Ronald Anderson has had a long career in business. He studied as an engineer initially, working in oil exploration with French company Schlumberger for over a decade—a job that took him all around the world, to Europe, Africa, and South America.
“What I really enjoyed when I was working there was the business side of being in the oil field and watching how businesses ran,” Dean Anderson says.
“One of the things that I saw as an engineer was that I just didn’t have enough business knowledge or education to get up to speed, and to be an effective manager.”
This led him to return to school for an MBA and, following that, a PhD.
Seven years ago, Dean Anderson joined the Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia—and he hasn’t looked back, chairing the Department of Finance at the school and leading significant growth in the department according to the University president.
Now, after a year that saw the removal of Fox’s previous dean for falsifying data to US News, Ron’s instatement as interim dean—particularly as it coincides with the school’s centennial this year—marks an important new chapter.
“I think two things,” says Dean Anderson of his appointment: “It was time for a refresh, and so we’re going to use this as an opportunity to refocus the school a bit more.
“We were student-centric before, but I want to make it even more student-centric. Again, I want to focus on the outcomes of our students.”
Stronger connections to industry
Ron’s second goal is to strengthen the bonds between the Fox School and the industries into which its students will be heading after graduation.
“I want to develop deeper ties with industry—again, that’s for our students, because I think the stronger ties we have with industry, [the] stronger job opportunities [are] for them.”
This isn’t just lip-service: he has a clear view of the opportunities for industry involvement at the Fox School.
Based in Philadelphia—where more than 144,000 people worked in healthcare in 2013 according to the Census Bureau—the Fox School is especially well-placed to grab grads careers in healthcare and pharmaceuticals.
Indeed, given the upheavals that the industry has seen in the last few years under Obamacare and the Trump administration, experienced management in the healthcare sector is more important than ever.
“With the changes that we’re going through in the United States, healthcare administration and management is becoming increasingly important,” Dean Anderson agrees.
One eye on finance
As the former chair of the Department of Finance at Fox School—one of the largest departments in the university—Dean Anderson speaks with great clarity on the subject of future developments in the industry, as well as how the school can help students to thrive under these shifting conditions.
In this way, finance-related subjects, like the other programs at the Fox School, benefit from a market-driven curriculum.
“Finance is changing very rapidly due to technology and innovation,” he explains. “You see things like blockchain, cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, and so forth are changing finance on a daily basis.
“This makes it a bit more difficult for our students in the job market, but we’re addressing that—we’re introducing courses on digital disruption and artificial intelligence, and employers are finding this particularly attractive and love coming in and talking to our students about it.”
This feeds into the dean’s broader vision of the future of business education as a whole: “Business education is changing rapidly—in terms of technology, but because of information technology in particular,” he says.
“Students are going to have to get more education in information technology—it doesn’t matter what discipline you’re working in, whether it’s marketing, accounting, finance, human resource management: data is going to become increasingly important to MBA students.”
For him, the result is that the MBA of the future will be particularly well-suited to those from engineering backgrounds like himself, as they will embark on the course already equipped with many of the requisite analytics skills.
However, beyond this, he echoes the sentiments of many business education leaders when he says that the key value that MBAs will continue to provide in the digital age will be soft skills.
“Business will always be about people,” Dean Anderson says firmly. “It doesn’t matter how much technology we get—business will always be about people.
“Business schools have to start and are working on this idea of ‘EQ’ or emotional intelligence—we have to have our students be empathetic; have an understanding of other people, and be able to read other people well.”
A quest for growth
In these quests for growth—both in terms of corporate connections and student impact—he is conscious that he has the hundred-year history of the school on his side.
“If you take Philadelphia, one in seven Philadelphians are Temple University alumni,” Dean Anderson explains. “So when our students go out and start interviewing, they’re likely to run into [fellow] alumni—that makes for an incredible network for Fox students.
"Globally, Temple has over 320,000 alumni—so again, the network extends well beyond the Philadelphia region."
As well as providing connections between students and alumni, he believes that the long history of the school fosters a unique attitude among the students and the faculty.
“The other thing that the 100 year [history] brings to us is a long, proud history of growth,” he says. “In enrolment, student equality, research, [etc.] We’re making tremendous strides in the quality of the educational research that comes out of here.”
Embracing growth—structural, professional, and personal—is at the heart of his plans for his deanship.
“[What’s] important to us here is an ‘E-squared’ strategy: excellence and ethics,” he says.
With these principles in mind, the Fox School looks to be readying itself for another 100 years of growth and change, with students at the forefront.
“We teach excellence,” he emphasizes. “What we’re trying to do is to instil in our students a really strong work ethic, [so that] when you head into the corporate world, you want to deliver excellence: the idea that you’re a value-driven person, you want to give more than you receive.”