Gerald Ross wanted to shake things up when he became dean of McGill University's management faculty in 2000. He came with a reputation for out-of-the-box thinking as a management consultant, but also with strong McGill ties: His father had been the faculty's first dean 32 years earlier. Now, at 60, Ross recently left the dean's job after one term, sadder, wiser and still hopeful about the school's future.
Why are you leaving? Each organization needs different leadership at different times. I'm oriented to helping an organization find direction--I'm not a bureaucrat or a lifelong operating person.
Whose decision was it to leave? I did not seek reappointment.
What will be your legacy? When I came here, [Montreal's]Sherbrooke Street might as well have been the Berlin Wall in terms of the business community's relationship with the faculty. The first thing I did was revamp the advisory board and increase the number of meetings. We also developed a training program to teach executives how to teach. I tried to build critical mass in research and education in some areas: management of health; innovation and entrepreneurship; and globalization, given the international character of McGill. And we launched a program that also teaches faculty to teach.
What are you doing now? I'm an executive-in-residence in McGill's International Executive Institute.
I believe business schools are in the wrong business and we should be looking at management learning throughout the career path. I think we have the opportunity to build the 21st-century version of the corporate university.
Is there money in this? In the United States, it's estimated that the market for lifelong learning in business is $700 billion, and yet currently, management business schools such as Harvard or Stanford supply less than 1%. The reason is that university education is one of the last artisan segments of the economy. If you look at business schools, we have absolutely puny output. But look at the needs for management training in health care, in law firms--and then there is China and India.
What sort of change do you expect?
All kinds of schools are groping for new ideas. Nobody has cracked the code, and it's going to blow over the next five years. Whoever comes out of that will do for business education what Dell did for computing. But I think the patterns will be set, not by the top 10 schools, but by someone in the top 20 or 30, who has some brand, who is feeling a little pain and doesn't want to out-Harvard Harvard.
How did you come up with this idea? The faculty wrote a vision and asked, "Who is the customer?" We decided it is the lifelong learner. The degree is simply the appetizer for learning. It should teach you how to learn, give you the basics and establish a habit for learning. Our program should be like a spa: You don't go to a spa for 10 years. You go for a week to kick-start you into better habits. You come back from time to time as you slip.
What is your advice to your as-yet-unnamed successor?
I would say, "Raise fees." We're working with $1,900 a year for an undergraduate and $3,400 for an MBA.
Isn't that a political decision? It is and it isn't--we have all kinds of privatized programs. You could argue that McGill could go into a portfolio strategy with a very small public program and 80% of students in private programs. That requires a will on the university's part.
I would advise my successor to get money, because you can't run on empty forever.
How optimistic are you?
I think organizations have to hit the wall before the penny drops, and I think the penny will drop. While it may slide downhill a little bit more, when the penny drops, McGill is perfectly capable of rethinking itself. It's like a fish that has rolled up on the beach and it's about eight inches from the water and it's flopping around saying, "Water, water, water." Yet all it has to do is roll over three times and it will be fine.