Transition of Power

How can business school deans smooth the way for their successors? Four former deans describe the actions they took before they stepped down.
Transition of Power

THE TYPICAL BUSINESS SCHOOL deanship lasts just over six years. That statistic from AACSB International points to the fact that every few years, business schools and their faculty must adjust to new priorities and protocols instituted by their top leaders. While business schools often pour significant resources into their searches for new deans, they don’t always think about succession planning until very late in the process. So what can schools do to ensure a smooth transition? More precisely, what can retiring deans do to position their successors for success? In a series of separate conversations,  BizEd talked to four former deans to find out.

JORDI CANALS was dean of IESE Business School at the University of Navarra in Spain from 2001 until September 2016; currently he is professor of economics and strategic management at IESE. Franz Heukamp has taken over in the dean’s role.

ILENE KLEINSORGE, who was dean at Oregon State University’s College of Business in Corvallis from March 2003 through June 2015, now serves on nonprofit boards and volunteers for the community college accounting technology certificate program. Mitzi M. Montoya became the Sara Hart Kimball Dean at OSU in August 2015.

MELVIN STITH was dean of the Whit- man School of Management at Syracuse University in New York from 2005 to 2013, after spending 13 years as dean of Florida State University’s College of Business in Tallahassee. He currently serves on boards of directors for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. The Whitman School now is led by interim dean S.P. Raj, who took over when Stith’s replacement was removed from his post following an alleged impropriety.

DOMINIQUE TURPIN was president of IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, from July 2010 through January 2017. He currently is Dentsu Chair Professor at the school, but also carries an expanded role as dean of external relations. Jean-François Manzoni became president of IMD in January.

These four former deans offer advice to current deans about to step down, new deans about to step in, and business schools looking for ways to ease the transition. They also consider their own legacies as they look back on the years they spent in these pivotal roles.

Before you left your post as dean, what actions did you take to smooth the way for your successor or to aid in succession planning?

KLEINSORGE: In the fall before my retirement, I led the faculty through a strategic planning session where we emphasized value and culture. I wanted faculty to know who they were and what they wanted to do so they could be active participants in choosing my successor.

I also created a notebook for every unique program the business school ran and every agreement I had with other programs or units on the campus. I codified the information and laid out what promises had been made. I also made sure all the donors and alumni had received appropriate thank-yous and a head’s-up about the new leader, and I recommended people from my board for the search committee.

STITH: I made sure I had recruited good junior faculty, so there was a solid cadre of next-generation leaders in place. I also wanted to encourage the junior faculty to be engaged with research, so I made sure a big research fund was in place. Also, because I had been involved with The PhD Project, I pushed to have a diverse group of doctoral students studying at the Whitman School.

“If deans don’t earn the trust of the faculty within the first 18 to 24 months, they won’t be able to create anything in that environment.”

CANALS: For me, two relevant issues were critical: the state of the management team in terms of a solid pipeline of potential internal successors, and the state of the institution in terms of its mission, people, values, and performance. The development of a new generation of faculty and staff, including members of the executive team, was a high priority for me for years. I also worked with my team to foster a sense of purpose across the school to nurture new platforms for growth.

TURPIN: At the beginning of my first term, I put together a management team made up of three faculty and three non- faculty. I told them if they did a good job, they had the potential to be president. During the annual faculty review, the chairman would ask the faculty members on the team what their expectations were and whether they wanted to be considered for president. We also had a faculty representative on the board, and he regularly got feedback from his colleagues on what their preference would be for a president in the future. When it came time for me to step down, we had a pool of internal candidates to consider, but we also looked at external choices.

How do you think succession planning at academic enterprises differs from succession planning at for-profit companies?

STITH: A corporation talks about the succession plan once a year. You ask the CEO, the COO, and the CFO, “If some- thing happens to you, who would you recommend?” But the culture is very different at a university. If the leadership says, “We’re going to think about Mel Stith’s replacement,” Mel Stith will say, “They don’t really want me here.” You almost can’t do succession planning at the university.

Also, in a typical business, you have fewer people engaged in the transition of power. For instance, I’m on the board for Aflac. If the CEO steps down, there are ten or 12 of us who will decide who the next CEO will be. But at a university, the faculty, the students, the staff, and the alumni all get a voice in that transition.

KLEINSORGE: The thing that makes it unusual is shared governance. In other situations, when a leader comes in, the leader has some power. If I’m the leader and I want to build a new product or reduce services, I can fire anyone who doesn’t go along with me. But a dean can’t get rid of faculty so easily. My hypothesis is that if deans don’t earn the trust of the faculty within the first 18 to 24 months, they won’t be able to create anything in that environment. They’ll only be able to manage, not lead.

