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32: Georgette Phillips With A Case Study in Change Management

A peer-to-peer discussion with the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business at Lehigh University.

Deans Counsel Podcast

Dr. Phillips imparts her knowledge and insights gleaned from years of personal experience as a change maker and leading challenging conversations while positioning the business school for a successful and lasting future.

“We're talking about…big forward looking bets that we have placed,” said Phillips.

Phillips takes moderators Ken Kring and Dave Ikenberry through her considerable experience navigating the most difficult conversations a dean can face. Phillips illustrates her points with relevant anecdotes including: bringing power back into the dean’s office; embracing academic leadership and hiring top talent; and emphasizing the value of being at a technological university without losing sight of your own identity.

“And the most important thing that I learned from all of that is…” Said Phillips

Listen in for a final dose of wisdom. Insights for current and future academic leaders. Listen to Episode 32 here -

About Dr. Georgette Phillips:

Georgette Chapman Phillips was appointed the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business in July 2014. She is a professor in both the Perella Department of Finance in the College of Business and in the Africana Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Dean Phillips is an internationally recognized scholar who has garnered many honors and teaching awards. Her research and teaching is focused on the intersection of law, economics and public policy within the context of the built environment. Dean Phillips is published in the areas of urban and regional planning, local government law, real estate and housing.

Dean Phillips holds a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School and a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College, where she currently serves on the Board of Trustees.

Photos courtesy of UT Austin

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. Change management is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges a dean can face. As the scale of change increases, the challenge in leaving that task certainly grows exponentially. But frankly, successfully leading your school or college through change is a crucial responsibility of the job, which all truly successful Dean's must confront. As John F. Kennedy once said, changes the law of life and those who look only to the past or present our certainties the future. But exactly how does one go about this challenge? In this episode of Dean's Council, we use some great advice from George Phillips, who in June of 2024, will be stepping down after 10 years at the helm of Lehigh University's Business School. George Ed came to Lehigh in June of 2014, having spent years just a few miles down the road at the Wharton School of Business. She shares with us the journey she took taking Lehigh from what it was back then to what it is today, and institution which has transformed itself along so many wonderful dimensions. Along the way, she shares with us some excellent pointers on how to make the case for change, and some of the structural challenges she needed to confront to accomplish her mission.

Ken 1:57

Hello, okay. Welcome, Georgette. We're delighted to be here with you today. You're rounding the turn. And we know using your arms as you've run to the finish line on a very impressive and successful bacchanal experience at Lehigh. We're looking forward to this conversation, and welcome you to the Dean's Council.

Georgette Phillips 2:20

Well, thank you very much. I'm thrilled, thrilled to talk with you. Maybe

Ken 2:26

just as an opening, we'd love to hear sort of both your joining Lehigh what you found when you arrived, and then sort of what what that first year was like for you to take on take on a big job and begin to shape it.

Georgette Phillips 2:44

Right, right. Well, as you well know, I spent my entire academic career prior to coming to Lehigh. I was at Wharton. And so when an opportunity came up, that I saw the possibility of really making a difference, you know, not just working at the edges working, working the margins, but really making a difference someplace. And I was looking for an institution that I've used this term before, you know, I'm a real estate person. So it had good bones. And so you can't build on a bad foundation. You know, you can't do that. Nor did I want to just to beat beat the metaphor to death, nor that I want to buy a mansion. I wanted to find someplace that had enough possibility, where with the right leadership and the right input, I could make a difference. And so Lehigh presented that opportunity. And it's, it's high, I will not lie to you. There were some times where I just said, Oh, my God, what did I do? You know? And then you come out on the other side, and you say, okay, it was it was a tough period, but we came through it. And not only did we survive, we thrived. A real

Ken 4:09

estate person stepping into a university that has a, I won't say disproportion, but very strong engineering underpinning. Coming from, yes, the Wharton School where you had a couple of big, large administrative responsibilities, but you're quite different in terms of, if not scale, scope, and organization. Right.

