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18: Dan LeClair on How the Rules for "Deaning" Have Changed.

A peer-to-peer discussion with the CEO of the Global Business School Network

Show notes:

On this episode of Deans Counsel, moderators Jim Ellis and Dave Ikenberry speak with Dan LeClair, Ph.D, CEO of the Global Business School Network (GBSN). Prior to GBSN, Dan was an Executive Vice President at AACSB International, an association and accrediting organization that serves some 1,600 business schools in more than 100 countries. His experience at AACSB includes two and half years as Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, seven years as Chief Operating Officer, and five years as Chief Knowledge Officer.

The author of over 80 research reports, articles, and blogs, Dan is widely recognized as a thought leader in management education.

In his conversation with Jim and Dave, Dan talks about the evolution of the business school Dean's role, and what's required in that position today, including:

  • Going beyond internal measures of success.

  • Striving for true, societal impact.

  • The increasing freedom deans have to define success.

  • How Deans should focus more broadly on cross campus and external relations, even globally.

  • Why the future is less about the individual B school and more about cross campus collaborations.

Dan LeClair Bio:

Dan LeClair was named CEO of the Global Business School Network (GBSN) in February of 2019. Prior to GBSN, Dan was an Executive Vice President at AACSB International, an association and accrediting organization that serves some 1,600 business schools in more than 100 countries. His experience at AACSB includes two and half years as Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, seven years as Chief Operating Officer, and five years as Chief Knowledge Officer.

A founding member of the Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM) initiative, Dan currently participates on its working board. He also serves in an advisory capacity to several organizations and startups in business and higher education. Before AACSB, Dan was a tenured associate professor and associate dean at The University of Tampa.

Dan played a lead role in creating a think-tank joint venture between the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and AACSB and has been recognized for pioneering efforts in the formation of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), where he served on the Steering Committee for many years. Dan has also participated in industry-level task forces for a wide range of organizations, including the Chartered Association of Business Schools, Graduate Management Admission Council, Executive MBA Council, and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.

Show Transcript

Dave 0:13

Welcome to Dean's Council, a podcast aimed at supporting university leaders holding one of the more critical jobs on a university campus. Your panelists can Kring gemellus and Dave Ikenberry engage in conversation with highly accomplished Dean's and other academic leaders regarding the ever complex array of challenges that Dean's face and one of the loneliest and most unique jobs in the academy. Dan LeClaire is CEO of the Global Business School Network, a role he assumed in early 2019. GE BSN is a nonprofit that partners with business schools, industry foundations, and agencies to improve access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world. Prior to G BSM, many of us remember Dan from his more than two decades of service to a CSB in a variety of roles, including stints as its chief strategy and innovation officer. And as its chief operating officer. With this remarkable background, Dan has become an astute observer of business schools. In this episode, we hear his advice on the changing landscape he sees on business education, and on how both Dean's and business schools should position themselves for the future. Dan, thank you for taking time out to visit with us today.

Dan LeClair 1:33

That's my pleasure. Looking forward to the conversation. Wonderful. Dan

Dave 1:36

is CEO of an organization called Global Business School Network. Been there for a couple of years, I believe. And prior to that, of course, you were a legend for better part of 20 years over at AACSB. Welcome, Dan.

Dan LeClair 1:52

Again, it's great to be here. Legend I'm fairly convinced as not yet.

Dave 2:00

Many of us are very familiar with with you and your background, you know, you compared to a lot of people around the world, you in your career experience are relatively unique in the sense that you've been a keen observer of, of Dean's for many, many years. Now you've had an opportunity to take a lot of notes. And you've also seen a lot of trends in what works and what doesn't work in terms of how do we as Dean's lead our jobs and become successful or run into traps? Why don't you share a few of those, those thoughts that you've you've picked up over the years?

