Not long after Idie Kesner came to Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business for an MBA in the early 1980s, she suddenly hit a wall.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to make it in the first semester at Kelley,” she confides. “I hit a rough patch. I didn’t do well on a critical exam. For a while, I started to question whether my decision to come here was a good one and whether it had been a mistake.”
She met with a faculty member who urged her to hang in at least through the end of the semester. “’If we didn’t think you could make it here, we wouldn’t have admitted you,”‘ Kesner remembers being told at the time. “I got the support I needed and found out I was meant to be here. Even when I doubted myself, the faculty here were the ones who gave me confidence.”
That early reassurance at a critical moment in her education had a profound impact. She not only settled into her graduate studies with newfound confidence. Kesner would stay on at Kelley to earn her doctorate in business. In 1983 she moved on to her first teaching job at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill only to return to Kelley in 1995 as a professor of strategic management. Until becoming the first woman to lead Kelley as dean in 2013, Kesner had racked up two dozen teaching awards in 14 different years in the school’s undergraduate, MBA and executive programs.
‘IF WE DIDN’T THINK YOU COULD MAKE IT HERE, WE WOULDN’T HAVE ADMITTED YOU’
“Our culture,” she says with all sincerity, “is the best you can experience. And it does make a difference where you go. We are different in our collegiality, our collaboration, and our teamwork. No other school is quite like what we have here.”
Truth is, she is a significant reason why Kelley’s culture is collegial and collaborative. Caring and compassionate, sensitive to student needs and the difficult demands of an often impossible job, Kesner has succeeded at the soft and hard stuff that is leadership. Through more than seven years as dean, she had made smart bets on the future of business education by leveraging the school’s early leadership in online learning. For an academic, she has made bold and innovative investments to serve the needs of her students. She has embraced and mentored young talent in a way that is rare for a dean of any school, using her students as consultants on key strategic challenges. From rushing to the hospital bed of a badly injured student to publicly taking to task a faculty member for his racist, sexist, and homophobic views, she has thoroughly distinguished herself as one of the most accomplished deans of this generation.
Under Kesner’s leadership, the school has doubled both its undergraduate population to a record 8,000-plus students and its innovative online MBA program to almost 1,000 students, vastly expanded the portfolio of the school’s master’s programs, maintained the quality and integrity of its full-time MBA offering at a time when applications to all MBA programs have declined, helped to recruit nearly 75% of the existing faculty of 325 in Bloomington alone, and helped to raise more than $200 million in support of the school. This long list of achievements, moreover, has been made as Kelley has significantly expanded the quality of its incoming undergrad and graduate students.
IDIE KESNER: 2019 DEAN OF THE YEAR
And Kesner, 61, has achieved her earliest goals to generate greater awareness of the Kelley brand, increase the diversity of its faculty and students, and build out key strategic partnerships to expand the school’s influence in the U.S. and abroad. Every day, Kesner is and always has been all-in, leading a school with a massive $210 million budget. When she was in labor with her first child, Kesner could be found laying in bed grading her students’ papers. Her personal work ethic has inspired both Kelley’s staff and faculty an atypical dedication to the school, often showing up on weekends to tutor and counsel their students, helping to prep them for forthcoming exams.
For the extraordinary job done by this unassuming academic, Poets&Quants is naming Kesner its Dean of the Year. She is the ninth 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 Washington’s Foster School of Business, the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and IE Business School in Spain. The first female dean of the Kelley School, she is also only the second woman to be named Dean of the Year after Kellogg’s Sally Blount.
While it was hardly a foregone conclusion that Kesner would become an academic, she came of age in a Dallas home where discussions around the dining room table would inevitably turn to the business headlines. Her father Sam, who as a major in the U.S. Army helped to liberate the Dachau concentration camp in 1945, became a stockbroker for E. F. Hutton. “Every conversation at dinner was about what was happening in the stock market and in the business world that day,” she recalls. “On Friday nights, we would watch a show about what happened in Wall Street markets that week.”
Kelley Dean Idie Kessner Joins A Stellar Roster Of Dean Of The Year Honorees
|Idie Kesner||2019||Kelley School of Business||Indiana University|
|Jim Jiambalvo||2018||Foster School of Business||University of Washington|
|Sally Blount||2017||Kellogg School of Management||Northwestern University|
|Santiago Iñiguez||2016||IE Business School||IE University/td>|
|Edward ‘Ted’ Snyder||2015||Yale School of Management||Yale University|
|Paul Danos||2014||Tuck School of Business||Dartmouth College|
|Roger Martin||2013||Rotman School of Management||University of Toronto|
|Nitin Nohria||2012||Harvard Business School||Harvard University|
|Robert Bruner||2011||Darden School of Business||University of Virginia|