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21: Andrew Karolyi on Merging Academic Units/Colleges.

A peer-to-peer discussion with the Charles Field Knight Dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Episode 21 features Dr. Andrew Karolyi, the Charles Field Knight Dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, as he joins panelists David Ikenberry and Ken Kring for a discussion on the opportunities and challenges when leading massive organizational structural change.

While his academic CV in business and finance is exemplary, one of Dr. Karolyi's best skills is being a good listener. Here, he talks to Dave and Ken about how active listening played a key role in the complex process involved with merging three separate business-related colleges at Cornell into the Johnson College.

"The power of active listening for leadership, there's no substitute for it," according to Karolyi.

Deans Counsel panelists David Ikenberry and Ken Kring breakdown the aspects of that enormous endeavor with Dr. Karolyi, touching on such topics as:

• Active Listening to effect change management

• The need to carefully articulate the “true” benefits of major change

• Trust building on your leadership team

• Adding DEI and social impact components into annual performance reviews

And that's just a brief overview of what's packed into this excellent episode.

Photo and bio courtesy Cornell

Dr. Karolyi Bio:

Andrew Karolyi is the Charles Field Knight Dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. He is a professor of finance and holder of the Harold Bierman Jr. Distinguished Professorship in the College’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. He is also a professor of economics in Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences. Professor Karolyi is a scholar in the area of investment management with a specialization in the study of international financial markets. He has published extensively in journals in finance and economics, including the Journal of Finance, Journal of Financial Economics and Review of Financial Studies, and has published several books and monographs. His research is featured in print and electronic media, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, Time, New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes, BusinessWeek, and CNBC. Karolyi recently completed a four-year term as executive editor of the Review of Financial Studies, one of the top-tier journals in finance.

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 in 2009, Andrew Karolyi left Ohio State to join Cornell University and was comfortably working as a chaired professor in the finance department at the JC Johnson Graduate School of Management. One of three business oriented colleges, Cornell was operating at the time. roughly seven years later, top leadership at Cornell felt the benefits of a single college of business outweigh the long standing practice back then three separate business units. In my experience, major changes such as this are often not communicated. Well. In Cornell's case, the decision to merge was decided at a very high level, and it was abruptly announced in December of 2015, and was handed down as essentially a directive from the top was about the same time that Andrew was tapped for leadership. First as an Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in early 2016. Two years later, in 2018, he became Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and had oversight over the faculty side of the house, when the time came to merge the three schools in March of 2021, and you knew the Cornell organization well, and it was chosen as the inaugural dean of the merged enterprise. Today, we hear Andrews journey as to how he is managing this new college. There is no doubt that Cornell's move was shocking to cataclysmic, and affected numerous stakeholders who had less of a grasp of what the benefits of merging could be. But seemingly, were well aware of the downsides. changes like this often leaves little room for error, thus, Android had to perform well. Nevertheless, in this podcast, we hear several key takeaways that we as leaders can learn from, even if we're driving change on a smaller scale. Here, Andrew shares tools he picked up along the way, including truly authentic, active listening principles for building a unified leadership team. And the necessity of thoughtfully messaging when driving change. Ken Kring and I hope you enjoyed today's session.

Ken 2:42

Welcome, Andrew Karolyi we're here today. Have a conversation with you. And we're delighted you're you've joined us, you're the dean of the SC Johnson College of Business. And we've got a exciting topic we're interested in pursuing with you. Welcome, Andrew.

Andrew Karolyi 2:59

Thank you very much, Ken and Dave, love it. Thank you very much for inviting me to be part of this.

Ken 3:04

You know, we've, we've both known you for a long time. And I've watched your development. And interestingly, you know, the SC Johnson College of Business has been a unique and very visible example of a university that has really thought strategically about the bringing together of interesting and compelling divisions to make for you know, what is now a strong and very purposeful enterprise would love to hear your thoughts as you have been there, since the very beginning of this exercise. Give us a little history on on this merger.