Dan LeClair 2:45

Well, you, you mentioned, note taking, I wish this is one of those occasions where I wish I had walked around life with a notepad jotting down every instance where I picked up on something new and different and interesting. But so I'm going by memory here, but my memory, you know, going back a little more than 20 years, nearly 25 years working with Dean's first through AACSB and then through the Global Business School Network. And, you know, I think if I were to summarize what I think is happening is that, I think in the old days, if I will, and I'm always a little hesitant because I don't want to sound like that person that's trying to compare, you know, a current basketball player with Larry Bird, right? Nobody's better than letter. It's hard to make these comparisons. But I think in the old days, there was a, there was a pretty well established formula for succeeding as a dean, right? You hire the right faculty, you bring in the right students for your MBA program, you know, the ones that get that have a little bit more experience and get the top paying jobs. You invest in building your reputation, and that's largely considered a success. And I think many Dean's have done well with that over the years. But I think the the basic point is that I don't think there's a single formula anymore for succeeding as a dean. I think that context for the school matters much more than it used to. I think the kinds of things that schools need to do largely revolve around helping an individual school find its way and being more, again, distinctive, finding its way to making an impact and and it doesn't necessarily mean hiring the same kinds of faculty. Does it mean bringing in the same kinds of students doesn't necessarily mean talking with the same people to raise money. We can explore that a little bit further, but I think the the key message is that there's no single formula for succeeding as a dean Today versus yesterday?

Jim 5:03

Where do you think that the job description, if you will, is more emphasized today than it was 10 years ago? And where is it more de emphasized? In terms of the quality of people that are in those roles now?

Dan LeClair 5:18

Oh, boy, that's it? That's a good question. I've seen a lot of position announcements for Dean's over the years. And I've always thought from the firt, the first time I read one, more than 20 years ago, that they're asking for way too much right? That the sort of these are for Super Woman. And I remember one conversation about a particular Dean job and went through this job description, which was, again, asking for Super Woman. And then at the very end, the search consultant said something like, and by the way, we're looking for somebody who's been a dean at a top 10 school. That's, basically you've created the null set. Right? So I've always thought the expectations were, at least the way they're articulated on paper, asking too much, but you know, of course, not everybody satisfies all the criteria, generally, they look for the parts that matter most at this particular moment for the school. If I had, though, pick on one thing that I think is increasingly, I can't say I've done the research to say that it's increasingly asked for but I think increasingly needed is that the up person that comes into the role today, I think, needs to be capable of leading beyond the school. And when I say leading beyond the school, it's not just about the business school anymore, that this person needs to be a leader on campus, but also a leader in the business school community, and potentially beyond. You know, from my point of view, given especially the move that I've made from AACSB, the to the Global Business School Network, is that in order to make an impact, that we need to think about the business school, at the nexus between business, government and civil society, if I can say, again, the old days, you had to have one foot in academia, one foot in business, but now I think you need to be able to traverse a lot of different disciplines in a lot of different sectors more than in the past. And I think if if I were to articulate that on paper in a Dean's role, I think that would be pretty important.

Dave 7:37

That's really remarkable advice. And I liked the trend of that. And I wonder if it's been aggravated over the decades, due to things like rankings, or maybe budget structures. Businessweek does not give one flying hoot as to how I'm going to help a music major succeed in her career. And I just wonder, maybe you sense a change in the environment out there that's encouraging this, which I totally agree with.

Jim 8:08


Dan LeClair 8:10

as I said before, I don't want to oversimplify, but I think part of the shift and we're in the middle. And I think that's part of the difficulty of being a dean today, is that you got to sort of play in both worlds, right? I think the formula articulated by the rankings, obviously, still matter, right, rankings won't disappear, they'll still be important. And the inertia associated with us old, us old timers in the industry, we still have this notion that selectivity means quality, about publishing in the top research journals, and what a professor looks like, and all of those things, all those things that sort of roll up into what we call a high quality institution. And we still live in that world, to some extent, at least culturally, right. But the shift that we're we've been making in the industry is one that focuses not only on quality, but also on impact. If you take a simple example of you know, this, this idea of selectivity, right, we think a higher quality institution is one that has more applications, and fewer offers of admission. And high yields. That's that's the definition of quality in our industry, but impact may revolve on acts may revolve around access, right? But how do we reframe the work that we do? Where the, in my view, the grand challenge in education is to do things that work high quality and are accessible? Right, so how do we reconcile these two things is a really big challenge in business schools today and especially when it comes to research, right? faculty, the students that they each society in general are expecting faculty to do things or do research that has a bigger impact on society, not just on business. But yet, there's this belief, instilled in us that higher quality institutions are ones that publish in the top 50 journals in our field. Right? So how do you reconcile these two things, and a lot of Dean's are struggling with this particular challenge at the moment.

