Big-time potential draws big-time talent. This year, USC Marshall bagged the elephant. In June, the school announced that it had hired a new dean. Not just any dean…Wharton’s dean.
Come summer, Geoff Garrett will be taking the reins at Marshall, a program rocked by last year’s dismissal of Dean Jim Ellis, a popular fixture at the program. The move is a homecoming of sorts for Garrett, who has taught at both USC and UCLA. And the new dean comes to University Park with praise from high-profile peers like Wharton whiz Adam Grant.
“Over the past 5 years, we’ve marveled at the way you believe in and elevate the capabilities of everyone around you, the aplomb and cheer with which you challenge conventions and remove obstacles, and the contagious curiosity that you bring to every conversation,” Grant writes in a LinkedIn post. “You’ve set an impossibly high standard for academic leadership. I feel lucky to have worked with you and learned from you.”
Wharton has reason to fete Garrett. Over five years, he has raised over a billion dollars, along with launching ambitious building projects and turning Wharton into a leader in analytics and FinTech. However, the question has been asked: why would he leave Wharton – perhaps the world’s top business school – for USC Marshall, the 19th-ranked program in the U.S. according to P&Q’s composite ranking? Is this simply a case of getting out ahead of the posse, with Wharton losing ground in three major rankings in 2019? Plus, isn’t it a step down to run a full-time MBA program with 450 students against Wharton’s 1,700?
Well, Garrett (like most deans) publicly discounts rankings. If you do a good job, he asserts, “the rankings will take care of themselves.” He also touts Marshall’s overall size, which matches Wharton when the undergraduate population factors into the equation (i.e. 4,000 students vs. Wharton’s 2,500). Even more, Marshall has been on a rankings ride in recent years, breaking into the Top 20 in most outlets.
“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,” Garrett noted in a 2019 conference call after the announcement “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.”
USC’s tinsel town location – an entertainment and aerospace hotbed that’s packed with middle markets and Silicon Beach tech firms – makes Marshall even more appetizing. “L.A. is obviously not only a very diversified economy, it’s a very dynamic one,” Garrett adds. “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.”
Momentum and resources aren’t the only building blocks awaiting the new dean. Last year, for example, the school rolled out a curriculum revamp. The changes “enhanced systematic opportunities to practice teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, and creative problem-solving,” according to Suh-Pyng Ku, vice dean for graduate programs, in a statement to P&Q. The program also added a STEM-certified Management Science specialization in May. Designed to integrate scientific methodologies and concepts with data-driven decision-making and analytics, the STEM certification also levels the playing field for all MBA students.
“International graduates will now be able to apply to extend their 12-month OPT by an additional 24 months, potentially expanding their post MBA employment opportunities within the US because the specialization qualifies as a STEM-designated degree program by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” notes Suh-Pyng Ku.
Better yet, Garrett can count on support from students and alumni alike. In the 2018 Bloomberg Businessweek student survey, Marshall MBAs ranked among the most satisfied. Collectively, their scores ranked among the Top 5 in categories like developing applicable skills, diverse recruiters, inspiring faculty, and ethical careers. Among alumni surveyed, the school snagged top marks in career development. In fact, alumni may be Garrett’s biggest asset. Known as the “Trojan Network” – though “Trojan Family” is preferred – Marshall alums are legendary for going above-and-beyond to help students land jobs. In a 2018 interview, Anne Ziemniak, director of the full-time MBA program, attributed this pay-it-forward mentality to students being treated as professionals. The school taps into their expertise and includes their ideas, always looking for ways to involve them in the operation of the program. That naturally carries over as alumni – and students pick up on this engagement to form a virtuous circle.
“At Marshall, we believe our 93K+ strong Marshall alumni network is a true differentiator,” adds Suh-Pyng Ku. “We operate by the guiding principle that engaged students will become engaged alumni and engaged alumni are essential for a great student experience. Students are given the opportunity to make impactful connections with alumni who return to Marshall as guest lecturers and career mentors and open doors to their professional networks. The involvement by students and alumni is intended to foster a true vested interest in each other’s success and in the school that continues beyond commencement.”
In other words, the fundamentals are all there at Marshall. Question is, can they sustain their success or will they fall back? Many times, growth-stage startups hire a seasoned executive to help them scale and support. That will be Dean Garrett’s job in a few months. It should be informative to see the choices he makes.