Andrew Karolyi 3:48

Thank you, Ken, for the opportunity. And I think many of your listeners would probably find this interesting, because while they may not undergo the kind of massive organizational structural change that we went through, there are probably a lot of aspects to it. That would be interesting. For whatever kind of change as leader they may. They may prospectively be undergoing. But I guess I'll start by this, Ken and Dave. I remember, like many in my college, where they were sitting, what room they were in, when the email dropped. I think it was December 12 2015. A pronouncement came forward from the university about that the fact that three formerly independently accredited business schools on this Cornell University campus would come together, and we had six months to gear up and launch by July one 2016. And I remember my own reaction to that, and this probably foreshadowed the fact that I would enter into a dean type role in the college at some point, but I remember my reaction in the room, I remember the people sitting around me. And I remember just saying to myself, Wow, this sounds like a really bold and exciting change, bringing together the School of Hotel Administration now newly named the Nolan School of Hotel Administration, the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management undergraduate business program primarily, but not just formerly, or used to be just exclusively part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. And I remember saying, Wow, what a bold and innovative move, how exciting. And I looked around at my colleagues sitting in the room. And it wasn't the same reaction they were having. They were having a reaction that was sort of lamenting what might be at risk of loss. So I guess my assessment of its boldness was definitely right on the money. And we immediately assembled a committee to try and figure out how to engage in this sort of new governance structure, the architecture that would represent this college, I wasn't part of that at the time. I entered into leadership at that time. And I just remember, I remember the challenges. I certainly in the first few years of the college, I remember the challenges. Some would say that perhaps the university didn't roll out the announcement of this enterprise, as well as they could have. A lot of it came down from the board of trustees, the president and the provost. And it felt like I think too many in the community. And I think this is what they were lamenting is the fact that maybe they just didn't feel like they were they own this decision. They were part of it. Certainly the alumni reacted in pockets in a negative way to this. And it took some time to build the narrative about but what the power have a comprehensive full scale, breadth, scope, scope, and scale college of business could really represent I think it took us some time to really figure out that narrative. I think we're in a better place now. And it's taken some work. So I stepped into the role as dean, two years ago, I had been preceding a proceeding that three years as the Deputy Dean and dean of faculty, I mean, one of the reasons I think I was chosen for the role when I was two years ago now was because I had a pretty good understanding of what our assets were our incredible array of faculty, the phenomenal staff that supports this, this, this large enterprise, and I had come to learn about the unique strengths of these three schools, not withstanding that the leadership when they appointed me felt like we haven't hadn't fully seized the advantage of all the advantages that were available to us. And we undertook a massive task force in year, I guess that would be year six of the college. My first year as dean, where we basically talked a lot about refining restructuring, yet again, with the idea of addressing many of the things we had failed to address when we launched. I mean, why would why would you in a six month span when you announce something even well intentioned, is that committee was to develop the infrastructure, feel like they had got it all right, they hadn't. So we did a big redo relook reset, I would call it and the provost and I co chaired that. I think we listen to approximately 250, voices, alumni, staff, students, and definitely the faculty. And it was incredibly empowering Ken and Dave, because I think one of the trustees pulled me aside after that challenging time, those eight months of this year, your six, reset period, this taskforce, they said this was incredibly healthy because we weren't listening to our community in a way that we hadn't really, for. The leadership of the university had felt like they had the answers, they knew the path forward. This was a chance to actually listen. And I think that we're in a better place today than we were before that six, year six, taskforce reset, because of the process of listening to our community. So there's a lesson in terms of structural change that I would offer to close out my answer to your first opening question and it would be the power of active listening for leadership. There's no substitute for it. And I'm not even standing here today telling you that we got everything right in that reset. It's a pod process of continuous improvement, but boy boy and it was painful. The some of the things that were said were hard to listen to Not gonna lie, but they were important to be heard. And, and I felt, I feel like we're in a really much better place. Now, many, many things are, are in our favor towards the next stage of our development as a college and I'm excited to see that made me bored more than you were hoping to hear.

