How Miami Business School Plans to Bolster Its Brand

Its dean John Quelch talks emojis, the decline of “administration,” and the school’s “25 by 25” strategic plan.
Quelch with Students

John Quelch, dean of the Miami Business School, with students selling T-shirts with the new Miami Business School name.

 

How can a business school build its brand from regional to global prominence? Through clear vision, enthusiasm, and a willingness to adopt change, says John Quelch, vice provost of the University of Miami and dean of Miami Business School (MBS) in Florida. Those three areas have been his focus ever since he stepped in as dean in July 2017. His goal? For MBS to achieve a top-25 ranking by the year 2025—a plan the school refers to as “25 by 25.”

Perhaps the most obvious indicator of the school’s rebranding strategy has been a change in name. Early this year, the school, which serves 2,330 undergraduate students and 900 graduate students, announced it would be called Miami Business School, not the School of Business Administration. Also in the works are the creation of a new logo, the launch of a marketing campaign, and a renewed focus on serving the local business community through customized executive education programs.

Located in Miami, a gateway between the U.S. and Latin America, the school is proud of its Latin American connections: A significant number of its faculty are from Latin American countries, and many are bilingual in English and Spanish; it also boasts an executive MBA delivered entirely in Spanish. But the school is ready to move beyond its identification with Latin America to build a more global reputation, says Quelch, who worked toward similar goals in his previous posts as dean at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai and London Business School in the United Kingdom.

Below, Quelch talks about how MBS plans to raise its global profile by building brand awareness, designing market-ready programs, and, above all, maintaining its sense of fun.

When asked about the school’s new name, you told a local publication that “it was time to do away with outdated terms like administration.” How do you think removing the word “administration” will affect how the school is perceived?
We used to be the School of Business Administration at the University of Miami. The differentiating word in that entire phrase is the word “Miami,” the last word in the description. When we moved to the name Miami Business School, we put the most important differentiator in first position. That’s a simple awareness-building benefit that comes from the shortened name.

A second benefit is that, if a school is located in a global magnet city like Miami, London, or Melbourne, putting the city name first capitalizes on the most important identifier an institution has, before it even starts getting into the weeds of its product and program differentiation.

We are the latest of a number of schools that have moved away from the term “business administration.” In an era when leadership and entrepreneurship carry much more cachet than “administration,” it makes sense to make the shift.

You’ve set out to raise your school’s global profile. How do you plan to achieve that goal?
We want to make MBS a top-25 business school by the year 2025, and I think we’re poised very well to do that. First, we now have a critical mass of graduates. This year, we graduated over 1,000 students from the business school, which included approximately 550 undergraduates with business majors and about 450 graduate students. We have about 90 full-time tenure-track faculty, and with that kind of critical mass of students, we can build faculty departments to sufficient size to have a real impact on scholarship. That will help us address the fact that the rankings too often focus on a school’s total faculty scholarly output, rather than the per-capita productivity of the faculty.

Second, several years ago we adjusted to the weakness in the two-year full-time MBA program by creating a suite of ten-month master’s programs. These include programs in finance, accounting, and business analytics, which each have more than 100 full-time students enrolled. In fact, this September we will admit between 15 percent and 20 percent more full-time graduate students than we did last year, mainly due to enrollments in these nontraditional master’s degree programs.

This diversified portfolio prepares us for the softness in the full-time MBA market, and it also is in tune with millennials’ desire for more choice, more empowerment, more flexibility, and more customization in their educations. For instance, some of our students who take an MS in business analytics might carry on to take the MS in finance the following year instead of enrolling in a two-year MBA program. Alternatively, we have a model in place which enables someone to move from our MS in business analytics into the second year of the MBA program. We’re offering considerable choice and flexibility to our students.

What changes are in the works for the curriculum at MBS?
Since the start of the year, we've been rebooting our executive education programs—in particular, company-specific custom programs. To start, we asked our each of our faculty members, “What are you good at? Give us your best two hours’ worth of content.” More than half of our faculty contributed at least one content module. Over the last few months, we’ve convinced leading companies to sample these modules over a period of weeks or months—six or 12 faculty members go to the company and give their best modules. Now, clients are coming back to us and saying, “Professor Y really knocked it out of the park. We’d like to have two more days of that content developed for our people in this department.”

What types of modules are proving most successful?
One popular module is on digital disruption, which we offer in two-, four-, and eight-hour versions. We’re finding that many companies are not patient enough to go through a five-day program for 30 or 40 executives. Instead, they’re looking for content that’s packaged more efficiently. For that reason, we’ve christened our new executive education offerings as FIMs: fast immersion modules. These FIMs are proving to be very appealing.

