Wharton’s Geoff Garrett: USC Not A Step Down

Wharton Dean Geoff Garrett has accepted the top job at USC Marshall. On Tuesday he talked about why. File photo

The USC Marshall School of Business has found its new dean, and it’s a big name: Geoff Garrett, current dean of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, who apparently came into the picture this spring when he was on a re-accreditation team assessing the Marshall School.

USC is understandably excited about the hire. The university has taken its share of lumps for a series of scandals and controversies, including the dismissal of current Marshall School Dean Jim Ellis. But in luring over the dean of one of the world’s top three business schools, the university has been able to do what few business schools have done. Garrett is responsible for raising nearly $800 million for Wharton (so far — by the time he leaves in 2020 the total will be closer to $1 billion) and has presided over the school’s sustained excellence in reputation and rankings. The question is, what about the USC job appeals to Garrett, when the Marshall School is so far below Wharton in not only the rankings but also in terms of resources?

Garrett’s answer: USC isn’t lacking in resources in any meaningful way, and is by any standard an up-and-coming — and exciting and innovative — school.

“Marshall and USC, I think anybody can see from a distance that the university and the business school have just been doing amazing things in the past 20 years,” says Garrett, speaking on a conference call Tuesday after the announcement of his hire by USC. “And I think there are just lots of opportunities. USC’s a global school, it’s very innovative, and the Marshall School is a global school and very innovative. There is lots of learning by doing and support for entrepreneurship. I think those things are so important.

“L.A. is obviously not only a very diversified economy, it’s a very dynamic one. It’s globally connected, so I think that the raw material and the momentum of Marshall and USC are just fantastic. And I look forward to being part of that.”

AT USC, ‘A LOT OF PRIDE IN IMPROVEMENTS IN THE RANKINGS’

Geoff Garrett. File photo

Wharton’s full-time MBA enrollment is nearly four times the size of the Marshall School, roughly 1,700 students versus 450. Currently, Poets&Quants ranks Wharton’s full-time MBA in a tie with Harvard Business School. USC’s Marshall School, though on an upward trajectory under departing Dean James Ellis, places 22nd in the U.S., and its full-time MBA program fails to make the top 25 in either Forbes or The Financial Times rankings.

Echoing a common refrain among deans, Garrett downplays the importance of rankings, saying that while they “generate pride in all the stakeholders,” his sense is that at USC, “there’s a lot of pride, too — a lot of pride in improvements in the rankings that the school has achieved in the last several years, really across the board.

“When people ask me about rankings, I always say something that might sound trite, but I think it’s true, which is that if you do a good job, if the school’s doing a good job, the rankings will take care of themselves. I don’t have an enormous focus on rankings. Of course, I’m concerned about being a responsible financial manager if you are running a big institution like Marshall or like Wharton, and I want to do that. If you ask me first impressions about the school, being under-resourced wouldn’t be one of my concerns, and I don’t think rankings is one of my concerns either.”

He adds that a big appeal to his new academic home is the Marshall School’s substantially larger undergraduate population, slightly more than 4,000 students to Wharton’s 2,500.

“My sense on the resources side is that Marshall actually is very well run and the resource space is strong,” says Garrett, who will be taking on his fourth deanship of a business school in what would be less than nine years. Before Wharton, the Australia native had been dean for a year and one-half at the University of New South Wales’ Australian School of Business and for a single year at the University of Sydney’s business school. He will assume the Marshall deanship on July 1 of 2020.

“The challenge, I think, for a place like Marshall actually is a similar challenge that we have at Wharton, which is the economics of undergraduate education are just different. Tuitions are lower and financial aid is a bigger part of the story. I’m absolutely committed to undergraduate education and to ensuring the school has the best students, not the best students who can afford to pay.”

A LAME DUCK AT WHARTON?

Garrett will leave Wharton a substantially changed place, academically as well as physically. He has overseen the school’s expansion in global presence in data analytics, entrepreneurship, behavioral economics, and other areas, and the funds he has raised will have a lasting impact on the school: Among other things, construction is now underway on a new building on the south side of Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall that will provide learning and teaching spaces, house the Wharton Statistics Department, and become a campus hub for analytics. At the corner of 40th and Sansom streets, a new building will be devoted to Penn student entrepreneurs. Wharton’s Vance Hall will undergo a major renovation, returning the building to the academic core of the school, and the re-named Lauder Institute building also will be refurbished.

Even as all that work continues, it is unusual for a dean to remain so long with a school after announcing his plans to depart. Asked whether he was concerned he’d be seen as a “lame duck” at Wharton given his intention to stay on there until July 2020 before assuming the Marshall School’s deanship, Garrett says that’s a concern “any reasonable person would have,” but adds that he has a plan to address it.

“I think at Wharton right now, we’re pivoting from sort of an ideas-and-strategies formulation period into an execution period,” he says. “You probably know that we have a bunch of significant capital projects at work in the school. We’ve indicated directions of change, future of finance, innovation in entrepreneurship and data and analytics as the core priorities of the school, along with leadership. I think we’re in an execution phase there. I know that there’s a lot to be done this year. I also want to spend lots of time thanking people in all of the schools — stakeholders, from the students, staff, faculty, alumni, friends.

“So, I’m looking forward to the year. Obviously, it’ll be hard for me, but it’s important for me not to be engaged in the day-to-day running of the Marshall School. That’ll be wholly inappropriate and I think the interim dean, Gareth James, is a very high-quality guy. So, I don’t want to do that. My focus is going to be on Wharton. I think like everyone in all jobs, I’d like to leave the Wharton School, or my part of the Wharton School, in as good shape as I can for my successor. I look forward to that hand-off.”

THE ‘JOB HOPPER’ FINDS A HOME IN CALIFORNIA

When Garrett was hired by Wharton in 2014, Poets&Quants called him “an itinerant job hopper,” but he has had strong ties to California. His wife is a California native. He lived in the Los Angeles area for eight years, serving as a political science professor at UCLA and dean of the university’s International Institute from 2001 to 2005. He then moved over to USC as a professor of international relations and president of the Pacific Council on International Policy until 2009. Garrett also taught in the political science department at Stanford University from 1988 to 1997.

In his heart, he says, he’s a California guy through and through.

“It’s been an incredible honor for me to be dean of the Wharton School. It’s a wonderful place and it’s very bittersweet for me to be leaving. But my wife’s in California and we raised our daughter in California. I’m an adopted Californian — I think Australians tend to resonate well with California. I have to tell you, I’m more of an L.A. guy on a personal level.”

See the next page for further comments from Geoff Garrett to the press during Tuesday’s call. They have been edited for length and clarity.