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Dean Of The Year: Jim Jiambalvo Of Washington’s Foster School of Business

For nearly 14 years, Jim Jiambalvo has led the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business

When the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business began searching for a new leader after the abrupt departure of its dean, Jim Jiambalvo was not exactly enthused about the job. An accounting professor at the school for the past 27 years since 1977, he had taught in every business program, chaired the accounting department for three years, racked up several university teaching awards, wrote a textbook on managerial accounting and served on curriculum committees to rethink student learning.

But he had little ambition to ever become the dean at the University of Washington or any another business school, for that matter. “I had no aspirations to be dean, and I was asked if I wanted to be considered,” he recalls. “I thought they would go outside and said to myself, ‘Why muck around with this? I don’t want to end my career failing, and it’s pretty easy to fail as a dean.’ Then, we had three finalists for the job and for whatever reason, none of them pushed the ball over the goal line.”

Bucked up by his wife, Cheryl, and a couple of faculty members, he finally decided to go for it, still thinking that if the university president decided to keep the search open, he would just forget about it. Within three weeks of his change of heart, he was named dean with a start date of May 1 in 2005 at the age of 56. Nearly 14 years later, the humble and self-effacing Jiambalvo is still dean, serving what will be his final year.


When he departs the deanship at the age of 70 in July of this coming year, succeeded by another accounting professor Frank Hodge, he will leave a school that has been enduringly transformed in every way. Jiambalvo has led the construction of two major buildings, the 135,000 square foot PACCAR Hall with 19 classrooms, and the 65,000-square-foot Dempsey Hall, with its nine classrooms. Yet another building, the 100,000- square-foot Founders Hall will debut in 2021.

The school has hired more than 50 new faculty during his deanship, with average teaching ratings that are at all-time highs when nearly half of the school’s 85-person strong research faculty serve on the editorial review boards of top journals. Foster’s ‘Current Be Boundless Campaign’ has raised over $200 million from more than 12,000 donors, on the heels of another campaign that collected $181 million in donations from 13,000 donors.

Under his leadership, moreover, the school has experienced an unprecedented rise in rankings prestige. The year before Jiambalvo took over in 2004, Foster had been relegated to a second-tier of unranked schools by Businessweek and didn’t even make the top 100 in either U.S. News & World Report or The Financial Times. Today, Foster’s full-time MBA ranking is 21st best in the U.S. on Poets&Quants’ composite list, placing 16th in Businessweek, 22nd in U.S. News and 23rd among U.S. schools in the FT. Today, Foster is only one of eight public institutions in the Top 25.


For the extraordinary job done by this unassuming academic, Poets&Quants is naming Jiambalvo its Dean of the Year. He is the eighth dean to gain this honor, earned in the past by the leaders of Harvard Business School, the Yale School of Management, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and IE Business School in Spain.

Much like the legendary Don Jacobs, the professor who guided the Kellogg School to new heights and became the most influential business school dean of his generation, Jiambalvo has quietly yet very consciously led Foster on a mission to become the best public business school in the nation. Both deans came from humble backgrounds, selecting the field of accounting as a platform to gain academic credibility and a springboard into highly successful deanships. They smartly leveraged their business communities in the climb, Jacobs in Chicago and Jiambalvo in Seattle, thanks to a dynamic economy driven by the explosive growth of Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco, Nordstrom and Boeing. Both deans never sought the spotlight, instead preferring to do the hard work necessary to recruit top faculty and students and put them in an environment where they could do their best work.

Neither of his parents were academics. His father ran a gourmet grocery story in downtown Chicago in the 1950s while his mother was a homemaker. “They had a 30-foot fish counter and I worked in the produce department in the summers,” remembers Jiambalvo. He earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois, going to work for one of the forerunners of Deloitte today, Haskins & Sells in Chicago.


Jim Jiambalvo when he became dean in 2005

“I thought I would go back (to Illinois) and get a master’s becuase it would help me in the firm. When I got to graduate school, I found thinking about accounting better than doing it. I thought i would enjoy conveying knowledge and I did. I loved every aspect of being an academic. The idea that someone would pay you to sit in your office and think is a luxury and the opportunity to transfer knowledge to your studnets and have them succeed is really thrilling.”

Instead of returning to Haskins & Sells, Jiambalvo went to Ohio State University for his PhD in accounting and never looked back. After earning his doctorate, he quickly found his home at the University of Washington, joining the accounting faculty at the University of Washington in 1977. He served as the school’s department of accounting chairman from 1992 until 1996 and was faculty director of an ephemeral E-Business initiative in 2000. Then came his unexpected turn to the deanship in 2005.

“I still have a document with notes I wrote to myself about what I would do in the first six months. One was to lay out a vision for the school and how we were going to move toward that vision. “We had our vision to be the best public business school and best doesn’t mean in terms of rankings. It’s about creating opportunities for our students. That is what I am most proud of. Each year, we have thousands of students and we are all working together to create opportunities for them. I think we’ve been fairly successful at it.”

Jim Jiambalvo Joins A Stellar Roster Of Dean Of The Year Honorees

Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo (upper left) is Poets&Quants’ Dean of the Year in 2018. He joins (from upper left to right) Dartmouth Tuck’s Paul Danos, Toronto Rotman’s Roger Martin, IE Business School’s Santiago Iñiguez, Harvard’s Nitin Nohria (bottom left to right), Northwestern Kellogg’s Sally Blount, Yale SOM’s ‘Ted’ Snyder and UVA Darden’s Robert Bruner.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.