Georgette Phillips 4:38

So as I say, often to my faculty here in the business school, I refuse to let the business school be a barnacle, on the ship of engineering. We are wonderful in our own right and I am not going to justify our existence through the lens of of engineering. Now, that doesn't mean you can forget the DNA of your constituency of your lungs of your history, that would be crazy to try to forget that because it is an extraordinarily strong history. And as we may get into later, when we're talking about like big moves, and big forward looking bets that we have placed, that relationship of being known in the market, as a technological university, has helped us. So I would never want to, you know, dismiss engineering, it's very important. It's not the largest population, Arts and Sciences is the largest population. But engineering is it's very important to Lehigh and rightfully so. And I want to keep it important. But I don't want to have us work simply as a service, score service department for engineering, I found several instances of that, when I came in, I'm like, This is crazy. Why are you doing it like this? Well, you know, because an engineer, like, I'm not the dean of engineering, I'm the Dean of Business. And so we're going to change it to be this. And it was empowering people to put business first to think of business first. And that's very, very different. Because many people were thinking of the university first. And that's not how I approach life, there are wonderful university administrators who are charged with running the university, good on them. That's their job, not my job. We have to think about business first. And so the first thing we do is we we completely rebrand it. When I came, it was the College of Business and Economics. I'm like, Why does economics get separate billing? I mean, their department. Now we are in a kind of weird position in that the only economics department on campus is in the business school, and that has this whole host of other issues. But I wanted business out there for right in the foreground. So all of our T shirts now just say Lehigh business. And that that kind of puts an exclamation point on who we are standing in our own sunlight, not Lehigh, no Lehigh business. And it's it's worked wonders. It really has Giorgio,

Dave 7:45

as you reflect on, you know, those early days that you were picking up the reins? How did you? And you've already alluded to one area of identity and branding, but how did you identify the top two or three things you wanted to do? And then how did you rally the school to, you know, embrace all that as part of your broader strategy take take us through,

Georgette Phillips 8:09

I did have the luxury of a very long onramp. Okay, and I use that time to read volumes about change management, talk to people, although at that point, I didn't know you, Jim. But talk to other people who had either been business teams, or were scholars of leadership. And the most important thing that I learned from all of that is sell the outcome. Okay, you don't sell all the stuff you have to do in the middle, you sell the outcome, like, who do we want to be? That's the outcome. That's, that's where we're going. Now, we have to map out the path to get there. And that was difficult, because like I said, some people didn't quite see the outcome. They really didn't. Luckily, you know, you don't need to convince everybody, you just have to convince enough people, that that's where you're, that's where you're going and the other people, you know, I said, stay on the shore, getting the boat, boats leaving. And this is where we're going. We'd love to have you. So that that was probably my first challenge. So once you figure out where you want to be in my where we wanted to be was standing out a full scale business school. Okay, so that meant that we had to ramp up our MBA programs. That means we had to actually had no exec ed here. When I came. That floor now like how y'all make money if you don't have exec ed, it was really the chairs that had a lot of power like me, I was a chair when I was at Wharton and I never had this kind of power and it's because people were not seeing themselves as a cohesive unit. So resting power away from the chairs and putting it back in the Dean's office, you know, many things that I did I mean, people quit. So, okay, I can't stop you from doing that. But those the people that quit, we're not the people that were going to take us to the next level. Those are the people that want to hold back. unpack

Ken 10:26

that a little for us, sort of how did you take that on? And it sounds like some of the vision was there and had to be mobilized. But you had to do a lot of mobilizing. Yes. How did you? How did how did you operationalize some of those decisions that took getting people to either come on board or come on board and, and more importantly, contribute?

