Q&A with Dean James Danko

How did you get interested in business?
I started out cutting grass and doing paper rounds as a young teenager. At 17 I got a part-time job in a local medical equipment firm, where I was given a lot of responsibility and ended up pretty much running the show.  When the owner died his family asked me to stay on as the manager. I was 19. After several years I had bought a franchise of stores and started expanding into new business areas.

What was your first experience of the business school world?

I had been running my own company without any formal business education but I decided I'd like to apply for any MBA. By this time I already had savings in the bank and a family. I went to the University of Michigan - now the Ross school of business. I enjoyed learning in a university environment, but I couldn't resist applying my commercial skills, and ended up advising the school's marketing director on new initiatives to attract students. When I finished the MBA I was asked to stay at the school to join the marketing team. This was the first of a series of b-school roles.

How do you think the business education sector is changing?
There are analogies with publishing. Both have been traditional, people-intensive models, impacted hugely by recent technological
developments. The introduction of online degrees and high-end digital programs are threatening some aspects of classroom-style education. The prestige of an MBA qualification is often in the contacts you make and the faculty who teach you - not the specific location or education you receive. You can form a network and listen to famous professors online - you don't need to physically be in a lecture theater.

You've recently been appointed to the board of GMAC - presumably you're a fan of the GMAT test?
The GMAT is the 'Ritz-Carlton' of admissions test, and the bottom line is that people can't cheat. We've seen plenty of problems with alternative tests - such as the CAT in India - where you just can't be sure of the security levels. So yes I'm a fan!

What have been your greatest achievements at Villanova?
I'm particularly proud of our improved reputation, with gains in FT and Economist rankings, and generally a higher level of press exposure. The Villanova campus is an incredible place to study - we have a pastoral faculty who care about the students, and a passionate and engaged alumni base. Our undergraduate program is particularly renowned - now ranked 20th in the US. Given that 80% of business degrees are actually studied at the undergrad level, and this is a particularly competitive market, Villanova is performing exceptionally well.

How international is Villanova?
10% of our undergrad program are from overseas - enough to inject diversity into the class. Most of our part-time and EMBAs are local, given that these individuals are working - although of course we have a mix of nationalities and the course content and case studies are internationally-focused.

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