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Western reaches south for business school dean Add to ...

The University of Western Ontario has reached south of the border to choose a “super-academic” with a Harvard pedigree and an entrepreneurial streak to lead its renowned business school.

Robert E. Kennedy’s appointment as the next dean of the Ivey School of Business was confirmed at a meeting of Western’s board of governors Thursday afternoon. He will arrive in the fall from the University of Michigan, where he is a business professor and executive director of the William Davidson Institute, which does research on emerging economies.

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Dr. Kennedy, 50, has a doctorate from Harvard University, where he spent eight years as a professor before joining the faculty at Michigan, and has written extensively about outsourcing and business challenges in emerging markets.

Though he spent his early career with Microsoft Corp. and Chase Manhattan Bank, and co-founded a pair of start-up companies, his academic pedigree marks a shift for Western, which plucked its last two Ivey leaders – including current dean Carol Stephenson, a former telecommunications executive – from the corporate world.

Western president Amit Chakma said the university had search firm Odgers Berndtson “knock doors in corporate suites” for the new dean, but also canvassed dozens of business schools worldwide, ultimately tapping Dr. Kennedy, a Nebraska native Dr. Chakma described as “down-to-earth, soft-spoken, very collegial but a deep thinker.”

“It’s a school I’ve paid attention to for a long time,” Dr. Kennedy said in an interview. “It’s one of just a handful of places that I could really see there being a good fit.”

In October, he will take the helm of what he calls “one of the top dozen or 20 schools globally,” and has no plans for any sharp change in tack. “There’s no five-alarm fires going on. I’m absolutely not coming in to do a turnaround or anything like that,” he said.

He inherits a school on solid footing and a faculty infused with substantial new blood after years of woe in financial markets created a window for Ivey to poach a wide range of “people who we would have had difficulty recruiting in the past,” Dr. Chakma said.

Among Dr. Kennedy’s challenges will be hunting for options to expand Ivey’s footprint beyond Ontario, Dr. Chakma said. “I would expect Bob to take a serious look at our international strategy, and then decide whether [Ivey’s existing] Hong Kong base is sufficient, or whether we need to do something in other parts of the world,” he said, adding that Western is toying with the idea of setting up “a little shop in Calgary” similar to its “storefront” campus in Toronto’s financial district.

At the same time, Dr. Kennedy will be charged with deepening Ivey’s integration with other faculties at Western, perhaps with a view to offering more joint degrees with other disciplines.

“If you went back 20 or 30 years, Ivey was very separate. I know that over the last 10 years, Carol [Stephenson] has done a lot to connect the school more closely with Western,” Dr. Kennedy said. “It’s a trend in the sector. I think I’m probably going to continue that.”

Follow on Twitter: @jembradshaw

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