Jim 10:32

And many of them will come come out and say, Well, I really don't have total control over that environment. For example, I can't control admissions and admissions in I'm looking for maybe the holistic student and our admissions guys are looking for the top SATs scores, the top GMAT scores, whatever, okay, so that right there impacts the access thing you're talking about, then you've got the faculty that try and dictate and will dictate what are the journals that we accept department by department. So we've got the top three finance journals, the top three marketing journals. So therefore, those are our three journals. And that's all we care about. And we don't care about the Journal of financial impact on society, or whatever that journal may be. So the Dean doesn't, or she doesn't have the control over some of this stuff, which can be pretty frustrating, too. And yet, it all adds together and a big puzzle that comes together. And right now some of the pieces just don't fit. Yeah,

Dan LeClair 11:34

I think that's the, you know, that's a bit of perennial challenge for Dean's in the sense of the stakeholders with different expectations of the leader and the school. And again, I feel like it's been exacerbated by some of these other tensions. So you're exactly right.

Dave 11:53

Dan, is we think, as you think, and as we've been discussing about this new type of business school in terms of its impact, either broader in impact beyond the confines of its own business school, or, say, on a campus or, or in society more broadly, what are some of some leading specific examples, you can point to that, that you see real innovation happening that you, you've taken note of?

Dan LeClair 12:20

I think in many ways, if you look at just about any school, you can find pieces of this right. And I think that's been part of the response, right? So you look at a school like Wharton, for example, right? It's a big institution, big organization. And on the surface, I think you can see all the standard things they're doing, right. But then if you begin to drill down or look on the fringes of what they're doing, you know, this initiative, for example, decision making for good, right, where they're bringing together a multi, multiple set of disciplines in order to drive some of these things. If you look at, you know, school, like Columbia, big emphasis on climate, right, really strong commitment, and that space at Oxford siete, which we work closely with, in addition to Columbia, the the they, they've shown leadership in this climate space by bringing together a group of schools. But at the same time, I think that these are still on the fringes, right of what the school is about, I think when you begin to find or look for examples of schools that are from the core, building their DNA in different ways, consistent with us, I think it becomes a little bit harder. Right. So I think that's the phase that we're in. Hopefully, those few examples are enough, I could continue on and talk about some more specific examples. But if you look at we do a we do a, an awards thing. We call it the going beyond awards at the Global Business School Network. We do it in collaboration with the efmd, based in Brussels, the European Foundation for Management Development, and, and we're looking for those examples in which schools have gone beyond sort of the norm of what's expected. And I think that's where we're at today. Very few schools have managed to transform themselves from the ground up, but rather are responding to these opportunities by doing more and doing them in addition to their core.

Jim 14:31

So I'm in a role of a new dean and and I'm trying to figure out what my school is all about. I'm trying to figure out even how my school fits into the university. And organizations like CI BSN, like AACSB can offer me some some means to backup a little bit and look, look into what's going on there. How do you go about initiating something like that with new Dean's who We're in that first 100 days of drinking through a firehose. And yet, some of the things you just talked about are so wisely said that somebody outside the Dean's institution needs to sort of point this stuff out. How do you how do you get to those people that then how does a dean get to you to talk about that? If they are to ask those questions or use you as an advisor?

Dan LeClair 15:27

I'm generally accessible. And I do this, I've done this work for schools, hundreds of Dean's over the years just to have casual conversations and shown up on campus. And I think generally, our industry is still one that if you pick up a phone, and you you contact people who have had experience, whether they've been roles like mine, which tend to, you know, have a little bit more macro view versus those that have, you know, had multiple Dean ships that we're all quite willing to share some of our experiences to get at your specific question, this new dean thing? You know, I think, there there are often programs established programs for new Dean's, but they're they're often about things like how to fundraise. Right, which is great, you know, you need to know this stuff. Right. But I think sometimes the kind of the more difficult questions, the kinds of things that could be a little bit more unique to an institution, I think, sometimes to get lost in the in the fray. And you know, especially the more difficult kinds of questions that might be difficult to share in a group environment. And I think having those kinds of conversations matters. But now, specifically with your question, one thing that I always recommend to new Dean's is really try to get inside, what makes the school distinctive. And one area where I often see that they often do well, and understanding what makes the school distinctive, but increasingly, they need to go beyond the school. This goes back to an earlier comment and understand what makes the community distinctive and understanding the the assets and relationships across the institution and within the community. And I think that's sometimes where business schools, Dean's might not immediately find themselves in a position to take advantage of because it's harder, it's easier to get into a school than it is to get into a community sometimes.