CANALS: Academic institutions are specially built around the trust developed by the university among its faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The essence of each one of those relationships is probably a bit more complex than such relationships at most businesses.

The nature of the job also has an impact. The president of a university or the dean of a graduate school should have a background of academic excellence that earns the professional respect of colleagues; such individuals also need to cultivate key managerial capabilities indispensable to running a complex institution. It is comparable to the expertise required for the CEO of a large medical hospital that carries out important research activities.


“One of the biggest mistakes people make is not understanding an institution’s history.” —MELVIN STITH

TURPIN: The typical academy has not changed dramatically, so running the institution isn’t the difficult part. The most difficult part is positioning the institution to be different. Why should students come to your school when there are so many business schools in the world? Fundraising is also a challenge. Therefore, the school needs someone who is a strong administrator and who understands finance and operations, skills that are typically not the forté of academics. But if the dean isn’t an academic, the faculty might not respect him. People in our profession are very independent. They’re trained to challenge and criticize everything. So leading them is a tough job.

To make succession planning easier, first, schools should plan the succession—they should not wait until the last minute to do it. Second, they should define the job of the president or dean. They should keep in mind that they’re limiting their opportunities if they only look internally, so even if they have a very strong internal candidate, they should also look outside. Finally, they should find someone who will understand the DNA of the place.

Is it easier or more difficult for the new dean if the previous dean stays on in some capacity?

KLEINSORGE: I think it’s much more difficult for both parties if the previous dean stays. For myself, I cannot imagine staying on campus and watching the things I put so much blood, sweat, and tears into being reconstructed. I also don’t think it’s good for the previous dean to be available to hear complaints from those who aren’t happy with the changes. You have to get out of the way of the new leader once you’ve turned over the keys.

STITH: I think it depends on the personalities of the people there. One of Whitman’s previous deans was still on campus when I arrived, and he and I got along very well. In fact, he became one of my department chairs. I think it also depends on the circumstances under which you leave. I left because I wanted to, but if you’re asked to step down, it might create some tension if you remain on campus.

I’ll give a lecture at the college of business if someone invites me, but otherwise, I don’t spend much time in the building. I stay involved with Whitman mostly by doing fundraising for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, a program that teaches veterans to be entrepreneurs. It’s grown into a huge national program, so it keeps me busy.

“Taking the university to the next level requires substantial resources that should be deployed over many years.” —JORDI CANALS


CANALS: It depends very much on the school and the individuals involved. I learned a lot by watching John McArthur when he stepped down as dean of the Harvard Business School. He stayed on at Harvard as a senior faculty member, remained committed to the institution, and found different ways to help the new dean, Kim Clark.

TURPIN: All of my other predecessors left IMD, so when my successor came, I offered to go to our new Southeast Asia Executive Learning Center in Singapore. But he wanted me to stay at IMD to show future deans that when their terms are up, they don’t have to go into exile.

The new president gave me the title of dean of external relations, so I meet clients, do fundraising, and act as an ambassador for the school, which were always the parts of the president’s job that I enjoyed most. I also keep a teaching load. I haven’t signed in blood to be with IMD for the rest of my life, but my preference is to stay here if I can make a difference.

How can schools ensure continuity when the average tenure of a dean is six relatively short years?

STITH: I think schools should start looking at deans’ appointments the way they look at tenure and try to sign people up for longer periods. If they appoint a dean for seven or more years, instead of three or four years, it changes the mind- set of the faculty. It also changes how the deans approach the job, because they’ll have more time to get things done. A school can always still fire for cause, but a longer appointment lets everyone know that they’re in it for the long run.

CANALS: In general, good institutions need to consider long-term horizons. Few things can be achieved in the academic world with short tenures. Developing young faculty takes time, establishing programs with strong reputations takes time, research with impact takes time, cultivating alumni takes time. Taking the university to the next level requires substantial commitment and resources that should be deployed over many years.

KLEINSORGE: Schools should insure that the faculty desire accreditation and understand the standards within accreditation. When faculty buy into accreditation standards, the school will have some type of continuity of programs and reputation, which is particularly important if leaders are only in place for a short time.

According to data from AACSB, 69 percent of deans are in their first appointments. What advice would you give to a first-time dean?

CANALS: Develop a sense of purpose and have a long-term horizon for the institution—grow your faculty and team— and stay close to alumni and clients. And try to enjoy your work as you pursue all these activities!

