Technological disruption, global competition and pointed questions about the value of business schools to society fuel uncertain times for them – and their deans.
Among those soon to test their navigational skills are two new deans, both female, who take up their posts shortly at business schools in Ontario.
Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business in Ottawa recruited its next leader from England, tapping the current dean of the business and law schools at De Montfort University in Leicester. Dana Brown starts her five-year term at Sprott, in Ottawa, on July 1.
Meanwhile, former IBM executive Sharon Hodgson takes up the deanship at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School in London, Ont., on May 6 for a four-year term, succeeding Bob Kennedy who left in 2017, halfway through his first term, to lead Nanyang Business School in Singapore.
Dr. Brown, with British-American roots and the first in her family to attend university, sees expanded opportunities for business schools to engage with the rest of society.
“I think business schools have a lot more to offer the world than they have in the past,” says Dr. Brown, the former director of the MBA program at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School in England. “They can be drivers of change in our economy.”
In January, during an interview visit to Ottawa in -21 C weather, she says she was impressed by what she saw of Sprott outreach efforts. She says she hopes to build on them to deepen connections among students, local employers and the community at large.
“I believe that students learn best when they are solving problems on the ground and they are having [real-life] experiences,” she says. “When you talk to employers, they like to have students who can do things, know how to influence a situation, can write business plans and get things done.”
Working with Ottawa community leaders and businesses, she says, “gives us an opportunity to provide those experiences to students and get them out there doing things.”
To that end, she expects to work with faculty to add to student work placements and hands-on learning options already offered at Sprott.
“My vision of business is that nowadays business schools should not be teaching how you exploit assets for the benefit of the few,” she says. “You need to be thinking more broadly about the impact that business can have in the world and in its [local] communities.”
She says she left Oxford three years ago for De Montfort, a multicultural public university 165-kilometres northwest of London, to raise the profile of its Leicester Castle Business School, hire more than 120 faculty members and begin the process of program accreditation, now near completion.
A married mother of three daughters, aged 6 to 14, Dr. Brown says uncertainty over Britain’s proposed exit from the European Union and the future of higher education in England prompted her to explore potential deanships globally. More than a year ago, a headhunter flagged the Sprott opening.
During her January visit, Dr. Brown says she was impressed by the multicultural profile of Sprott, where international students from 60 countries account for one in five of the almost-2,500 student body. She says she spoke to her future colleagues of her belief in diversity as “a value and an asset.”
“It’s not just diversity for its own sake and counting numbers of people from different backgrounds,” she says. “[It’s] genuine inclusiveness and the ability to get ideas from people from different backgrounds and work with people to be the best people they are, from wherever they are.”
Dr. Brown holds degrees from Rutgers University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, and Oxford, but never earned an MBA.
In the current global debate over the long-established business degree, she predicts its survival rests on program evolution.
“I think it can survive as long as the MBAs we create are preparing the future leaders the world needs, and preparing them for a range of careers, as well,” she says.
Meanwhile, at Ivey, the selection of a new dean took longer than expected after Western shut down a first-round recruitment drive, managed by a search firm, which failed to identify a preferred candidate.
Last summer, the university undertook a second, less formal recruitment effort, seeking advice from Ivey alumni and a wide network of others and holding small-group interviews with prospective candidates, says Andrew Hrymak, Western provost and academic vice-president.
“When we went into this round, we were pretty open-minded,” he says.
After selecting an academic as its last dean, Ivey returned to a past practice and hired an experienced business executive. Ms. Hodgson, who was not available for an interview, has worked in Canada, the United States and China, with direct experience managing the disruptive effects of technology.
Ms. Hodgson, currently a corporate director with IGM Financial Inc., previously worked as global consulting leader for IBM, with a focus on artificial intelligence and big data-related activities. Prior to that, she worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Andersen Consulting/Accenture and is a graduate of the University of Manitoba and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business.
In a press release announcing her appointment, she alluded to her past experience helping businesses navigate transformational changes and disruptive forces. “At Ivey, I see a similar challenge – lead a successful institution through change as we take advantage of the opportunities presented by technical, governmental and competitive forces in academia,” she stated.
For his part, says Dr. Hrymak, “I think her leadership, her experience, her international perspective, and her participation in the technology disruption space, for all of those reasons she is the right person at the right time for Ivey.”