Dave 10:21

No, Andrew, two questions as one, what were some of the fears that people had going into this process? Some of the tensions that were realized? How did you quell those? And then a few minutes ago, you made reference to the benefits of the mergers? Could you articulate some of those? In you know, what are some of the tangible benefits, you realized?

Andrew Karolyi 10:49

Well, the fears are easy to articulate. The The fact is that each of these three schools had decades long legacies of incredible success in their own right. And the fears among many, especially those that are well seasoned among our faculty and our staff, that had devoted themselves to the schools and their success of the schools worried about something at risk of loss, that somehow in the process of building a college as a platform for these three schools, something about the school's potential would be at risk of loss. And of course, it was critical for the college to be able to articulate what was the power of the platform, what was the power of the platform, and this is not meant to be a criticism of my predecessors in any way whatsoever. But, you know, in the, in the moment, I think that unfortunately, our articulation of what would have could have been the power of the platform that could help to have mitigated somewhat the concerns of what would be at risk of loss, they focused on the wrong things. They focused on the wrong things. We talked about building sort of a sort of a synergistic platform for things like Alumni Affairs and development, financing, administration, student services, you name it, right external relations, that it was somehow there, sort of a combination of these things that would realize some synergies that would. And the problem, of course, with that narrative is it sounded like a cost savings exercise. And this was not what it should have been about. It never should have been about that. What it should have always been about, and what I love talking about now is the full realization of the potential of the college is in the power of the voice, the power of the voice, and the power of the voice comes through, within the Cornell community. Right, we are now one of you know, there's 13 different colleges and schools, I think, we are now one of the biggest for. And it's pretty hard to ignore, in sort of the internal dynamics of the university the bathroom off, but is the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, in terms of the power of its voice, I think it's now with 250, faculty strong, another 500, staff, just shy of that. And 45,000 alumni around the world. It's pretty it's a lot harder now to ignore the the Cornell St. John's and College of Business, and in circles, among the top business schools, it just is you have to think of us when it comes to talking about the the future of of what business higher education and business might be. And I think that's what it should have always been about the power of the voice. We didn't quite figure that out. And now I think we have and so I think I answered your question, Dave, I think the fear of loss was the immediate concern. And we weren't in dealing with that fear of loss early on, because we focused on the wrong side of the narrative of what the college could be. And now I think we are focusing on that on this. And I spend a lot of my time talking to alums around the world about what the power of the voice means, and giving them lots of examples of that.

Ken 14:22

You know, beyond the rather extensive listening, what else did did you and your team do to sort of harness the new message or the refined message?

