Geoffrey Garrett, the slim Aussie political economist who started July 1 as Wharton’s new dean, is on a media blitz. The Financial Times, breaking a Monday embargo on coverage, published its Della Bradshaw interview with him online Friday. The Wall Street Journal quickly followed with a brief Q&A by Melissa Korn and new B-school beat reporter Lindsay Gellman. And Louis Lavelle, who for years ran the business education beat at BusinessWeek, weighed in with the toughest questions over at TopMBA.com.
That kind of orchestrated media attention may be common with the opening of a new movie starring George Clooney or Julia Roberts, but it’s unheard of for a business school dean who has been in the job for a little more than three months. Garrett, who had first come to Wharton in 1995 for a two-year stint as an aspiring research academic, returns to the school as the top dog at a time when competition among the best business schools has never been more intense.
Still, it has been famously said that the job of a dean is not unlike herding cats–though shepherding faculty may be a more difficult adventure. That’s certainly true at most business schools but especially at Wharton where the tenured profs exert huge influence and power over the programs and curricula of a school with a hefty $400 million annual budget. University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann personally selected Garrett after he had served for only one year as the dean of the Australian School of Business.
THE BIG REVEAL: WHARTON WILL DO A ‘SERIOUS REVIEW’ OF ITS UNDERGRAD PROGRAM
The media coverage so far shows Garrett to be a highly articulate and charming spokesperson for Wharton. He is careful not to get into many specifics, other than spell out what the world needs to know about the school: That it is not merely a school of finance, that is is already global and will be increasingly so in the future, that he wants to put more experiential learning in the school’s programs, and that it is ahead of rivals in delivering education online, largely through free MOOC (massive open online courses) courses that have now been taken by more than two million people.
The one big reveal in all the press coverage: Garrett says Wharton will engage in a serious review of its undergraduate business experience, one of the most selective and highly ranked programs in the world. The MBA program got a similar review in 2010 that led to several changes in the MBA curriculum only three years ago.
Garrett is assuming the job of dean when nothing at Wharton is visibly broken. The school’s latest incoming crop of MBAs boasts the highest average GMAT score ever, 728, which for the first time in Wharton’s history exceeds the GMAT average at Harvard Business School. The school also has increased the size of its enrolled class by 22 MBA students to 859 this year after reversing a two-year decline in MBA applications. Wharton’s graduates continue to land some of the most lucrative MBA jobs available.
NEEDS TO REBUILD SCHOOL’S BUDGET SURPLUS & DECIDE ON A TECHNOLOGY STRATEGY
The bigger challenges for Garrett, 55, will be fundraising and direction setting. He will have some work ahead to rebuild the school’s budget surplus which, insiders say, has significantly declined in recent years. He will have to raise more money for Wharton to become more competitive in the MBA scholarship arm’s race where the school is behind Harvard, Stanford and Chicago Booth. And he will have to decide how to play the long distance learning game: Should Wharton continue to build on its free MOOC strategy or should it monetize what it has learned by developing a full range of fee-based courses and programs, including possibly an online MBA?
In a conservative-looking suit with a white shirt and a narrow tie, Garrett seemed relaxed and self-confident as he sat down with Poets&Quants in his new office in Wharton’s Steinberg-Dietrich Hall for a Q&A just as he did with The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Dean Garrett, congratulations on your appointment. What do you think made you come out as the new dean from the selection procedure?
Thank you. As you know, I’m Australian in my heart and to be self-deprecating is very Australian. But it is an honor to be the dean of Wharton, and I will do everything I can to live up to heritage of the school and project it to the future.
To answer your question though, I can say three things. First, I have a background in online education, and that will be a big challenge for business schools going forward. Second, I’m international, and that make I have a special appreciation for the US and want to continue contributing to its success. And third, I’m a macro person, and I try to see the big picture in which Wharton is operating. I might see it more clearly than someone with a micro firm orientation.
What is the big picture that you see for the world going forward?
It’s one of the expanding role of the private sector. If you look at it historically, the 90s were about globalization, and the 2000s about technology. I believe that we now live in an era where the social needs get bigger than ever worldwide, but the ability of governments to respond to those needs is stagnant or declining. At the same time, private enterprises are looking for opportunities to invest. The result is that the distinction between public benefit and private profit is getting smaller.
What does that mean for Wharton?
It means the need for good private business leaders is growing as well. Wharton is and should be well placed to educate these future leaders.
You’ve reportedly been brought to Wharton partly for your knowledge of and interest in online education. What is the impact of online education? Many people are wondering whether business education is the next sector to go through an online revolution.
I have two observations. One, I’m not as consumed on the downside of online as a lot of people. What we see in past online transitions in other sectors, is that everything that can be a commodity online will be a commodity online.