KLEINSORGE: Don’t be afraid to lead with care and compassion. As a woman, I was afraid to be open and vulnerable in the early years for fear of being seen as weak. What I found was that publicly being vulnerable and compassionate won me regard and trust, not the opposite. Deans can’t do anything without trust, and trust must be earned through communication and transparency.

I would also tell them that their power comes from their ability to make decisions. First-time deans often hesitate to make decisions for fear of failure. They have to try new things, but they also have to be willing to call something a failure and stop it.

STITH: I would say, be open in your communication with key constituencies, and give people access to you. Don’t tell them they can’t bring you bad news, because people have to be able to tell you what’s on their minds. That way you’ll gain their trust. They might not always agree with you, but they’ll respect what you do.

“Take time off to think about your next move. Travel. Work with an NGO. Change your mind and your perspective.”

You also have to take your time. When I came to Syracuse, there were all these little two- and three-person departments, which made no sense to me, so the first thing I said I was going to do was combine departments. But I talked to people until they were comfortable with the idea, and when I put the proposal before faculty, it was approved unanimously.

If you come in as a new dean and act like you know everything, you’re not going to be successful. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is not understanding an institution’s history. You have to respect that, even if it’s not all good. You can’t come in and say, “Nothing you’ve done is important. I’m just going to change everything.”

TURPIN: First, be humble in the job. You’re there to serve the institution, and you must do it with humility. Second, surround yourself with a team, surround yourself with talent.

Third, think about what you’re going to do when this job is over. Do you want to become a dean somewhere else? Do you want to go into the private sector? As a dean, I met so many CEOs and developed an amazing network. I realized that if I went back to a regular professor position after my term was over, I would get bored.

That leads directly to another question: Do you have any advice for a dean who is about to step down?

TURPIN: First, lower your expectations. People’s attitudes change according to your status. When you are the big boss, people tend to respect you. When you’re not, they may change their behavior. Second, take a break and recharge your batteries. Take some time off to really think about your next move. Third, do things you might not have been able to do before. Travel. Work with an NGO. Change your mind and your perspective.

KLEINSORGE: Get out of the way—that’s what I’ve tried to do. Be supportive of the incoming dean, and never say anything negative about that person.

STITH: Stay out of the building. Don’t take phone calls from the faculty who want to tell you how bad the new guy is. You’ve had your day. Even if you stay on the faculty, stay out of the administrative issues. In the past few years, I’ve been in the building three times, and two times I was at receptions for the military. I didn’t go to the other receptions and parties because I didn’t want the new person to think, “He’s looking over my shoulder.” If you wanted to keep having an impact, then you should have stayed on as dean.

What kind of legacy do you hope you have left behind?

CANALS: A terrific team, and a sense of mission that helps people understand that good management education can have a deep and positive impact.

STITH: There are two things I want to say I had an impact on. Because I was involved with The PhD Project, I wanted to help build a diversified group of young men and women teaching in business schools, and I believe we did that. The second thing was building the veteran’s program. Mike Haynie, a business professor at Syracuse, had the idea of an entrepreneurship program for veterans—and he wanted it to be free.

So I raised money for the initial program, and I saw it expand to universities across the country. Those are the two things I’m really proud of.

Also, overall I think the school was in pretty good shape financially when I left, in terms of endowments, alumni giving, and the dean’s discretionary fund. We also had a good faculty and a good fund-raising team.

TURPIN: I trust I am leaving IMD in good financial health. We recruited a number of talented professors last year, we have regenerated the pool of talent, and I am confident these new people will carry the institution in the right direction. I also did some fundraising at IMD, which had not been done before. I used the money to create a number of chairs, and I feel good about that. But a big part of my legacy will be the learning center in Singapore. Creating this center gave us a lot of visibility.

KLEINSORGE: I think I put together a faculty who valued their research but never forgot their students. I also helped create quality, student-centered educational programs. I opened the first college-specific career center on campus, and I encouraged student clubs that allowed students to direct their professional development in non-credit environments. I created a group called the Dean Student Leader Circle so that I could talk to students any time I was going to make a decision that would affect them. We had conversations about everything from raising tuition to launching a women’s leadership program.

While I was dean, we also built Austin Hall, the first new building the school had had in 92 years. Up until then, every living alum of the college had been educated in the same building. I wanted my legacy to be the people, not the building. But in fact, the people and the programs are what change first—the only thing that doesn’t is the building. So Austin Hall is my legacy.