Executive on Board

Advice to any dean thinking about bringing an executives-in-residence on board.
One way business schools expose students to the real world is by bringing in executives-in-residence (EIRs) to share their knowledge and experience. But how an deans make sure they deploy these EIRs to their greatest effect? That was a serious question for Susan Gilbert, dean of the Stetson School of Business and Economics at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, who recently engaged her first EIR. Luckily, Ed Baker, publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, was a “very enthusiastic guinea pig!” she says. After her first year of working with him, she had this advice to offer to any dean thinking about bringing an executive on board:

Set a schedule. “Develop a calendar of minimal availability of the EIR throughout the academic year, to plan how his or her on-campus time will be used,” says Gilbert. “Conservatively, I would say that at least one-third of Baker’s time was reserved for me so I could test ideas, get feedback, and talk about the big picture.”

Take advantage of the EIR’s connections. Baker introduced Gilbert to his friends who were leaders in the business community, which launched many new relationships on a positive note. He also helped Gilbert develop more targeted fundraising opportunities because he could keep her informed about each individual’s passions and “what each person would be willing to do for the school,” she says.

Make the EIR accessible to students. Early on, Baker participated in a “lunch and learn” event with full-time students to determine if they were ready to meet with future employers—and realized that they weren’t. So he assigned them additional homework designed to make them more career-ready. He also promised that, if students put in the extra work, he would hold 30-minute meetings with each of them and give them access to his business network. When one student mentioned that his dream job was to work for First Data Corporation or the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Baker arranged for the student to meet the CEOs of both organizations.

Ask the EIR to teach a course. Baker also developed a semesterlong class called “Life Skills for the Real World,” in which students enrolled in record numbers for an elective. Gilbert notes that it’s important for the dean to help the executive craft a course that will meet student expectations, and she recommends sharing guidance that would be provided to any new teaching faculty.

Turn the EIR into a faculty resource. Gilbert invited Baker to attend a faculty meeting where professors outlined their needs for guest speakers in their classes. "In every case, he followed up with a lead,” she says.

Get the EIR involved in other aspects of the school. “Find out what your executive is excited about—whether it’s joint research, a new course, a degree program, a certificate program, an event—and include him in those long-term plans,” says Gilbert. “This is a surefire way to surround yourself with good people.”

Convert the EIR to a passionate advocate. Says Gilbert, “The increased awareness of your programs will be worth any stipend you may pay. Although many EIRs refuse pay or donate back to the school, the maximum I have offered is roughly one-tenth the salary of a full-time faculty member.”

While Baker’s involvement with Mercer paid big dividends to the Stetson School, he enjoyed benefits as well. “Every time I am on campus, I learn a great deal,” he says. “It is a living laboratory that I wish more business executives would experience.”

But Baker also wants to help reinvent business education at a time when business itself is undergoing transformation. Based on what business leaders tell him hey want from their future workforce, he believes business schools will have to turn out graduates who have “a greater sense of entrepreneurship, soft skills, and real-world experience.” When executives take up residence at business schools, he says, they can put students “on a faster track to professional success while exposing them to an exciting future.”