Andrew Karolyi 14:34

It's a great question. It gets into some gnarly details, Ken, but ultimately, what we did was we talked a lot about four things, I would say four basic things. Number one, was streamlining the roles and responsibilities to the top level of leadership. So we retain three schools and three school deans for important reasons. When we launched the college and created a college dean and Deputy Dean at the time, and what we did, in that were ultimately about 35 recommendations that came out of these. And there were four big things. The first one was about streamlining roles and responsibilities. Many in our community felt like they didn't know who was in charge. And what we wanted to do, and listening to our community was to present once and for all, what I think they were always asking for, which is a shared leadership structure. So there is a college dean, there are three school deans, the three school Dean's focus on their school's respective degree programs, and students, as well as the alumni of those degree programs. But an important new responsibility for those school deans was to join the college dean in what we're calling the college Dean's Council, which is a five person shared leadership structure, where there would be common understanding. This did not happen before. It would be oftentimes the messages that would come from leaders were discordant. This idea of a college Dean's Council, it's a lousy acronym, by the way that goes with the CDC. And I apologize every time I have to use it. But but the idea of this college Dean's Council is something like I said that the community was asking for. And, you know, we disagree among the five of us on many different issues, but we share the issues. Everybody takes ownership of the issues. And we ultimately come to a decision among the five of us and we stand up before the community with a common understanding of what the decision is, and we own it, we own it. And there's no dis we there's no discordance in the messages that come from those five individuals on the big issues of the day. People wanted it, they asked for it, we gave it to them. Second, we created a much more streamlined budget structure that is more akin to what all the other colleges were, we had a more complex segmented budget structure. And this is we created a much more integrated budget structure for the college really important for decision making. A third big thing that we did in the key recommendations was to refine what we're calling our shared support services. And we actually defined among our support services, Alumni Affairs and development, finance, administration, external affairs, student services, we define which should be much more centralized and which would be more decentralized and the reasons for them. We did things early on, because we had to do them quickly hear we actually thought it through. And I think we've got a much better, better, much better oversight of these things. The college Dean's Council has part of steering committees that oversee these things again, so there's less pulling and tugging on the shared resources and there's more coordination cohesion. The fourth and final one is the goal of creating a much more coordinated approach to our actual curriculum development, and empowering the areas to have much more say in the advancement of the curriculum, but obviously giving ultimate responsibility for the curriculum for the school affiliated faculty, for the schools who oversee those respective programs. So the MBA program, exclusively the domain at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, but the area groups that span the college could have useful input into the development of these curricula. So we basically what it will say, better coordination clarification of faculty oversight of the curriculum that we hadn't quite figured out well enough in the first five years. So 1234 35 recommendations endorsed by the Provost in November of 21. With the idea Andrew and the college Dean's Council go implement. That was the big reset.

Dave 19:04

Andrew, could you elaborate just a little bit more on this CDC horrible acronym? I agree. Yeah, it is a horror. But so you have a democratic imagery building around this group. So two ideas here, does this democratic democracy impede your ability to say, we're going this direction? Or have you preserved that and then secondly, this notion of five people in the room, each bringing a diverse, maybe conflicting perspective, but when you walk out of the room, you know, it sounds like there's a trust that you know, I may disagree with you, but we're gonna we're gonna have a unified front. How did you establish that and how do you maintain that? That unity

Andrew Karolyi 19:58

how I Do it. I don't know if there's, there's some unique skills in all of this, like I said, I think the first order of business, Dave was to actually build it, because the community asked for it. And so we built it. The next thing was to how to make it come alive, right? To actually operationalize it. I think we walked into it with a group of five people that actually were prepared to build trust with each other. There was already trust building, in effect before that, but there were just these events that would lead to I'm trying to give some examples here. But you would have, before the creation of the college Dean's Council, maybe one of the school deans advocating to the college dean without the presence of the other two school deans, and making a case for a larger Marketing and Communications budget, being driven towards the programs associated with their school for the following reasons 12345 and the college dean exceeding to that. But the other two school Dean's not realizing that this shared resource is shared entity of marketing communications was being pulled in the direction and one of the schools that might come at the expense of the betterment of the programs are the other two schools. And there was always just a little bit of uncertainty, a little bit of angst. Among the three school deans, that one was getting disproportionately more of the shared centralized resources than the other. And so I think that's what the community was calling for. There can be disagreement. But I think one of the beautiful things about this shared leadership structure Dave, among the five towards trust building is they understand that if it is in fact, the case that the ultimate decision is that school x gets two times what the other to get in this instance, that this is a multi period game that is repeated. And there will be a time where the other two get their chance. And I think that that's where the trust building comes from. And that's why it's so important for the community at large to have the, the unified front that we share, we all own this, we all understand this decision, we understand it came out this way. And we all own it. And this is for the greater good of the enterprise. I can tell you, Dave, there are very few instances that kind of I can barely even remember where I had to use the final decision rights of the college dean sitting around the college Dean's Council and say, no, sorry, Yang, this is the way we're going not that way. I don't feel like it's been ever a situation like that sort of the autocratic, pulling the autocratic card out of the deck. It's always been something we we've been able to work out for the last year and a half that we've been functioning like this.

