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Economist Emilson Silva was recruited by the Alberta School of Business the from the Georgia Institute of Technology. (Alberta School of Business)
Economist Emilson Silva was recruited by the Alberta School of Business the from the Georgia Institute of Technology. (Alberta School of Business)

Business Education

The battle to land the best talent at B-schools Add to ...

In a global market for top professors, Canadian business schools compete on measurable factors such as salaries, teaching work load and opportunities for spousal employment.

But what often tips the balance is hard to quantify – the fit between a school and a new hire.

That was true for Brazilian-born economist Emilson Silva, who was making a name for himself in energy and environment issues at the Georgia Institute of Technology when the University of Alberta’s business school came courting this year.

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Though not unhappy in the United States, he was frustrated by what he saw as a lack of research productivity in his department at Georgia Tech and intrigued by “a very interesting set of events” taking place in Canada’s oil and gas sector.

“For me, it was, intellectually, the possibility of being in a place where I would be surrounded by people who are interested in doing research and I would get support for research and be able to make connections to industry and government,” Prof. Silva says. “I could see that I would have research support and resources to do what I wanted to do. I didn’t see those kinds of possibilities when I was at Georgia Tech.”

The Canadian school had extra ammunition – the promise of a research chair through the Campus Alberta Innovates Program, worth between $300,000 and $650,000 a year for seven years for top scholars in priority areas, including energy and the environment. A final bonus for Prof. Silva was the school’s attention to the career of his wife, Adriana Marasca, an architect among those hard hit in Atlanta’s housing meltdown. With introductions from the school, she landed a job with an Edmonton-based architecture firm.

This year, U of A’s business school is basking in a banner year of faculty hires. Prof. Silva is one of nine professors from top-ranked global business schools, including Columbia University in New York, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Oxford in England, replacing retired or departing members of the 78-person faculty. “I don’t think there are any secrets [to recruitment],” says U of A interim business dean Joseph Doucet, who has made faculty recruitment and retention a priority. “Recruitment is hard work and you have to put a lot of effort into it.”

It helps, he adds, “to have a supportive environment – the university, the community and the economy – and the more ammunition you have the better you can do.”

For Canadian schools, the competition for talent is intensifying, as institutions in China and Singapore rise through global rankings of business schools.

“It has become a global marketplace,” says Rod White, associate dean for faculty development and research at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. The school has successfully recruited promising young faculty from Asia eager to establish their careers in North America, but has also lost out to top-ranked institutions in Singapore.

“There isn’t a silver bullet,” Prof. White says. “What you are always looking for is that alignment or fit, between who you are and how the candidate wants their career to develop.”

With professors of accounting and finance, in particular, in hot demand, Ivey aggressively recruited Michael King, a former investment banker who joined the faculty last year after several years with the Bank of Canada and a stint in Switzerland with the Bank for International Settlements.

“Ivey was the perfect match of research and practice,” says Prof. King, a fan of the school’s case-method teaching. Like some other business schools, Ivey ensures a lighter teaching load for newcomer faculty members on a tenure track.

In his case, Prof. King taught two sections of an undergraduate finance course in his first semester, with a schedule that allowed him to observe classes taught by established faculty members. “That allowed me to figure out where the pitfalls might be and pick up tips,” he says. “It was all extremely helpful.”

This year, he has a full teaching load, including a new elective for senior undergraduates.

The elusive fit factor worked for the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, which this year added seven young hires from top U.S. schools to boost its faculty roster to 121 professors, the largest in the country.

Hungarian-born Andras Tilcsik, a PhD graduate of Harvard University with a specialty in organizational theory, weighed seven offers: Rotman and several top schools in the United States and Europe. “The contrast [between schools] was not enormous,” he says, but Rotman got the nod after his experience giving a required 90-minute lecture during the interview process. He had already spoken at other schools and at Rotman, he recalls, “I thought there would not be a lot of new things or useful feedback that I had not already heard before. But there was and that was very positive.”

Those first impressions have been reinforced after his arrival several months ago. “There is a lot of excitement in the air about getting better and expanding,” he says.

Despite the global competition, Rotman associate dean of faculty Joel Baum says the school’s efforts to build its reputation over the past decade – now tied for 10th spot on research in the 2012 Financial Times ranking of master of business administration (MBA) programs – now are paying dividends on recruitment. “We have created a critical mass of cool, smart, interesting people here who have become an attractor,” he says.

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