Dave 17:40

Your point. Do you see synergies and how your organization can help teams think about this, this new vision, kind of moving from the old rules to kind of this new, more comprehensive view of impact? Are there linkages there that you see? Yeah,

Dan LeClair 17:59

yeah, you know that you can think about GBS and a lot of different ways. But just to give you the short version, we're a group of now about 140 schools, we're about 60 When I started, but now we're about 140 schools. And we share this belief that business management, entrepreneurship, knowledge and skills, drive economic and social development. The idea is that if you have better management skills in South Africa, South Africa will grow more quickly. And more responsibly, the way we discussed it today, we're in the business of building more inclusive and sustainable communities. And we've been doing this kind of work perhaps a little bit differently in the beginning, but for about 20 years now. And you know, so I think any school that's interested in sort of elevating its work, not only focusing on being a better business school, a good business school and in the sense of quality, but making a bigger impact can benefit from working with the Global Business School Network, we're building, we have been building that connective tissue that enables that kind of impact. Right? So if even if you think about research, a lot of people think about the impact of research, as you know, if we could just translate what we've written into a form that's readable, then we can make a bigger impact. And yeah, that's right. But to make a bigger impact, you also have to be in a position to affect change in the community. Right? And what kind of infrastructure what kind of NGOs and government institutions do you need to be connected with in order to actually facilitate that kind of change? And that's the kind of work we're doing. So yeah, definitely.

Jim 19:44

The Globalization of business schools, nobody's done it better than GBS and in terms of all the diversity of the different schools around the world, how can that help a a new dean as well, in terms of really Understanding globalization, sort of not really something people want to talk about today, whereas 10 years ago, that's all we wanted to talk about. It's changed so dramatically yet. On the other hand, the diverse thought that goes on in business schools around the world is is so great for a business school dean take advantage of how does that help? And how can you help those Dean's, from that perspective to really understand the benefit of globalization that may be different than what it was 10 years ago?

Dan LeClair 20:32

Well, let me give you an example. I was just in Egypt. And I had a conversation with the dean, a former dean actually been in the role, I think, for eight years or maybe even longer. And it turns out, this was the first time she was in Egypt. And I said, I find that surprising. And then it turns out, it was the first time I think she said this, that she was in Africa. And I said, I find that even more surprising. And at the same time, she said something like, I've been in China, maybe at times that America the number some extraordinary time. I think part of the idea is that the geography of globalization is changing. Right? So you know, it's not just anymore to Africa, right? Sub Saharan Africa, and how, how do we get some visibility around what's happening in different parts of the world? Even if any, no school can be everywhere? Right? Some schools have tried, right, but no, school can be everywhere. I think a second thing is, you know, I think in terms of globalization, it used to be in business education, globalization was driven by more strategic objectives, right. And, you know, we want to build our reputation, we want to increase our revenue, we want to change our student base, whatever it might be a very important reasons. I think, when we think about this, now, I'm sensing that globalization serves other purposes, local, right. So we globalize, so that we can do a better job here, not just be there, right. But we also globalize, because the kinds of, as I said before the connective tissue we need, in order to make this kind of impact really exists at a global scale, right? It's in different countries. It means different kinds of institutions. So I think, you know, when you begin to unpack what's happening with globalization, I think it's, it's different one, one thing we emphasize that GBS n is that globalization used to be about multinational companies and efficient supply chains. Sort of the, the scope, but we think that small and medium sized enterprises are the future of globalization, especially when you think about the way technology is enabling them to be a participant in the global economy. So we put a lot of emphasis on this. We work with DHL, for example, to try to build trade in SMEs with the help of enterprising and smart business students all over the world. Earlier, Dan,

Dave 23:04

I believe you touched on this, I believe I heard you talk about the role, the changing role of how a business school can impact its campus, the broader campus community, what are some of the positive signs that you've seen in that direction?

