Deans From Top B-Schools Share 2021 Resolutions

Most of us use the occasion of a new year to resolve personal changes and improvements. Business school deans and others in graduate business education leadership tend to be more ambitious.

Every December for the last few years, Poets&Quants has asked deans and others at the top B-schools around the world to share their plans for the coming year — see previous versions of this story here and here. This year, after the trauma of a worldwide pandemic and its economic reverberations, as well as the resounding cultural repercussions of racial reckoning in the United States, more were eager to share their visions for the coming year than ever before — not predictions, which we collected for another story, but resolutions, specifically what they intend to use their considerable platforms to help bring about.

In Michigan, echoing several of his peers, Ross School of Business Dean Scott DeRue “is filled with hope and optimism” for the new year. In Georgetown, in the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C., McDonough School of Business Dean Paul Almeida says “the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion has become ever more apparent in 2020” and “the time for change is now.” Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business Dean Matt Slaughter calls for self-care as we continue fighting the twin viruses of Covid-19 and systemic racism in the United States. Duke Fuqua School of Business Dean William Boulding sees the new year as the right time for immigration reform — but wants to go further and attack systemic racism in the United States. And Karen Sedatole, interim dean at Goizueta Business School at Emory University, says the new year is time to “do the hard work”: “If 2020 has taught me nothing else,” she writes, “doing business as usual is not an option if you want to succeed. Instead of hunkering down to weather the storm, sometimes you need to take action — to take intelligent risks.”

As the momentous and unforgettable 2020 wanes and the pristine possibilities of 2021 loom, P&Q received more resolutions from global schools than ever before. At IESE Business School, in Barcelona, Spain, Dean Franz Heukamp says his top priority is leveraging the school’s resources to help the world recover “as swiftly as possible” from the pandemic. At London Business School, Dean François Ortalo-Magné wants to see greater diversity in student ranks, particularly when it comes to women. At Oxford University Saïd Business School, Dean Peter Tufano, entering the final year of his decade at the reins, says he also hopes 2021 is “the planet’s final post-Covid year.” And at HEC Paris, Eloïc Peyrache, interim dean, hopes his school and others will “unleash the magic,” making sure that they are “part of the solution.” “We will do so,” he says, “by investing even more in research” to help “change the world, be it around AI, climate change, or new modes of leadership.”

Though it will arguably be remembered as a good year for B-schools overall, few will be sad to see 2020 expire in a few days. Here are some resolutions for 2021 from some of the biggest names in graduate business education around the world.


Sri Zaheer, Dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota

Sri Zaheer, dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, says her resolution last year was “to expect the unexpected and react accordingly while stocking up on toilet paper. Pretty smart, huh?

“Kidding aside, that mentality of handling unexpected challenges and developing the skills that 2020 forced all of us to practice — being adaptable, resilient, and most importantly, consciously inclusive — are ones that I resolve to expand on as we enter 2021.

“It is amazing what happens when your back is against the wall and there is no other option but to ‘do.’ At the Carlson School, our faculty and staff rose to every challenge while our students never stopped thinking about others before themselves. Together, we achieved so much. Our academic technology is leaps and bounds better than a year ago. Courses are completely redesigned, providing more time for live interaction and the learning that happens during it. Study abroad programs, internships, academic and career advising and alumni are all more accessible in the virtual environment.

“But 2020 also made us confront head-on the fact that we as a society have many challenges still to overcome. Deep disparities in our society remain. As a school and as a country, we are called to, finally, address them. 2021 will bring the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, which happened in our hometown. In the time since, our Carlson School community has grieved and resolved to act, listening to diverse voices and developing a set of recommendations for new and enhanced initiatives as we re-double our efforts to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive school. My resolution for the next year is simply this: to do all I can to advance this urgently important work.

“This work won’t be complete this time next year. In fact, it will never end. But I believe we will make significant progress these next 12 months to secure a brighter future for all in our community. Just one example — our ‘Emerging Leaders of Color’ program is already doing more than we expected. Two students from the inaugural cohort are freshmen at the Carlson School and the program has doubled in size in the past year, with 72 diverse high school students participating in the monthly Saturday programming. They get to experience college, are exposed to the benefits of a business education, interact with our students, faculty, and with each other, and network with business professionals as they prepare for higher education.

