Wake Forest Finds A Dean With Close Ties To The School & State

Wake Forest School of Business photo

Farrell Hall, home of the Wake Forest School of Business

Founded in 1969, Wake Forest University’s business school didn’t have a woman in charge until 1992, when Dana Johnson became dean of the undergraduate business school. After Johnson stepped down two years later, there were no more women as dean — including the period after the undergrad and graduate business schools merged in 2009 — for the next 27 years.

In 2021, Michelle Roehm became interim dean at the Winston-Salem, North Carolina school following the departure of Charles Iacovou. And a year later, that long stretch without a woman as dean has ended in a more permanent way, with the announcement — just in time for International Women’s Day — that Wake Forest has hired Annette Ranft.

Ranft, currently dean of the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University, is a highly experienced academic who has spent most of her career at universities in the U.S. South — seven schools, in fact, including (already before now) Wake Forest. She “will lead our business school with a commitment to collaboration and a focus on innovation,” Wake Forest University President Susan R. Wente says in the school’s announcement.

New Wake Forest Business School Dean A Highly Experienced Academic 

Annette Ranft

Wake Forest could hardly have found someone with more experience to lead its business school. Besides the deanship, Ranft is currently Auburn Harbert’s Wells Fargo professor, a position she has held since leaving the deanship of North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management in 2018.

During her tenure at Auburn, the Harbert College “has had record applications and enrollment in undergraduate and graduate programs, launched a new supply chain management department, grew faculty in strategic areas by 25%, launched a real estate development institute, and opened a new venture accelerator in its research park,” according to Wake Forest’s announcement. Coming to Wake Forest, “she has the experience to build on our business school’s tradition of excellence, as well as the vision to prepare our students for a lifetime of impact with integrity in the business world,” Wente says.

Yet Ranft’s hiring is also a homecoming — in a couple of ways. A North Carolina native, she earned a doctorate in business administration from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. She held the deanship at North Carolina State from 2016 to 2018, and she was also an associate professor at Wake Forest from 1999 to 2005 — her second job on a B-school faculty.

“My experience as a Wake Forest faculty member exposed me to the ideals of the teacher-scholar model, to the importance of educating the whole person, and to the values consistent with serving humanity,” says Ranft, whose term as dean will start July 1.

“I am truly impressed with the strong foundation established by previous leaders at Wake Forest and in the School of Business and look forward to joining President Wente and her team as she sets the strategic course for the future.”

‘An Honor To Return To Wake Forest’

Ranft — who has also served on the faculty of West Virginia University, Florida State University, and the University of Tennessee — is a noted scholar of strategic management who has authored or co-authored more than 40 publications on management-related topics. She was associate and senior associate dean at Tennessee Haslam College of Business and chair of the Department of Management at Florida State; The Wall Street Journal named her one of 11 “shining stars” in 2012.

Ranft takes over a school that currently has no full-time MBA program, having shut down the 40-year-old program early in Iacovou’s tenure. At the time it was ranked 46th in the U.S. by Poets&Quants.

One of the problems Wake Forest faced was stiff local competition, particularly from a pair of top-25-ranked B-schools in Duke Fuqua School of Business and UNC Kenan-Flagler. In 2020, however, Wake Forest announced the launch of an online MBA despite the presence of powerhouses UNC, ranked sixth overall, and North Carolina State Poole, ranked 16th.

The school’s Winston-Salem-based part-time MBA was ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News in 2019; it also offers master’s programs in finance, accounting, and business analytics. Its undergraduate programs is small, fewer than 300 students, but well-regarded: Wake Forest ranked 21st overall (out of 94) in Poets&Quants‘ 2022 ranking of undergraduate business schools, including 18th in career outcomes. Alumni rate Wake Forest third out of all ranked schools, behind only Georgetown McDonough and Indiana Kelley.

“Wake Forest University’s School of Business has a unique opportunity to conduct meaningful research and to develop principled leaders for the future,” Ranft says. “Having served on the Wake Forest faculty early in my career, it is an honor to return to serve in the dean’s role at a place that had such a profound impact on my approach to teaching, research and academic leadership.”


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