Some 20 years ago, Srilata A. Zaheer came to the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management straight from completing her PhD in international management at MIT’s Sloan School. Today (March 8), Zaheer was named dean of the school after a nine-month stint as Carlson’s interim boss.
The appointment, to be approved by the university’s board of trustees tomorrow, is yet another coup for business academics from India who also have deans at Harvard Business School, Chicago Booth, Cornell Johnson, INSEAD, and Washington University’s Olin School, among others. Zaheer, whose husband Aks teaches strategy at Carlson, is the only woman of Indian descent to have achieved a deanship at a prominent business school.
ZAHEER PREVAILED OVER THREE OTHER FINALISTS FROM LONDON, DARTMOUTH, AND IOWA
Zaheer, who seems highly accessible and likable to readers of her well-written blog, succeeds Alison Davis-Blake who left the Carlson deanship to become dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. She was chosen from a public slate of four finalists, including Randall Peterson, deputy dean of the London Business School, Charles Whiteman, a senior associate dean at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, and Matthew Slaughter, associate dean for the MBA program at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.
But the appointment of Zaheer seems a natural outcome for someone who has invested so much of herself in the Carlson community. She began her blog last June as she took over as interim dean, introducing herself in a video as she moved into her new office and quickly quoting Dr. Seuss as to why she wouldn’t merely maintain the status quo in an interim job. Her musings are evidence of an enthusiastic and passionate advocate for the school. As she once wrote on her blog, “My husband Aks and I are very happy to call Minnesota home. We’ve grown roots here and love the seasons. Anticipating summer – getting garden dirt under my fingernails – is wonderful, but I also love the dark, stark beauty of long winter nights.”
HER MAJOR CHALLENGE: OVERCOMING A PERCEPTION THAT CARLSON IS A REGIONAL SCHOOL
Obviously, she’ll be spending a lot more long winter nights in Minnesota with her latest appointment. In an interview with Poets&Quants, she said her main challenge at Carlson is to overcome a perception that the school merely regional. “The challenge for us is really to raise our national and international profile,” she said. “We want to make sure we get recognized for what we are. Our location is a blessing and a curse. We have these amazing relationships with 20 of the Fortune 500 companies that are in our backyard, but our location is a challenge because we have to change the perception that we are a local or regional school. We have alumni in 78 countries around the world and in all 50 states.”
Zaheer believes Carlson’s MBA program is distinctive based on an 15-month experiential learning experience that every student must undertake. The “enterprise” experience accounts for one-sixth of an MBA’s entire workload. Students are placed on small teams managed by both a professional and academic director and put to work on real problems with local companies. Carlson MBA candidates interested in finance or investment management, for example, can help to manage a student-run mutual fund with $40 million in assets from actual clients. “We can really take someone who has been in the military and wants to become a finance person and at the end of two years they will interview just as well as someone who has been an analyst or investment banker before,” she says.
In a statement released with the announcement, Zaheer said she was “honored and truly grateful” to be named the new dean. “For the last 20 years, it has been my privilege to work alongside a faculty regularly rated among the nation’s elite and with students who represent the best and brightest,” she said. “Carlson holds enviable strengths in its faculty and staff, its alumni, its students and its links to the corporate community. I will work tirelessly on our shared pursuit, guided by a sense of purpose, to make the Carlson School a crucible for the ideas that will shape the future of business worldwide.”
STATE FUNDING HAS FALLEN TO 3.6% OF THE BUDGET FROM 17% IN 2007
That will be no easy task. In common with many public universities, Carlson has seen its state funding decline dramatically in recent years, putting significant pressure on the school. State funding has fallen from some $13.7 million in fiscal year 2007 (about 17% of the school’s operating budget) to an expected $4.0 million this year, or less than 3.6% of this year’s budget.
Yet, the school has a full menu of business degree offerings, and Zaheer says she would like to increase the annual intake to the school’s full-time MBA program by nearly a third to 130 from roughly 100 now. The school’s full-time MBA program is small, with a total enrollment of 200 students, not including three international partnership programs in Poland, Austria, and China. There are some 2,250 business undergrads at Carlson, 1,600 students enrolled in a part-time MBA program, and 100 more in an Executive MBA program. Carlson also has specialty master’s and PhD programs.