Two weeks before the end of his five-year term, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business Dean David Thomas announced today (July 8) that he’ll step down from his post. The announcement first came from Georgetown University President John DeGioia and was followed by an email from Thomas to the McDonough community. Just months earlier, the school announced Norean Sharpe, McDonough senior associate dean and director of the undergraduate program, would also be leaving this summer.
Though Thomas’ announcement seems abrupt, a McDonough spokesperson says it has been discussed internally for some time. Thomas turned down an offer for a second term from DeGioia.
“In my first State of the School address, I made a promise to work with you to accelerate the school’s momentum and to steepen its upward trajectory,” Thomas wrote in an email to the McDonough community. “During my five-year term as your dean, I believe we have done that and more.”
In a time of elevated racial tensions nationwide, Thomas’ departure is notable because he is one of very few African American deans at an elite B-school. Thomas, who grew up inspired by leaders of the Civil Rights movement in the ’60s, is a recipient of the Academy of Management’s prestigious George R. Terry Award for his book Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America. The 60-year-old became interested in business — and, specifically, organization behavior — as an undergraduate at Yale University when he met Leroy Wells, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from that school and a mentor to Thomas and many others. Thomas later served for 20 years on the faculty at Harvard Business School before taking the reins at McDonough.
During his time at McDonough, Thomas led massive curricular overhauls and was hell-bent on increasing minority and women populations in the full-time MBA program, making McDonough a school a leader in international business, and setting a “big, hairy, audacious goal” (BHAG) to make McDonough a top 10 school. When he took over on August 1, 2011, McDonough ranked No. 23 in Poets&Quants’ composite ranking of MBA programs. After hovering at 22 for three straight years, the school dropped to 24 this year.
THOMAS SURPASSED FIVE-YEAR CAPITAL CAMPAIGN GOAL BY $30 MILLION
Still, the school has seen real success under Thomas’ leadership. At the undergraduate level, Thomas oversaw the development of the Global Business Experience elective and a partnership with Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service to create the Global Business Fellows Program. At the graduate level, he led the development of the school’s first online degree, a master’s of science in finance. From 2012 to 2015, applications to the full-time MBA program surged by 37%. During the same time, Thomas was also able to increase the number of women, underrepresented minorities, and international faculty members to 57%. In terms of fundraising, Thomas exceeded expectations — eclipsing his capital campaign goal of $100 million by more than $30 million.
“I am deeply grateful to David for his committed leadership and ongoing dedication to our community, and wish to express my sincerest appreciation for his extraordinary efforts over the past five years,” DeGioia wrote in his announcement, before adding three lengthy paragraphs outlining Thomas’ accolades.
Thomas is currently on vacation and was unavailable for comment, but in his email, he added: “At this inflection point in my life, I am seeking to make a new difference for another community, and to do that, I can’t make a long-term commitment to serve as your dean.” However, according to both Thomas and DeGioia, Thomas will return to McDonough’s faculty after taking some time off, a semester or more. DeGioia will appoint an interim dean and Thomas promised to make himself “available to help ensure a smooth transition for the school.”
“I always will fondly think of my time at the McDonough School of Business,” Thomas wrote in the final paragraph of his email. “From students to faculty to staff to alumni, our community is a thriving example of our Jesuit mission of cura personalis. It is my hope that the McDonough community continues to care for one another, provide our students an unparalleled education, and inspire global, ethical leaders who are ready to change the world.”