Carnegie Mellon Finds A New Dean In Canada: Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou

The new Tepper Quad at Carnegie Mellon

The new Tepper Quad at Carnegie Mellon


When asked what she is most proud of accomplishing in that job, she immediately cites the 100% donor-funded renovation of the university book store building for the business school’s graduate programs. “We were able to finish it on time and below budget for $16 million,” she says. “The vision is to have the first floor of the building on the main street of Montreal as a place with lots of activities with companies. One is with startups and this is our entrepreneurship center and on the other side a retail lab that belongs to a new School of Retail Management that we founded two years ago. That will open soon and it will be an open lab which essentially means it will be a store where researchers are going to work on real subjects, people who are coming to shop in the space.”

Her interest in the Tepper job occurred after receiving an email from Heidrick & Struggles, the executive search firm hired shortly after Damon announced in late August that he would be stepping down at the end of the academic year. She had just been renewed for a second five-year term. “I pretty much always say no to all the emails I receive,” she says. “In this case, I had a discussion with the headhunter and I thought why not? It looks to be the perfect fit for what I believe in and what my skills are. I began looking into it and the more I discovered, the more I believed this would be a very good fit.”

She has long been interested in and passionate about interdisciplinary learning, in 2013 launching a Bachelor of Science in Finance at GW in which students are required to do a second major outside the business school. Tepper’s focus on working with other disciplines outside the business school, a goal reinforced by the opening of the new Tepper Quad in 2018, had great appeal to her.


Thus began a months-long process of interviews with decision-makers and stakeholders. “It was kind of a continuum,” she says of the process. “I interviewed with more than 50 people. Interviews go both ways, always. So when you exchange with people, it’s really about finding out more about the culture of the place. There wasn’t one time when it completely clicked. It was more of a continuous reassuring that this was a good fit. And the more I met with people, the more I thought this was what a business school in today’s world should be.

“I feel very strongly that the Tepper School has the best positioning among business schools,” says Bajeux-Besnainou. “It is all about skills-based learning. It’s about big data and being at the center of a university that has the DNA of being highly cooperative with strong schools of computer science and performing arts. Everybody is talking at every university about how important it is to be interdisciplinary. It is not something that I will have to work really hard to make happen because it is part of the culture here and that is something that is incredibly important.”

Bajeux-Besnainou believes strongly that interdisciplinary work is the only path toward effective problem-solving. “I don’t think you can be a silo,” she says. “If you look at the finance industry right now, they are saying more and more that they want to hire people with big data skills because that is what they need. For the students, this is incredibly important. When you think about the retail industry today, there is no way you can think about retail without artificial intelligence skills, without technology in general or without a deep understanding of sustainability issues. At McGill’s retail lab, we have two co-directors, one is a professor in operations management and the other is a faculty member in our engineering department. This is a very strong signal to say that retail innovations will come from the tech side.”


That interdisciplinary approach stands in contrast to the more typical European model of a business school, she believes. “In Europe, the models are very different. The business schools are by themselves. And more and more of them are trying to work with other engineering schools which are, by the way, also by themselves. They are trying to build these bridges, but it is a lot more difficult for them. At Carnegie Mellon, this culture is really embedded within the university.”

She intends to begin her deanship with a listening tour. “Coming from the outside, I feel it is very important to really understand the place,” says Bajeux-Besnainou. “It will be the second time that I come from outside. I see lots of advantages in doing that because I am very open to everything. I will need to take a closer look and I have lots of things to learn. I haven’t even met with most people here, only the search committee. This is really something important for me in terms of how to manage a place. I want to find out what people here are passionate about and what it is that they would like to accomplish. If that fits what I think is the right direction, then I will work very hard to make that happen. This is how I did it at McGill. It builds on the passion of the people internally.”

The announcement included the customary quotes from university officials welcoming the new dean. “Dr. Bajeux-Besnainou is the ideal candidate to lead the Tepper School’s renowned interdisciplinary programming, including initiatives that unite researchers, students, and industry leaders to advance work that shapes business and society,” said Carnegie Mellon Provost James H. Garrett, Jr., in a statement. “She will work closely with our students, faculty, and staff both within Tepper and across campus to create even more collaborative academic and research opportunities and bolster the Tepper School’s efforts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Garrett publicly thanked Dammon for his contributions and the search committee for its work. “We are grateful to Dean Dammon for his tremendous leadership, which helped establish the Tepper School as one of the nation’s premier business schools,” added Garrett. “Bob led the effort to open the David A. Tepper Quadrangle while strengthening and expanding CMU’s academic and research programs. I also want to thank the dean search committee — and especially Sridhar (Tayur) and Anita for serving as co-chairs — for their outstanding efforts throughout the process. The committee’s exceptional guidance and vision during the last year have allowed us to welcome the ideal leader to the Tepper School.”


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