: a little less academic and a bit more commercial. I guess we will start to see commercials of beeming graduates at work creating opportunities for their employers.

Perhaps, a better approach would be to have a board of CEOs providing advice to a dean of a school, nuch like a corporation.

Ahhh, free capitalism. Either way, hold on to your wallet. Your about to be capitalized.


January 6, 2012 12:10 PM

You mentioned an alma mater of mine BU. BU named Lou Lataif dean 20 or so years ago. He had been a high level Ford exec as memory recalls. His stewardship seems to have validated the choice and perhaps the concept.


January 7, 2012 3:12 AM

No, Raz, with higher tuition, you are about to be DE-capitalized!

On the other hand, I do think it is probably better to have a mix of dean types. Pure academics are challenged to understand what the students want (better jobs) and need (skills plus networking opportunities).

"Real world" deans from the corporate world may not understand the "production function" of a business school ... including input resources of key resources such as faculty. They may not be familiar with the intellectual trajectory of the subject matter in our field.... although they can probably catch up somewhat.

Good to have heterogeneity!

Behram Hansotia

January 11, 2012 6:39 PM

As long as the "corporate" dean does not try and make radical changes and stays out of the faculties' way, he will be tolerated. Everything at Universities gets done by faculty committees, so as far as impacting the curriculum, the dean will have little say. The faculty expect him to raise money and establish chairs and not to meddle too much in academics.


January 12, 2012 2:48 AM

What makes a B-school attractive to students and employers as well?
Whatever the answer, it seems to me that academic quality is only one of the indispensable core factors. CEOs are likely to be better equipped to understand and implement the key success factors. The ideal dean could be a CEO with a passion for educating future CEOs.

Collins Manu

January 12, 2012 4:02 AM

It's quite ironic to think that deans of B-Schools can't handle the business or commercial side of their institutions. At best, corporate leaders' skills and experiences should be bench-marked to buttress the commercial front of B-Schools.

Collins Manu
MBA Marketing Student
KNUST School Business


February 9, 2012 6:18 AM

Having a corporate head honcho as a B School dean seems like a really smart idea. Most management schools focus on case studies and practical knowledge. The students aim at being a corporate head or starting their own business someday, hence the management and administration emphasis. So having a dean who can be an inspiration and provide practical knowledge because they’ve been there and ‘done’ that is a smart move. Their understanding of what the industry needs from students can help them craft the curriculum, choose an ideal faculty and groom the students in a more business savvy way. Their expertise along with a strong teaching staff can symbiotically be beneficial for an institute and can really bring business schools to the next level.

Post a comment



Read daily reports from BusinessWeek editors and reporters Louis Lavelle, Geoff Gloeckler, Alison Damast and Francesca Di Meglio and boost your chances of getting into your best-fit B-school.

BW Mall - Sponsored Links

Buy a link now!