The season of resignation announcements continued Friday (Aug. 26) as John Kraft, dean of the University of Florida Warrington College of Business since 1990, announced he will step down from that position after the 2016-2017 academic year. When he does, he will be the college’s longest-serving dean in its 90 years. Kraft will remain with the college teaching strategy and working with its entrepreneurship, international business, and real estate programs.
“I just decided, driving to work one day, ‘Well, today seems like a good day to step down.’ Literally, that’s the way it was,” Kraft, 72, tells Poets&Quants. “Although when I went home to tell my wife, she wanted to make sure I was going to continue to go to work every day.”
As dean, Kraft went to work every day at Warrington for more than a quarter-century, overseeing wide-ranging changes at its three schools — the Heavener School of Business, Fisher School of Accounting, and Hough Graduate School of Business — that included a forward-thinking embrace of distance learning. In 1999, Warrington was among the earliest adopters of an online MBA program; now, the college is widely considered a global leader in online business education, with its program ranked No. 3 in the world and No. 1 in the U.S. in The Financial Times’ “Online 2015 MBA Rankings.” Its traditional MBA program, meanwhile, consistently ranks in the top 50 domestically — 46th in the 2015 Poets&Quants rankings (up from 51st in 2014), 37th overall by U.S. News & World Report (2016), and 41st overall by Bloomberg Business Week (2015).
“I am grateful to the all the faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the college,” Kraft says. “Their commitment to compete with the best made my job infinitely more interesting. It’s been a very rewarding experience.”
FORECASTING THE FUTURE OF THE MBA
Having, as he says now, “gotten lucky” in forecasting the popularity and success of online MBA programs, Kraft in 2015 told Poets&Quants that with the decline in the number of GMAT test takers and people with significant work experience seeking MBAs, he anticipated a continued diminishment of the traditional MBA path. “It’s also going to diminish because a lot of the weekend MBAs have developed all kinds of formats and alternative means for delivery in ways that replicate the traditional MBA program experience,” Kraft said a year ago. “They all have group work and networking opportunities. The traditional program will be replaced, in most people’s minds, by the weekend opportunity. And then another thing that will drive down the traditional MBA program is the high-quality business programs all around the world that would attract students that would normally come to the U.S. And they don’t have to come to the traditional MBA format. They can do a weekend or executive MBA or flexible MBA. So that’s basically going to reduce the demand. …
“Another thing that’s going to reduce the demand involves the people who have gone through a specialized master’s program. A couple years down the road, when they think they want an MBA, they may not be willing to go back full-time because they already had a full-time experience in the specialized master’s. So they’ll take one of the weekend MBA options. I think the trend will continue, even though the population of people out there will remain roughly the same. I think more and more, people will select other options, particularly the younger population.”
A year later, discussing the future in the context of his stepping down as dean, Kraft pointed to the evolution of the MBA that accelerated in the 1980s when school rankings began. Schools started dropping regular master’s programs and switching to traditional MBA programs, he says, “and everybody thought that was going to be a great way in which to get more money and grow. But then the evolution of the weekend programs completely changed that, along with the rise of pretty high-quality graduate business programs all around the world. It created options for people that didn’t exist (before), and then that was moved to this model of trying to make the MBA more of a post-experience degree, and that fit pretty well with the weekend concepts, whether it’s Internet or flexible or executive or whatever they want to call it. That created a gap, so more schools are starting to fill that in to capture the people who are finishing undergraduate but who want to stay another year — and that’s more a product of the fact that people are entering the undergraduate programs with so many Advanced Placement credits. You know, they really aren’t marketable at 20 years old.
“What I think is going to happen is, it used to be back in Europe they gave only the five-year degree and it wasn’t anything like an undergraduate, and I think what you’re going to find are lot more combined undergraduate specialized master’s degrees than exist right now. So that’s going to change the mix. When you look at higher education, business schools have been pretty good at being on the forefront with alternative delivery models, and that’s what I kind of see as the next wave.”
LONG LIST OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS
When he steps down next year, Kraft won’t only be the longest-tenured dean in Warrington history. He’s also already the longest-tenured dean of an AACSB International accredited U.S. business school.
All that time at the wheel has resulted in an impressive list of accomplishments: Under Kraft, Warrington created such unique offerings as its specialized master’s programs, one-year graduate offerings in finance, international business, and real estate; as well as a post-doctoral bridge program that prepares scholars from non-business disciplines for careers in business schools, and a Doctor of Business Administration program for working professionals. Warrington’s graduate program offerings have increased more than five-fold during that time it has developed study-abroad partnerships with more than 20 countries
Add to that a long recitation of pecuniary accomplishments: Since 1990, Warrington’s endowment has grown from $14 million to $167 million. In 2014 Al Warrington, the trustee of the University of Florida, and his wife Judy pledged $75 million to the college, the largest donation Warrington has ever received and one that helped the college establish major program endowments and build and enhance state-of-the-art facilities, such as Heavener Hall, the new home for undergraduate programs and activities that was dedicated in 2014.
“I was lucky,” Kraft says with a laugh. “I’ve worked with a pretty talented group of faculty, staff, and administrators that have made life a little easier. The two things that have worked for us, we’ve been pretty flexible trying new approaches and experimenting — if something doesn’t work out, we try something else — and I think we’ve always been consistent that we want to maintain this culture of supporting the research productivity of the faculty. So the combination of flexibility and consistency has made the path a little easier to try a lot of different things.”
‘SAGE MANAGEMENT DECISIONS AND MANY INNOVATIONS’
Kraft joined Warrington’s faculty as an assistant professor of economics in 1970; he left to work for the Department of Energy six years later. In 1980 he returned to Warrington and a year later became associate dean. In 1986, Kraft was named dean of Arizona State University’s business school before returning again in 1990 to lead Warrington.
“Dean Kraft has been an extraordinary leader for our business college, transforming it into one of the nation’s best institutions in business education and research, with a growing influence in higher education and the private sector,” UF President Kent Fuchs said in a news release from the school. “His sage management decisions and many innovations contribute to UF’s rising stature and will benefit students for generations to come.”
Kraft received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from St. Bonaventure University and a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pittsburgh. He has also held positions at several federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, and Department of Interior, and served on the board of directors of Citibank of Arizona, Greyhound Financial Corporation, and Kroy Inc. Kraft has also served on the board of directors of AACSB International and the Graduate Management Admission Council.
Florida announced Friday that it has retained executive search firm Isaacson, Miller to conduct a national search for Kraft’s replacement.