Georgette Phillips 10:52

Well, let me just give you one example. Because we did many things, but I'm just using this one I could because I think it encapsulates the soup to nuts. We had people who were doing zero research, zero, I mean, for professors doing no research, because that was not a thing that they were expected to do. But in previous, say, five or six years before I came, some really strong research faculty had been hired. So first thing, you know, if you're going to, like I said, Sell the outcome. He said to them, don't you want more people like you? Now, if we're going to do this, we need to become a research oriented. I mean, there are like there was no, we're balanced between teaching research. And I said, no research, research, research, research. And we do care about teaching. But those and people are, oh my god. But the people that were research active, were thinking, Okay, we got it. And it's also helped by the fact that you look at any of our aspirational schools, they were all research. So that's what we're going towards operationalizing it was interesting, because everybody had the same teaching load, everybody was on a to to load. And I said, you know, you get paid for teaching, research and service and actually drew a pie chart on Blackboard, teaching, research and service, we are not going to pay you 100% of your salary, for only 66% of your effort. Not going to happen. And of course, business people that made perfect sense. I said, Now, I do recognize and understand that, for some people at this point in their career, it'd be impossible for them to get back up on the research. And I'm so that means that if you are highly research active, you're on a three year load. If you are producing some research, you know, but hitting like the middling journals, you want to to to load. And if you don't engage in research, you're on a three, three load. That cleared out the peep the non producers like that. Like that, there was a lot of kicking and screaming and gnashing of teeth. But I want to go back to something I said earlier, sell the future sell where you're going. You know, a horrible byproduct of what was happening was we were getting young assistant professors, they come they realized that the research activity was not what they thought it would be, they would leave after two years. So it was turning these wonderful investments that we have made. Every two years. I said that's got to stop. You know, we're putting on junior faculty on a three Oh, load until tenure. We are giving we're upping our summer support. So they don't have to worry about teaching summer school or doing whatever. And we're giving everybody an account because it used to be the spending accounts with departmentalized. And some departments. It was a FIFO we're not going I said no centralizing all of that everybody gets the same amount. With the result that now people can go to conferences can bind data can you know all the things that you need to do to become a major research business school? So that's just one example of how we turn the tide. And I am really proud being you know, I'd be lying to you. If I told you there's nobody in the business school that's not research productive. Yeah, there are. There always are. There's always going to be but by and large URJ paper on 330 loans now, some people are on tutus. And I think we maybe only have down to maybe one person now, that's on a three, three load.

Ken 15:11

Talk a little bit about the hiring of new faculty. And we know that you had a real, very purposeful sort of approach to new to bring in and developing faculty. So you were able to gather a lot of talent from the outside.

Georgette Phillips 15:27

Well, you have to hire up and down. Because if you're a young, PhD graduate, and you're looking at a department, you want to see who is the research leadership in that department. So you can't just hire at the bottom, you have to hire also at the top. So I was able to make some really good hires at the top, which helped, but then at the bottom, I mean, this might be something that you want to take out, but we were completely under paying it out. And we were meeting, you know, if you look on the AACSB charts, we were meeting that 75%. But we weren't getting summer money. Like, how can you not give too nice, your competition is coming two nights. So what was happening is people would come here, as you know, last resort. And then they would go out and they would find an offer that would give them that two nights. And I said no, we got to cut that. And it's amazing how incentives work, isn't it? That suddenly now, we were seen as being serious about research. We were getting really tough candidates. We have I'm gonna jinx it now because we're in the middle of hiring season. So KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK Spitz bid. We're getting our first and second choices across the board. We're beating out really big schools, because you know, we're small, we're nice. And they can do they can do the research project.

Dave 17:08

How did you tackle the fiscal challenges, which undoubtedly go with that shift, higher salaries, lower teaching loads, more databases. Clearly, there was a financial component to the strategic shift.

Georgette Phillips 17:26

Yeah. Clearly, and it was huge. I don't know if other schools have this second layer of MTTF and non tenure track faculty. But we hired people to teach. I mean, if we're going to bring people down to a three Oh low, which heard Wharton is even now going to a two Oh load, we'll never know there. But if we're going to be bringing research active people down to a three to load, right? We do need people to teach. So yeah, and so I made very judicious use of the NTT hires. You know, I introduced the concept that I just took as gospel, but here almost was blasphemous. I said, I don't hire tenure track faculty to teach, don't come to me talking about well, I need somebody to teach finance 125 I don't care. You know, I know the salaries that we're paying tenure track finance faculty, and it's not to teach Finn 125 It's too to be at the highest productive level of research. So let's make good use and finding people who want to teach. And there are there there are people with PhDs who say, I'm just not interested in the whole research, research publishing regular role, but I love to teach they have a much heavier teaching load and the salary structure is

Dave 19:03

different. Sure it is. Now so you must have had the capacity on your AACSB accreditation side to to allow that ratio to to change a little bit. So then enable that show. Yeah,

Georgette Phillips 19:18

you then enables it but I ACSB has never been a never been a problem. We had a lot of people who were kind of on the to two sides that we were always able to meet our essay, scholarly academic for the AACSB. That was, that was not the problem. I want those people that were hitting the ball out of the park. Those are the people that I was looking for.

Dave 19:46

How have you how was philanthropy slid in and, gee, a broader strategy? You mean that? Yeah, in part, our guests at home can See that? But oh,

Georgette Phillips 20:01

sorry. Poster building? Use words, please.