Dan LeClair 23:22

I've gone on record in the past, even before coming to Gbs and saying that the future of business education is in university based business schools. Right. Right. So the standalone business schools in Europe in particular, give me a hard time.

But it doesn't make it impossible. In fact, given the relationships that business schools have with other parts of the campus, in some places, it may even be easier if you're a standalone business goals because you have options. But I think where we see a lot of this work really revolves around you know, in the past, it's pretty standard, you know, it's engineering, right, you know, you got the engineering relationship. But now, you know, when we're talking about sustainability, you can't talk about climate without talking about both science and policy. Seldom that we see a school making any progress on the climate front without some type of collaboration in that space. We work in food, for example, and were involved with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and, and a group called the Global Alliance for improved nutrition and our our goal is to shape consumer preferences towards more nutritious and sustainable foods. And so we work with marketing folks, but we also work with nutritionists. We work with a fellow in Nigeria that has strong ties to knowledge Nollywood, where you know, there's a lot of cultural The shaping that's happening. So I think, where we're seeing most of this today, most of the exciting activity is where schools within an institution or in, as I mentioned, across institutions are connecting in ways that really drive solutions to problems, and they're not constrained, or increasingly less constrained by the disciplines. And there's some help, you know, I work with the folks at SSRN sometimes, and they're, you know, part of what we're trying to do is build these earlier stage research communities that enable sharing this happened a lot with COVID. You know, I don't know if you've noticed, but with COVID, there was a lot more sharing across disciplines of the research.

Jim 25:47

Yeah, which actually was a really good outcome from COVID. Because that whole sharing and partnership concept that many schools were just not very good at, now all of a sudden became pretty good at and I think you're right about that. How do you encourage that continue to encourage that as we come out of COVID, and keep going in that direction, because it really is a hugely positive direction.

Dan LeClair 26:11

Agreed, you know, in many ways, the future of business education is less about an individual school and more about the schools they work with, right? About the connections that they build and the relationships and the collaborations that they have. And I think that's an important note.

Dave 26:31

Well, then, that's a positive and uplifting note to end on, I want to thank you for taking the time to be with us today. And, and kind of sharing that perspective over time. What a remarkable conversation.

Dan LeClair 26:45

Well, I appreciate the opportunity to talk with with both of you, Dave, and Jim, and appreciate the work that you're doing with this podcast, and hope there are other ways that can be supported,

Jim 26:58

we really appreciate it, we really want to want this to get out to a lot of Dean's a lot of people all around the world. So we certainly appreciate your comments and your thoughts and spending the time was thank you very, very much. It's great. Great.

Day, what do you think?

Dave 27:23

I really learned a lot, I really appreciated hearing his perspective on the broader role of the business school. You know, for decades, we've had this inward focused value system, if you will, you know, how do I improve my students are how do I improve my faculty? And we really don't think about the, or we traditionally have not thought about the broader context of, of how can the business school help the rest of the campus. And I totally agree with the notion that we should be doing more of that, as Dan said, and the and the opportunity is great, particularly in areas like the obvious one he mentioned, of course, was engineering, but I actually think it's over in Arts and Sciences, particularly in the arts, where this part of the campus is, for the last 10 years enrollments have really, really suffered. And I think business schools can do a lot to, to shore up and support the broader mission of the university. And I look forward to seeing Dean's think more broadly about that.

Jim 28:33

Yeah, I think that he could be a great resource for a new dean, just in a 20 minute conversation. The dean should reach out, talk to him about, you know, what, what is it 50,000 feet, what does it look like and get outside your, your school, get outside your university, get into your community, and really think much more broadly about who you want to be define your mission properly. And that whole definition of mission I think is so important, and he sees those around the world, which I think is really interesting. So I very invaluable, as far as I'm concerned. really valuable discussion. Good one.

Dave 29:13

Yep, it was I concur. Thanks, Jim.

Jim 29:16

Thanks, Dave. Appreciate it.

Dave 29:18

Thank you for listening to this episode of Dean's Council. This show is supported in part by Korn Ferry leaders in executive search. Dean's Council was produced in Boulder, Colorado by Joel Davis of analog digital arts. For a catalogue of previous shows, please visit our website at Dean's If you have any feedback for us, please let us know by sending an email to feedback at Dean's And finally, please hit follow or subscribe on your favorite podcast player so you can automatically receive our latest show

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