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New Sauder dean aims to make UBC school a ‘transformative experience’

UBC campus in Vancouver.

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As an undergraduate at the University of Oregon and a doctoral student at Princeton University, education was a "transformative experience" for Robert Helsley, who becomes dean of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia on July 1.

A long-time former member of the Sauder faculty who is returning after four years at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, Prof. Helsley draws on his own experience as a young scholar to fuel his ambitions as dean.

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"My life was completely changed by the education activities and experiences that I had," he says, crediting the quality of programs and the people he encountered at both American institutions.

"My hope for the Sauder school is that it can be that kind of [transformative] institution for everyone who is involved – for the students, the faculty and members of the business community," says Prof. Helsley, currently professor of real estate and economic analysis and policy at Berkeley. He also holds a chair in real estate development at the school and is co-editor of the Journal of Urban Economics.

"I intend to devote myself to the development of all of the key responsibilities of the school – the student experience, the teaching programs, the quality of the education environment and the research activities of the school and of its faculty members and its connections to the broader community," he says.

Given the school's reputation for research (ranked 20 th in the Financial Times ranking of top-100 MBA programs) – and Prof. Helsley's status as a top researcher in the field of urban and public economics – there has been speculation he may be more internally-focused than current dean Dan Muzyka, who wraps up his 13-year run on June 30. While managing a major renewal of Sauder's core faculty and significant building and program expansion, Dean Muzyka won kudos for his external relations in forging alliances with business, alumni and global academic institutions to raise the school's profile.

However, Prof. Helsley says he expects to divide his time equally between the internal and external demands of the job, building on his predecessor's legacy.

"The goal is for Sauder to become one of the world's finest public business schools," Prof. Helsley says. "This involves continuing the remarkable trajectory and period of growth the school has experienced during dean Dan [Muzyka's] term…Sauder has all the pre-conditions to move into the next level of business schools."

The best way to build on the school's research strengths, he says, is to nurture a culture of teamwork that he says already exists at Sauder. "The actual innovation, the development of new technologies and new products and patents is in the hands of the individual," he says. "What you want to do is provide an environment that fosters collaboration and gives the really good people who are there the resources they need to be successful in their jobs."

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A dual citizen of the United States and Canada, Prof. Helsley joined the then-school of commerce at UBC in 1984, moving up the ranks to senior associate dean of faculty and research before leaving for Berkeley in 2008.

While in California, he observed the "critical role" of higher education institutions which, despite shrinking public dollars, have been influential players in the well-being of the San Francisco region. "You can see the role of the universities very clearly in economic development, innovation and other activities," he says. "UBC and Sauder are well positioned to play that kind of role in Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada."

The selection of Prof. Helsley, 56, is popular with the faculty, says Sauder senior associate dean for faculty and research Tom Ross.

"He's a great guy," says Prof. Ross of the new dean. "When he left [in 2008], I thought he would be a great dean and wondered if he would come back."

School accredited

The Schulich School of Business at York University has received accreditation for five years from the European Foundation for Management Development under its European Quality Improvement System. The quality review of university-level management and business administration programs includes a self-assessment by the school, a visit from an international review team and a jury evaluation of the findings.

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Schulich is one of 10 Canadian business schools recognized by EFMD, which has accredited 139 schools in 38 countries.

Research funding

In a move to encourage research relevant to accountants and business professionals, the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada has donated $50,000 to a research centre at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa.

The CGA-Canada Accounting and Governance Research Centre, now supported by the national organization after previously being funding by the Ontario association, is expected to invest in research over the coming year on corporate governance, risk management, business and finance.

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