Ken 23:00

Would it be fair to say that, you know, building trust, took as much time as was needed, and that you're it's a continuous, where you're spending a lot of time and deliberation and discussion?

Andrew Karolyi 23:15

Yeah, I think that's right. I think that's right. I think there's some it's a continuous even as I sit here right now, can we are always continuously working hard to fill the Trust Bank, right. Among us all. Yeah, it's definitely a continuous process. But I feel like we're in a really good place. I mean, we're making good decisions. I feel good about the decisions that we're making and how we're making them. I don't think about how tactically, the college dean needs to diplomatically get members of the college Dean's Council on side where they're seeing things different. I don't think about that. I just know that information sharing. And positive constructive mindedness is probably two critical ingredients to making stuff move forward. And I definitely do that. And how about mutual respect, mutual respect and admiration for each of the individuals that are part of this? Actually, that's a lesson probably writ large in any enterprise is in that wasn't always there. In the early days of the college, that each of the three schools, especially the season faculties, looked at the faculty and the other schools and weren't sure why it is that they chose to do things the way they did things to be. And they it wasn't exactly like there was as much mutual respect as I think we've come around. I think we've come around in a big way. We're not all the way there but there's much more mutual respect for the strengths of each of the three schools and what they bring to the table than ever before. Andrew is

Dave 24:59

that Culture integration just a matter of seasoning? Or did you take some affirmative steps to nudge that?

Andrew Karolyi 25:09

Yeah, I think there is seasoning. And if if there's something I did what I did in the last few years, and the three years before that, is spent a lot of time learning, and just sharing shouting to the tops of my lungs, to the internal community and the external community. Just how incredible are our assets? Forget about the acrimony. Look at what this incredible person over in this group of this, you know, in this area group is doing that is exceptional, we should all be celebrating that Let's all celebrate this. So this I think this optimism, which I genuinely feel deep in my core, I think that's got to be a little bit of a help it at least draw attention to our, our strengths and assets, where people may not have fully realized it. But yeah, there's a, there's some seasoning that just builds taller, greater tolerance, like it's sort of a baseline improvement that happens just from the seasoning of the college. But but if there's a dosage that I added on top, I would say, I'm not just me, but is just just the sheer optimism for what the enterprise can be. I literally wake up every day and think about that.

Dave 26:31

How did you handle some of the key systems that in this integration? So I'm thinking specifically about promotion and tenure and and annual merit review, both on the faculty side and the staff side? Do we allow the three schools to dominate that with what kind of a model did you adopt?

Andrew Karolyi 26:51

Yeah, so we actually had built the model before that, and it took some time. To get it working, we created an integrated, what we call a performance model, something that I did in my dean of faculty, and we continue with it today, where we develop a system of recognition of strong positive outcomes for faculty, you're talking about faculty now, right? Where we evaluate them in a disciplined, data driven process. And we put a lot of resources actually into this into the building of this. And we have a whole team that develops this. And of course, that's no substitute for judgment, which ultimately needs to take place through the college Dean's Council, that will make these final big decisions on CIP, salary improvement and bonuses and market adjustments. But we created the discipline of the database to sort of importantly, guide us. So that I think was in process. It has Yes, taken time for the community to learn to adapt to this and appreciate all of it. And no, we can't share every specific detail of every specific metric with the community, but they have a pretty good sense of what we think are important things. And in hopefully that drives them in the annual review cycle and CIP process. But here's a fun story, Dave, on the structural side that we've just recently been dealing with, coming out of the recommendations of that six year, taskforce that reset 10 years ago, the Johnson Graduate School of Management had made the case to the University Senate to go to an eight year tenure clock, while the other two schools 10 years ago, kept their six year clock. And so when the college was formed seven years ago, we had, can you imagine faculty with different tenure clocks, one of the first things that the community said, Could you please fix this? And so we're actually in the midst of working on harmonizing our tenure clocks. That's a big structural change. And it's very much a part of the promotion, reappointment, and tenure process. So

Ken 29:13

other areas of measurement and where you measure how do you promulgate or put some of those messages out to the broader communities?