“Here’s hoping 2021 is a bit more predictable, full of better news for the economy, for businesses of all kinds, and for our society at large.”


Franz Heukamp, dean of IESE Business School in Spain. File photo

Franz Heukamp, dean of IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, says his top goal in 2021 is “to use our activities to help the world recover as swiftly as possible from the pandemic, and in a way that better protects the most vulnerable members of our society.

“When reflecting on the goals for the year, I always come back to IESE’s mission: to develop leaders that have a positive impact on the world. The events of the past year show just how important this work is! While we are now coming to terms with the health-related consequences of the virus, the broader economic and social consequences are just beginning to be felt. The crisis has exacerbated already worrying levels of rising inequality across the globe. Against this backdrop, our mission at IESE of working for the common good and focusing on research, teaching and initiatives that help businesses have a more positive impact on the world (both now and for the future) has never been more relevant.

“During the last year, we reacted quickly to the Covid-19 crisis and put in place a number of new initiatives to do our part during this unprecedented crisis (e.g. by offering more flexible study options to our participants, making our campus safe through our Ready.Safe.Go initiative, offering dedicated scholarships, or providing open access resources to help executives better navigate this, among others.) But there is still so much to do.

“That’s why during 2021 we will continue to focus on research, programs and activities that contribute to building more resilient, inclusive societies that can better support all its members. Among others, we will be expanding and deepening our Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Management Initiative. Here we will be launching further research and programs focused on one of the key issues of our time: the management and ethical challenges of AI. We will also continue to produce leading research and initiatives on pressing issues such as the climate crisis, education, boosting job creation and business ethics. And last but not least, there will be a renewed emphasis on better explaining our core values: why businesses — and business schools! — must be serving society in a positive way that goes beyond generating profits. We have to be able to give executives not only the practical tools — but also the will power and reasons — to do that.”


Dartmouth Tuck Dean Matthew Slaughter urges self-care in the new year. “Among the lessons of 2020 and the resolutions I’ve been pondering for the year ahead is the encouragement of rest and care,” he writes, “and being intentional in those practices. The intensity of efforts to combat the viruses that flared in 2020 — both Covid-19 and systemic racism in the United States — have been unprecedented. So too is the need for rest and self-care amid these battles. So much of the progress that we at the Tuck School made during 2020 and similarly the Covid continuity successes of our alumni and leaders across industries can be attributed to dogged efforts, tenacious creativity, and remarkable resilience.

“To keep pace with continuity efforts and to sustain lasting meaningful change in the fight against racism and inequalities, leaders need to be intentional about resting, recharging, and carving out time for self-care and wellness. As the axiom goes, one cannot pour from an empty cup. In the year ahead, I will continue to encourage Tuck students, faculty, staff, alumni and strategic partners to rest when needed and to do so without guilt or shame. Reflection and replenishment strengthen, not hinder, capacities for leadership.”

And Doug Shackelford, dean at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, expresses optimism tempered by realism.

“I am ready to see 2020 in my rearview mirror and eager to welcome in 2021,” Shackelford writes. “While I’m optimistic the new year will be an improvement, I’m realistic that many challenges await us. My focus is to continue to collaborate with faculty, staff, students and alumni to ensure that we keep teaching, researching and serving at world-class levels.

“With that said, our priority is to keep our community safe while we fulfilling that mission. We’ve never had to operate amid such uncertainty and change, but the silver linings are the collaboration and caring I see every day. Even though we are weary and worried, I see greater compassion and empathy along with a deep dedication to build a more inclusive community. We are resolved to use this time to think about the future – to innovate so we both meet and anticipate the changing needs for business education.

“In terms of hopes and dreams for 2021, I wish for a fully vaccinated campus. And before the year ends, we hope to break ground for a new, 140,000 square-foot building.”

The Best of 2020 at Poets&Quants










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