Santa Clara Leavey — The Other B-School In The Heart Of Silicon Valley

Santa Clara University. Photo by Joanne H. Lee/Santa Clara

Santa Clara University launched the Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in May 2019 with a mission to “expand the entrepreneurial mindset” of its students while embraces an inclusive approach that engages responsible innovation to address pressing human needs and create long-term value within our communities.. The interdisciplinary center has around 150 graduate and undergraduate students, 60% to 70% of them with non-business majors. It offers university-wide programs and events, support for business ventures, and academic and experiential learning support and programming.

Chris Norris

Chris Norris is executive director of the Ciocca Center. A former CEO and entrepreneur with nearly four decades’ experience in the tech industry, Norris earned his master’s in computer engineering from Santa Clara as a part-time student while working for Intel. He says Santa Clara’s and Leavey’s Jesuit foundation sets it apart from — and in many ways above — the other B-schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, in ways that have only deepened over time.

“There’s three main schools in the Valley, and we’re unique in that it’s a Jesuit school and has such a liberal arts aspect to it that I think is certainly unusual compared to the other two schools,” Norris says. “I spent almost 40 years working in the industry, with Intel for 20 years, and then startups of different kinds. Was CEO for another decade or so — so I’ve been immersed in all things traditional Silicon Valley.

“And even though I have a master’s degree from here, I’ve just been shocked when I come back — in a good way — when I see how different the students are here than most of the people I’ve run into in my career. I’m just so tired of hearing about, ‘I’m trying to figure out how much money I can make,’ just really tired of that. I’m tired of it in podcasts. I’m tired of it on videos. I’m tired of it in the newspaper. One of the great things here is there’s just such a social awareness, and it’s partly, I think, the students who interact, just by nature of the university, but it’s also the liberal arts core that permeates all the programs, and it’s really refreshing.”

For Santa Clara students in general and Leavey students in particular, it’s not lip service to say that working to make the world better is a primary goal.

“You just don’t run into a student around here that doesn’t care about what’s happening to society, doesn’t care about what’s happening to our environment, who’s only driven to figure out, ‘How big’s my check going to be at the end?'” Norris says. “I just don’t run into them anyway, and I would, I think. If I was going to run into them, I’d probably run into them, ’cause we run most of the programs.”


Nydia MacGregor

What sets Leavey apart? Whether undergraduates, part-time MBAs, online MBAs, or executive MBAs, it's a question of mindset, says Nydia MacGregor, who in addition to being senior assistant dean for graduate business programs is also a senior lecturer in management.

"It's the kind of mindset where the job is never finished," she says. "Everything is a minimum viable product. And you just kind of keep going.

"And what does that mean? There's that part which is kind of operational and how you approach your business, but then there's the other piece which is related to how do you think about the questions —in what manner can you analyze a question, if it's a question that's never been posed before? This is kind of understanding how our students are prepared from an ethical perspective, in this intersection between ethics and tech.

"We have a lot of tech here in the Valley, a lot of firms that are changing the rules constantly in the way they approach their business model. That's the dynamism that we're preparing them for. There are firms in the Valley that are producing products and services that I can't conceive of right now. I can't use those as examples in the classroom — but what I can do is prepare them: 'Okay, then how do you approach this?' But then there's also the questions of how do we understand who it affects, and how do we understand what the ripples are that lead out from there, and then make our decisions. So it's not really about being in tech so much as about understanding the dynamism that is here, and those kinds of industries that are growing and moving and pushing forward."


Silicon Valley, and the world of business overall, is coming around to the Leavey way of doing things, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic recedes and a new sense of working for positive change pervades graduate business education.

The Leavey School has been there all along, and now is poised to lead. And that is the story of the school, MacGregor says: upward trajectory.

"As opposed to coming out of Covid and feeling like you're in a fog, I feel that we have momentum," she says. "And that's what we want to continue to build on."


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