A year short of his second five-year term, Robert M. Dammon today (Aug. 28) announced he will step down as dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. A professor of financial economics and three-time winner of his school’s top teaching award, Dammon plans to return full-time to the faculty after the end of the current academic year.
Dammon, who turns 63 on Sept. 4th, said his decision was based on a sense that he had completed his goals for the school and wanted to spend more time with his two grandchildren, aged 8 and 11, in the Pittsburgh area. “When I step back and look at everything, I said to myself, ‘We are at a very good place right now and the time is right to step aside,'” he told Poets&Quants in an interview. “It’s something I thought a long time about. I was originally intending to step down at the end of the last academic year but decided to do another year because there were still some things I wanted to get done. I have grandchildren now playing sports on weekends and I often have to miss those things. This will give me an opportunity to spend more time with them.”
A search committee will be formed shortly to find Dammon’s successor with the goal to name a new Tepper School dean by the end of the academic year. If needed, Dammon has agreed to serve beyond this year until a successor is named, but he is eager to return to Tepper as a full-time professor. “I am looking forward to getting back on the faculty full time and going back to my research agenda,” says Dammon. “Even though I still teach one class a year, I want to get back and do more in the classroom, too.”
AFTER A NINE-YEAR STINT, A RICH LEGACY LEFT BEHIND
Whoever succeeds him will have big shoes to fill. Dammon will leave the deanship with a rich and highly successful legacy. Under his leadership, a new $201 million state-of-the-art building has transformed the school and put it at the center of the university. He has launched three new master’s programs, including a unique and highly ranked hybrid online MBA option as well as two specialty master’s program in business analytics and product management that came out of a year-long strategic plan that engaged more than 30 associate deans, faculty, alumni and students.
The plan also focused the school on a new and ambitious research agenda for Tepper’s current faculty and its faculty recruitment efforts in the near term. Dammon has centered growth on four research initiatives that will translate into deeper course offerings as well in blockchain, healthcare and health tech, sustainability, and economic growth and shared prosperity. The latter topic is to explore how technology can be leveraged for economic growth that benefits everyone, not merely the top 1%.
Under Dammon, the school’s undergraduate population doubled, from 80 incoming first-year students in his initial year to some 160 first-year students today. He also played a key role in getting the university-wide Schwartz Center For Entrepreneurship onto the second floor of the David A. Tepper Quadrangle, the new 315,000 square-foot home of the Tepper School that opened only last year. It represented an important attempt for a business school to convene meaningful collaborations with the rest of the university. “We now play a large role in the education of entrepreneurship for the entire campus,” notes Dammon. “We are teaching fine arts students, engineers, and computer science students and bringing them together with our MBAs.”
HIS PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: TEPPER’S NEW $201 MILLION STATE-OF-THE-ART HOME
All told, Dammon raised $210 million for the school, including roughly $133 million, or two-thirds of the cost of the new Tepper Quadrangle. He was able to get Carnegie Mellon to pony up a third of the building’s cost, and then tapped the school’s namesake and hedge fund billionaire, David Tepper, for a third, with the final $67 million from hundreds of other alumni donors.
His most challenging part of the job, he says, was fundraising. “When you are building a new building that costs $200 million and you have an endowment below your peers you are always out there raising money to support the aspirational goals of the school,” he says.
Still, Tepper’s new home is at the very top of a long list of achievements that Dammon names when asked to identify his proudest accomplishments as dean. “This new building has been game-changer for us,” he says. “It provided a home for our undergraduate students that we never had before. In our old building, they had no space to socialize or to work in teams. And it provides our MBAs and other graduate programs with state-of-the-art facilities. We’ve got a research environment that is highly interdisciplinary and this building supports that.”
‘IN A LOT OF WAYS, I FEEL I PLAYED A MINOR ROLE’
Dammon, who is known as much for his humble and self-effacing personality as much as his leadership skills and academic cred, says he does not deserve the credit for all the school’s progress in the past nine years. “I had a lot of support from a lot of people,” he says. “There are so many people that were there to help and push things along. In a lot of ways, I feel I played a minor role. There are a lot of people who did the heavy lifting.”
But among the big decisions he had to make, besides the construction of a new home and a strategic plan that shows a path forward for the school, was his decision to enter the online space. Instead of doing a purely online MBA or one with a few scattered in-residencies, Dammon insisted on a blended or hybrid version that guaranteed students lots of face-to-face interaction. Launched in the fall of 2013, the program has an enrollment of 128 students. When Poets&Quants published in 2018 its debut ranking of the best online MBA programs, Tepper landed in first place. Not surprisingly, the school’s online MBA the toughest online offering to get into, the longest to complete for a degree at 32 months, and the one requiring more in-person time than any other option, with a half-dozen immersive access weekends a year in Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh.
“We were one of the first to have an online option and I am very proud of the way we stuck to our principles and developed a program that was not just purely online but had significant face to face interaction for the students and with faculty,” he says. “It turns out that is the best part of the program for students, and that is very different from other online programs.
A HYBRID ONLINE OPTION WITH LOTS OF CLASS TIME IN-PERSON AND ONLINE
Online students at Tepper have full access to the school’s career services, on-campus recruiting, student clubs, and leadership coaching. The school’s live classes occur two evenings a week for 70-minute clips. Offline, students are expected to put in between three and five hours per class, working at their own pace, watching lectures recorded by professors, doing readings, completing assignments, and engaging in group work to augment and reinforce the classroom learning.
What’s more, the program is unique in another respect. It is the only prestige online MBA program where students can transfer out and into Tepper’s full- or part-time MBA programs because the admission standards are roughly the same for all three programs. “The only way you can do that is to have the same admission standards and the same faculty,” notes Dammon.
The school just entered the second cohorts for its new one-year degrees in business analytics and product management, the latter of which is a joint degree program with Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science. Both programs enrolled classes of about 25 students each.
‘HE HAS HELPED TRANFORM THE SCHOOL IN EXCEPTIONAL WAYS’
The university’s provost praised his contributions to the school. “As dean, Dr. Dammon has been instrumental in establishing the Tepper School as one of the nation’s premier business schools for undergraduate, graduate and online students,” said James H. Garrett, Jr., Carnegie Mellon provost and chief academic officer in a statement. “He has helped to transform the school in exceptional ways by strengthening and expanding the academic programs, interdisciplinary research opportunities and learning environments for both the Tepper School and the entire university community.”
In its announcement of Dammon’s decision to step down, the school also noted that he oversaw the creation of the Accelerate Leadership Center, which provides individualized coaching and leadership training for MBA students. He led the development of the Executive Leadership Academy, part of the Advanced Leadership Initiative, to prepare African-American business professionals in the Pittsburgh region for executive advancement. During Dammon’s deanship, the Tepper School also established a joint undergraduate major in economics and politics with the Institute for Politics and Strategy and a new joint Ph.D. program in behavioral economics with the Social and Decision Sciences Department within the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.