Use words use words. Yeah, you know, I I don't mind fundraising, fundraising is just what we do. If you want to be a dean and you don't want to raise money, don't be a dean. Seriously, that's, that's when people say, Well, you know, do you spend a lot of time out of the office? Well, yeah, of course, I have to, I have to meet our alums, I have to meet with corporate sponsors, I, I have to get out of the office. And so I like fundraising. I especially like fundraising, on the business school side, because I believe in what we're raising money for. You know, another example from when I started, Lehigh has centralized development office. And so I have my distributed people there people that are distributed to the business school, but the the bulk of the work that the major gift officers, you know, not the principal gift officers, but the major gift officers, a lot of them are centralized, and they say, cross sell across the university. And so when I first started, I said to the development, folks, okay, what am I responsible for? How much do you want to see me produce? You know, just give me the what's the dollar figure? And they say, Oh, well, you know, we don't really think about, you know, individual school, fundraising, we think about overall university, I said, I'm not your girl. I am a maid, I believe in the university. It's a wonderful, wonderful university. There are other people that will raise money for the university, my job is to raise money for the business school. So these are the following things that I'm going to raise money for. And I'm quite successful. So they can't say no. But you you are most effective in fundraising, when you believe and again, you can show somebody the outcome of their partnership of their philanthropic partnership. So yeah, I mean, fundraising, has its ups and downs, of course, but I enjoy it. Because I enjoy meeting our alarms are wonderful people, wonderful people,

Ken 22:29

to our job, we've heard some other Dean's talk about takes five years to get just get up and running. And that the second second term, if one is fortunate enough, can be quite different. We'd love to hear from you. One, whether that is actually true. And if so, you know, what were the accomplishments, challenges, challenges, accomplishments, qualities of these last five years of your tenure?

Georgette Phillips 22:56

Yeah, I agree that the first five is a lot of strategic thinking. Then second five is implementation of that of that strategy. Now, I had the privilege of having COVID thrown in there. Was it everything on its on its heels? Yeah, I, we worked so hard on fundraising on the new building. And we had to have 75% of the cost in hand before we got permission to break ground. And so we hit that 75%. In February 2020. It was a glorious day. It was oh, it was such a wonderful day, we went over that. That goal line is like Oh, yes. Wonderful. lifted a couple of cold ones. And then you know what happened? Like, holy crap. You know, the governor of Pennsylvania put a moratorium on all construction. So we couldn't have done anything, even if we wanted to. I had donors who, you know, had been very faithful making pledge payments in the last couple of years. Say, you have my money. What exactly are you going to be doing with it? And so that was probably the scariest part of my deanship. Because i Nobody knew. Nobody knew where I was going the summer of 20. Nobody knew what was going to happen. Yeah. And so once we got through that, and we saw that we weren't all going to be, you know, that we would never come back to campus because that was a real thought. Got a second Greenlight in September of 20. So that was good. And then we got back on track and then everything moved ahead. So the first five we're kind of thinking about where we've been putting in place big directions. Yeah, the research direction, we created a new department, I alluded to something earlier that I think it's important to, to talk about is recognizing, and this is especially true for small schools. You know, if you're Wharton, if you're SC USC, if you're Harvard, if you don't any of the big, big business schools, you can be the best at a million things, because you have the depth in which with which to do it. I have 100 faculty, of which 30 of whom are anti t. So really, I'm trying to make our bones on the backs of 70 people, of which say 20 of them are assistant professors. That is hard. So you got to choose, you got to choose wisely as to where you're going to place your bets. And I'm gonna go back to something that we were talking about earlier in terms of engineering. Fortunately, for us, technology is in the bones of the university. And so one of our strongest areas was in MIS, and supply chain. So I saw the opportunity to shine the light more brightly on those faculty, by spitting them out, they had been part of the management department, spinning them out of their that department, and giving them their own platform to stand on. A very generous donor funded it. So you know, kudos to our donors. So they're wonderful. So that when we started this department, you know, they could really get up and running very quickly. And it's, I want to say it's an easy sell. But it's made easier by the fact that we are at a technological university. So it's not weird that the business school is going to sit, as I say, at the intersection of business and technology. The last five years, have been really shoring that up, you know, going out and attracting those faculty, keeping those junior faculty watching our research, profile growth, figuring out, what do we have to do to make it grow even more? Finishing the building? Yeah, that was that was a that was a big one to finish the building, getting our full time MBA programs stood up, you know, we didn't have a full time MBA program. We do now. And I think we have the best class ever this year. It's an amazing class. But it took five years to really get that going.