As business education becomes increasingly competitive, business schools are under pressure to innovate. Is there any danger of trying to change too much too quickly? How do you strike the right balance between change and continuity?
If you have a very clear vision for an institution, and if you can build credibility for that vision, faculty, staff, students, and alumni will absorb a lot more change a lot faster than otherwise. Establishing that clarity is essential if you want people to be flexible enough to change in directions that might cost them time and inconvenience. But they’ll be prepared to do it for the greater good of the institution—if they believe in the vision.

Quelch in Office
John Quelch of Miami Business School

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your career?
I believe that anyone who is appointed dean should visit with three or four deans before taking up their position. So, before I went to London Business School, I reached out to Don Jacobs, the former dean of Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern in Illinois. He told me, “If you can build enthusiasm and excitement for the brand, you can secure outstanding volunteer service and support from students.” When he was dean, Don Jacobs had students doing everything at Kellogg, because he couldn’t afford to hire staff to do the work. Jacobs was able to take Kellogg from being an unknown brand to No. 1 in the Businessweek ranking.

When I came to Miami, I quickly began making a more significant use of student workers. We pay stipends to graduates and undergraduates for 20 hours a week to support services in various offices of the school. For example, in our admissions office, students help process applications and do analytic work—examining the source of our applications or the percentage of admits who don’t accept our offers. This gives them tremendous insight into the institution, and it helps them develop their own management and leadership capabilities both by experience and by observation.

Many deans think, “If only I had enough money, I’d be able to do so much more.” But I’ve learned that if you don’t have resources to throw around, you can focus your efforts in more disciplined ways.

What would you tell someone who is just starting as dean today—something you wish you’d known when you first took the job?
When many people are promoted to any position, they believe they’ve been promoted because they know what to do. So, many new deans make rookie errors by not being sufficiently inclusive with respect to their faculty. I would tell them, don’t think that you know better than the wisdom of your crowd of faculty and staff. You don’t.

I recommend that new deans pay more attention than they imagine will be worthwhile to older or more senior faculty. Many senior faculty who have published quite prolifically in their day have now morphed into excellent teachers and do a lot of service for their institutions. It’s just a matter of respect to pay attention to people who’ve given their lives to an institution where you’ve just arrived. Furthermore, these faculty typically have a historical perspective that can be extremely helpful as you consider options for the school going forward.

Also, know even if your school doesn’t have a lot of money, you can still be very effective by encouraging faculty to be entrepreneurial. For example, our finance faculty at London Business School were especially good at connecting with the leading bankers in the city of London. They did research that was of great interest to people in the corporate world, and they developed a master of science in finance programs to raise tuition revenue and cater to the city of London business community.

Don’t underestimate the degree to which your faculty’s entrepreneurial instincts can be harnessed. Many faculty think that the dean’s job is to raise money, but it’s really to do anything that’s necessary to enable all of the faculty to exceed their potential. Sometimes the faculty can exceed their potential by virtue of their own efforts, not the dean’s efforts.

What do you like most about leading a business school?
I’ve always said that the job of the dean follows the “four F’s”: faculty, fame, fortune, and fun. You have to have to retain and attract outstanding faculty, make your business school stand for something in a cluttered marketplace, and convert enthusiasm about your school into funds for more financial flexibility.

But I think the most important part is the fun. No one can be creative in an environment that is too serious, solemn, or divisive. You have to project enthusiasm and excitement for the institution. You have to make sure that people are in a confident, relaxed mood so they can be as creative as they possibly can be.

That’s why we recently worked with Travis Montaque, a BBA alumnus from our class of 2014. He is the founder and CEO of Emogi Technologies, which develops custom emojis for companies to use on their social networks. I asked him to develop six animated emojis for us, including one for this year’s 70th anniversary of our MBA program. That’s just a small example of adding fun into what otherwise is a serious endeavor. People want to be a little lighthearted every day. This is one example of how we’re doing that.

What do you think Miami Business School will look like in the year 2025?
I think the demand for customization, choice, and flexibility here will be paramount. I believe we’ll see much more fluidity in the ways people obtain and build their business educations. While there is always going to be a place for the residential learning experience, MBS will be reaching out to the vast numbers of people without the time or resources to access our offerings in US$60,000-per-year tuition chunks. If degree programs can be structured in smaller bite-sized chunks—through the accumulation of certificates, for example—individuals who aren’t that wealthy will be able to afford tuition at a private institution in ways that aren’t available to them today.