High up in an ivory tower, surveying the campus grounds. A queue of financiers, industry contacts, and frenzied faculty lined up outside the office door. For students, the image of a business school dean can be a distant one.
In reality, being dean is among the toughest jobs at business school. Meetings; lectures; speeches; strategy; politics; research—and that’s just inside the school. Outside, deans travel the globe, catching up with corporate partners, schmoozing with potential donors, and speaking to the media with their trusty PR directors by their sides.
Being dean is a devilish task. So much so that the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) runs an International Deans Program to help prepare them for their roles—like a business school for deans.
What do deans do all day? We caught up with four business school deans in the US and UK to find out.
Sri Zaheer, University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management
Sri has served as dean of Carlson for the past six years—a school with over 5,000 students and over 55,000 alumni located across 102 countries worldwide. During her tenure, she masterminded a Military Veterans Initiative to help military personnel transition into careers in business. Around 20% of MBA students at Carlson are current or ex-military. She’s also overseen the introduction of a host of specialized master’s programs, with applications to Carlson’s Masters in Data Analytics booming.
At Carlson, 96% of MBAs get job offers within three months of graduation. 100% of the MBA class of 2019 landed internships this summer. Sri works hard to maintain the school’s strong corporate partnerships, with Carlson boasting the likes of Bain & Co., Google, McKinsey, and Target among its top MBA employers
As a dean, there are a couple of roles I play. One is internal cheerleader and negotiator with the university—a lot of my time is spent serving on university committees. But the single biggest chunk—maybe 50% of my time—is the outward facing piece.
Monday and Tuesday next week I have internal meetings with associate deans, meetings with alumni and media. I have a New York alumni event on Wednesday. On Thursday, I’m meeting the Wall Street Journal. It’s a pretty packed schedule!
I probably do more corporate outreach than a typical dean. I’m at the Minneapolis Club having breakfast with a Fortune 500 CEO at least twice a week. I would like to cut down on my travel a bit but, at the same time, I enjoy it!
Zoe Radnor, University of Leicester School of Business
In 2016, the University of Leicester’s economics and management departments were merged to create a new business school with Zoe at the helm as its first dean. The School of Business—ranked 14th in the UK for research power—has launched new specialized master’s this year in entrepreneurship and innovation management. Established in 1989, the Leicester MBA is a pioneer in distance-learning, with a blended approach preferred to a full-time MBA program.
One of 40 female deans in the UK, Zoe has a big job on her hands; managing the launch of a new school brand and a move to a new, dedicated site next summer.
My role is about three things: identity, growth, and relocation. An average week is really brutal! Business schools have a tendency to build flash buildings and put a drawbridge up, but I try to look for opportunities with other departments across the university.
This week, I had a couple of meetings with chemistry, and geography and geology, to see what links there were there. I had a catch up with the president of the student union and the people I report to in terms of finances. I had lots of introductory meetings with new members of staff and a session around distance learning.
I had a very challenging conversation with some members of staff about office allocations and the move to the new site that’s taking place this summer. That’s just this week! Plus, thousands of emails, staff issues, and all the rest of it!
I see myself as an innovator. I created a clear strategy within a few months at the school, but actually you get drawn down into lots and lots of detail.
Anne Sinnott, Dublin City University (DCU) Business School
Anne joined the DCU Business School faculty back in 1985 and became executive dean in 2011. DCU is one of only two AACSB-accredited schools in Ireland. It’s ranked in the European business school top 100 by the Financial Times, and was recognized as the top European b-school for gender balance among faculty in 2017.
Anne oversees a student population of over 3,000 comprising 58 nationalities. While DCU does not offer a full-time MBA, Anne’s seen postgraduate applications double in volume in the past year with the school’s Masters in Management attracting huge interest from India in particular.
The main thing I’m working on now is our curriculum review. We’re planning to dedicate over a year to that, working in groups on all sorts of different aspects of new curriculum. We value an entrepreneurial mind-set as a key graduate skill, and it’s critical that we get the tone right.
What’s a typical week like for me? Death by meetings! I just got back from Paris last night, where I was mentoring business schools there going through AACSB accreditation. Last week, I was in Saudi Arabia checking on the quality of programs we have there. I’m having management board meetings; meetings with new professors; marketing.
I’ve got to the stage where I have to look at my diary every few minutes to check what’s next! In my role, no two days are the same, and I enjoy that.
Angus Laing, Lancaster University Management School
Angus Laing was appointed dean of Lancaster in October 2015. Lancaster University is ramping up investment in online learning for MBAs and Angus has overseen a significant change to the Lancaster EMBA program, now delivered across three international locations and around 40% online. The full-time Lancaster MBA is ranked first in the world for corporate strategy by the Financial Times.
Angus is current chair of CABS and broadened his knowledge of how business schools operate internationally by going through the International Deans Program.
I’m juggling the internal management of faculty undergoing structural change within the university; engaging with the business community across London, Manchester, the North West, and internationally; talking to alumni; talking to corporate clients. The joke in the US is that a dean’s job is to brag and to beg, and we’re doing more of that now!
On the International Deans Program… Before the Deans program, I didn’t have exposure to how international business schools at different levels operate.
I was in a cohort that went to the Netherlands, Spain, and the US. We went to Philadelphia and visited Wharton, but we also went to Drexel University—two schools operating at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Spending time with people for three weeks; building your network; going and looking into other business schools in other countries and seeing how they dealt with the same challenges we deal with but morphed by the culture and regulatory environment they’re operating in; that market exposure was very valuable.