Ken 27:47

Are you selling the same outcome? Or are you closer to the outcome and therefore able to sell other aspects of the outcome of the original outcome?

Georgette Phillips 27:57

Yeah, I mean, that is that's our refer to gym or golfer, it is much easier to fill in the divots, then figure out how to make the grass grow different.

Okay, so, you know, once you start filling in divots, and then you look around going, Okay, that's good. But then what's the next step? And 10 years is really the right point to say, someone's going to come in with a new vision, someone's going to come in with their own strategies, and that's not bad. That's actually really good. For that for the school. And for for me,

Dave 28:44

Georgia, in our closing minutes here. I was worried, you know, you've got this remarkable perspective, if you're at a point that a new dean preparing to take on a an institution similar and in characteristic to say, at Lehigh, what would be those two or three pearls of wisdom you'd like to pass along? Now your budget?

Georgette Phillips 29:11

As much as people say, you know, there's only you know, we the centralized budget or RCM. Now, there's so many flavors, there's too many flavors, and you got to know your budget, and you have to know what in that budget is either going to help you or hurt you. And that is probably not going to really become evident until after you're sitting in the Dean's chair. Yeah, everybody paints, unicorns and rainbows. So know your budget up there and be strategic with your budget. Right. You know, it's gather all the data that you possibly can to help you use your budget in a strategic fashion. So I would say that that's first. Secondly, and I want to say this, especially to smaller business schools that we they find themselves more enmeshed with the university than the larger business schools who can kind of walk their own walk and talk their own talk, be a part of the university. But don't be beholden to the university. Because they know arts and sciences and engineering, they think very differently than we do. And they like to put their imprint on what they think we should be doing. I mean, things like, you know, research, If I hear one more time that your research report is going to be judged by how many federal grants you get. Give me a break, right? That's not gonna happen. This is how we do it. This is how we judge good research. And you got to make that case, because they don't know I don't know, many presidents, I know maybe a couple of people who have become presidents from being Business School, Dean's, they don't know. They usually come from engineering or science backgrounds. And I used to get into federal grants. So no, the university know how they think. But be very, very clear. When your vision and the way that we run business schools does not align with the way that they run the university. And don't be afraid to say we're different. You know, you're everybody that comes into a business school dean ship, especially if you have a strong undergraduate program, you have some really strong sales by wind in your sales, because undergraduate business is blossoming. I mean, we are not going out here trying to beat the bushes for applicants, any applicants. You know, that's really, so we have the luxury of saying, you know, what, we bring a lot of money into your undergraduate program. And we're making your stacks look really good. So we need this, we need this and don't try to centralize our lives in a way that sometimes they might in a smaller plays. I would say that to those to those people that are considering Dean ships of smaller universities.

Ken 32:15

Georgette congratulations on a very successful and impressive decadal tenure. And thank you for this conversation today. We learned a lot and we know that our listening audience will both have learned and enjoyed hearing this conversation.

Georgette Phillips 32:32

Well, it's been wonderful. It's It's good to see you guys again. It's been fun. It's sometimes it feels like it's been 10 minutes. Sometimes it feels like it's been 20 years.

Dave 32:54

Your thoughts Ken?

Ken 32:55

Oh, it's great. I mean, you could experience a whole arc of her experiences. As a first time Dean and a tenure Dean, what what a impressive set of experiences and a mastery of the role of Dean and a very complicated time. Absolutely.

Dave 33:14

I enjoyed hearing how she leveraged her time at Wharton. And that perspective, which you know, at an institutional level is quite different from Lehigh. But she really picked out some great nuggets to to lead her to transform her her organization. And, you know, this whole approach to driving research that's certainly easier said than done. And I really admire her for coming up with the the words and the phrasing and the the imagery to paint a picture and the strategic pathway to allow that to come together. That's not not an easy road to hoe. What what great wisdom,

Ken 33:59

great wisdom and that and that Right place, right time right person makes a difference. You know, she comes at this with a very direct there, very straightforward, almost fearless approach to problem solving. And it's refreshing. It's not always welcome, but it is refreshing. And you can see that you know that she worked her way through some fairly complicated resistance simply by sort of the power of selling the outcome that she said. That's right, and persisting with that.

Dave 34:36

And what a great tool. Great advice that was. Thank you for listening to this episode of Deans Counsel. 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 On. 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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