Notre Dame is probably the most famous Catholic university in the United States, and with that legacy, says Mendoza College of Business Dean Martijn Cremers, comes many responsibilities. But as he quickly adds, the school embraces not only its Catholicism but also its small-c catholicism, meaning it encourages a broad-minded and liberal view of the world — and the joy and fulfillment that comes from promoting business as a force for good.
In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants, Cremers, recently elevated from his role as interim dean, lays out his vision for the future of the school that he joined seven years ago as a finance professor after a decade at Yale School of Management. Cremers has spent the last year guiding the school in the wake of predecessor Roger Huang’s decision to step down but will officially take the reins as Notre Dame Mendoza’s dean on July 1.
“There’s really three reasons that I came to Notre Dame,” he says. “The first reason is, this is a place that is striving to always be excellent. Excellence permeates everything we do. The second reason is, it’s very collegial — it’s a community. And the third reason is the Catholic nature of the university — for business, that’s mostly Catholic with a small ‘c’ and that is integrated with the Catholic faith as well. This is a force for good. I like to talk about the three Cs to cultivate: the first is to contribute to human betterment, the second is to cooperate in solidarity, and the third is to compete in excellence, both externally in the marketplace and also internally toward the best version of oneself.
“These three things are related — if you compete with excellence you have created value within the business through cooperation. Ultimately it’s about contributing to the needs of others, providing goods and services that satisfy real needs, that makes people’s lives better.”
BIG SHOES TO FILL
Cremers was named interim dean in May 2018 when Huang announced his intention to step down and return to teaching. A native of the Netherlands, Cremers’ areas of expertise is investment management, corporate finance, corporate governance, corporate law, business ethics, and Catholic social thought. He takes over a college that has about 625 total graduate students enrolled across all programs, as well as 1,700 undergraduate students (as of fall 2018 enrollment).
He steps into some pretty big shoes. In a little over five years as dean, Roger Huang saw Mendoza enjoy considerable success in the B-school rankings. The undergraduate program debuted in the Poets&Quants ranking at No. 2 in 2016 and landed at No. 5 last year; meanwhile the school’s MBA program has held steady in the P&Q and other rankings, usually landing in the top 30: Most recently it was 29th in P&Q, 26th in U.S. News & World Report, and 22nd in Forbes. The Financial Times, which includes international schools in its ranking, placed Mendoza 58th, up from 60th the year before.
“It’s a great resource for any dean to have his predecessor around to consult with, to talk with,” Cremers says. “When I started as interim dean I had limited administrative experience, so I did a lot of shadowing Roger. I learned how collaborative the school is and how important as dean it is to be accessible. And I learned that being dean is about service — it’s serving to the faculty staff and the students.”
A FORCE FOR GOOD
Among Cremers’ plans for the MBA program is an expansion of the elective Business on the Frontlines, which sends MBA students to under-developed, post-conflict countries around the world to examines the impact of business. The course, now in its 11th year, sends about two dozen students and faculty to work directly on business and peace-related projects with partners in the field, “primarily international humanitarian organizations,” according to the school’s website. A BOTFL project might focus on agriculture, infrastructure, or mining; projects have also extended to “micro-finance, youth unemployment, post-civil war reconciliation, business incubators, health and nutrition, human trafficking, child prostitution, and disaster preparedness.”
Since 2008, BOTFL teams have worked on nearly 30 projects in nearly 20 countries. Cremers wants to do more, doubling the number of participants to 50 next year, and eventually to 100.
“What I’ve been proposing is to make Frontlines an integral part of the program,” Cremers says. “Make it a differentiator, if you like — make it an essential part of the Notre Dame MBA. And that means giving many more students access to this course. So next year we’re going from 25 to 50.
“I think the Frontlines as a differentiator will be making something that is very special. It is one of the best things that we do. I want to see if we can make it kind of an integral part of earning an MBA here.”
See the next pages for our Q&A with Martijn Cremers. It has been edited for length and clarity.