Exclusive: 1-On-1 With Florida Warrington’s New Dean

The Florida MBA had the fourth highest ROI among 10 top-ranked public MBA programs in 2019, according to U.S. News. Warrington photo

Many schools are moving toward designating MBA programs as STEM. Is this something that you can foresee for the Florida MBA?

I want to go in there and first evaluate the situation and then listen to what everyone has to say. I do know that in the full-time MBA, which is where most of the foreign students would be, the percentage of foreign students is actually quite small in Florida. So it’s not a burning issue for them, I would imagine. But I do know that for international students there are really two industries where they tend to get placed.

One of them is technology, and the other is consulting. At technology industries the demand is still high. In the consulting industry, anecdotally, demand for international students from consulting companies may be softening simply because of visa processing hassles. So if you want to attract international students, the STEM designation is actually quite critical because as you know, it gives them some advantages in the work visa process. And if you don’t have that designation, you’re not going to be able to attract international students.

But also, employers may not be willing to hire international students from your programs because they don’t have that advantage in their visa processing. So it’s kind of a double edged sword and it’s a vicious cycle. So I think if you’re interested in having international students in your MBA program, STEM designation would be very critical. I do feel that while Warrington doesn’t have a lot of international students in their full-time MBA program, there is a very significant number of international students in MS programs, in the specialized master’s, and STEM designation there would actually be very critical.

So that might be something that’ll be looked at.

What are your thoughts on coronavirus and whether it will have a long-term impact on business schools, if only because it may be so damaging in the short-term that schools feel the effect of it for a long time?

It’s hard to predict at this stage whether coronavirus is still going to be here in the fall or not. But at least right now my expectation would be that it’s not really the long-term but the short- and mid-term that we are more worried about.

In the short-term, of course, we’ve seen all the study-abroad programs where we do residencies in different countries, all of those are being canceled — we have just canceled ours at Georgia Tech. And the other impact that we are seeing is on corporate programs. We do a lot of corporate programs at Georgia Tech, where companies send their managers and executives to campus for one or two weeks, and we have had several cancellations of those because they don’t want to travel. So that is going to have an immediate revenue impact on the business school, which has impact of course on all programs, faculty — everything. That is the short-term issue that we are dealing with and that I imagine Warrington is dealing with also.

In the mid-term, I think there is some uncertainty that our foreign students — especially from China and South Korea, which are quite a significant number at most universities — can make it here in fall. There are two questions here: Will the whole thing be over by then so that they can actually come here physically in the fall, but also can they complete their degrees in their home countries on time? I would imagine there is some fear — and for Warrington it would be more on the MS side — whether they can actually make it here in fall. And that’s where distance learning may play a greater role.

How do you keep up Florida Warrington’s rankings progress? What are your big plans for when you get there in August?

First of all, I believe I’m walking into a very good situation as we have talked about earlier, as you mentioned in the recent P&Q article, it’s on an upward trajectory. All the elements are there. So job one for me is to initially spend a lot of time listening to faculty, students, staff, alumni. I do believe that collaborative decisions take longer, but they are more sustainable. And then we will get to work.

Having said that, I do have a few ideas that I would want to test out with the faculty and staff there, and I’ll give you a few of the top ones.

The first is that I think all the elements are there for Warrington to improve in reputation even further. I think they have excellent faculty, they have excellent students, they have excellent staff, they have really committed alumni, and all of those put together. And the situational, the locational advantage of being the flagship university in Florida with no other sort of equivalent school, at least in the near vicinity, I think gives them huge opportunities to improve the reputation of Warrington. So that’s one thing I would want to focus on.

The second is, I want to explore greater corporate connections with some of the key industries in Florida, in the Southeast, and perhaps even beyond. I think this will help student placement, bring resources to the college, improve reputation, improve faculty research. As a business school, being very deeply connected with industry has many benefits, as you know. So that’s one area that I would want to focus on.

The third is that I’d like to look at the curricular elements of the program and all programs: MBA, undergrad, specialized master’s. Technology and analytics is affecting all areas of business and business schools are trying very hard to change their curriculum to emphasize technology and analytics at its core. Not just teaching technology or teaching analytics, but also teaching it in a contextualized way. So that’s kind of one other area that I would want to focus on. And there are many faculty whose research is cutting-edge in Warrington, in marketing, finance, management, operations management, information systems. So it’s imperative that they bring that to the classroom. That’s one other thing that I would focus on.

The fourth, if you still have appetite for a couple more: I do firmly believe that business school education is more than just a classroom. It involves opportunities to work with companies on projects, with faculty on research; opportunities to develop leadership skills, career coaching, career services. I think that’s what differentiates a business school education from education in other disciplines. I want to continue the tremendous progress that Warrington has made in these areas, especially in career services, and I want to engage our donors to make even greater enhancements in our programs. I think it’ll benefit our students tremendously.

Then one last thing is, I want to focus also on increasing collaboration with other units at the University of Florida. I firmly believe that most of the exciting research is now at the intersection of business with other fields such as AI, machine learning, health. Also, in my experience at Georgia Tech, I feel employers are really hungry and they are looking for students who are cross-functionally trained, where they have a tech background but they’re also doing an MBA. That kind of mix is very, very exciting to them. And donors are also excited about interdisciplinary areas. So the final thing that I would want to do is increase collaboration with other units of the university as well.

But I want to be collaborative there, so these are some initial thoughts I have but I do want to make sure that there is buy-in across faculty and staff for doing these things.

You’re unlikely to have the time to spend in the classroom itself. Will you miss it?

I will miss it tremendously. As I transition, the two things I will miss are teaching and research. I love being in the classroom. I’m actually teaching my last course here in June and July. That’s why I can’t join before August 1st . One of those is actually an online section. We do both online and on-campus and it’s the same content, same course. I was not a believer in online for the type of thing that we do, but last summer I taught it for the first time and, believe it or not, student response in both the sections was very positive. And so I am truly a believer.

I think you can do certain things online fairly well, but you cannot do the extracurricular stuff online, the networking, the projects, all of that. That’s where the real value comes in, so I’ll miss that.

I will also miss my research. I do plan to continue it a little bit as much as possible, perhaps during the weekends.

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