Andrew Karolyi 29:22

Good question, Ken. two really important things with the reset, or at least with my appointment that we changed with the annual review process is we added two components to the annual review self report where we would compel faculty to report on performance. One was with respect to contributions to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. This is a core value for the college core value for the university. And we needed to live this value. And so we incorporated this into the annual review process. That's what I'm really proud of. We require every single applicant to every faculty position to offer a statement to qualify in. So why shouldn't we be requiring faculty every year to be reporting on their contributions. And that's what we did. The second one, very much a part of our mission statement is a college, which is about a business college that is meant to harness the power of business to transform people's lives and society. That's what we think about ourselves as is to have a component of our annual free process that focuses on your contributions to the greater impact on society, to the business community and to society beyond. And this is not easy for faculty who are used to just simply counting citations and the number of articles they've published in top tier journals to think about the broader impact fulness of their work. So we're early days there can those are two big changes, really pleased and proud that our leadership team adopted those and and we're making them making those things sing now? That's great.

Ken 31:01

Well, Andrew Karolyi, thank you for this conversation. It's a fascinating, unique and complex undertaking. Wonderful to hear about it, from someone who's been there from the very beginning, great conversation.

Andrew Karolyi 31:16

And thank Thank you, Ken, and Dave, for inviting me what you guys are doing with this podcast is fantastic. incredibly useful, incredibly valuable. And thank you for having me.

Dave 31:29

Absolutely. We're thrilled. What a great conversation, Andrew.

And what did you think about Andrews comments just now,

Ken 31:46

I really, really enjoyed that conversation. You know, Andrew, is a active learner. And, and to his point, you know, has become an active listener. And, you know, having been there, you know, in the trenches as Deputy Dean when this rather audacious merger occurred, you know, both he's seen it, he's learned, and you can just feel the the improvements that have been made as a result of his, you know, his contributions really fascinating.

Dave 32:20

You mentioned this power of this, of active listening, as he referred to it, and I, I just, I just think that is so powerful. You know, in the corporate community, sometimes it's there's a, although I think most CEOs would disagree with this, but there's this impression that it's my way or the highway, kind of, you know, it's the prevailing leadership style, but in the academy, in and also in, in organizations with high intellectual output. It just doesn't work that way. And, and a lot of the folks in the production function really need to be actively or feel like they're actively engaged in heard and informing the direction. And I thought what was also interesting to see was that Andrew wasn't threatened by that feedback, he actually leaned into it. And for example, this, this council of Dean's committee that he put together, creating this would appear to be a lot more than just lip service, this notion of a democratic approach to leadership, which that can be difficult if you're, you know, running a large complex organization the way he is, it threatens your ability to drive change, but in his case, he's, it's really essential for him to drive the change that he needs to make.

Ken 33:48

Right? And there's a flip side to being an optimistic, you know, evangelistic and that is, you know, it's harder for people see you listening, and to not feel you've got to make the immediate decision. I mean, I like to use the term, it's important to be undecisive, not indecisive, but undecided. And he's, he's shown some aptitude for being undecisive. And, and bringing others along.

Dave 34:18

I also found it refreshing, Ken, about this authentic leadership style that he seems to bring to this appointment. He believes this to his core. And, you know, when you're a change, when you're a change agent, you've got to walk the walk. And there's a level of accountability and this just this authentic approach to this organ. It's so wonderful to see and so vital across so many different types of leadership challenges that we all face.

Ken 34:53

Yeah, I mean, you're to to be a leader in the academy. It's really nice to actually believe in the power Adam he and I believe in the role of the professorship at the staff, the student. I mean, his respect for the entire institution is really palpable. What a great,

Dave 35:12

what a great interview that was a great conversation.

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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