Searching For The Ideal Business School Dean

business school dean search

The parade of eager candidates for the business school deanship with an annual salary of more than half a million dollars was in earnest this past month. One after another, four finalists marched onto the University of Colorado’s campus to lobby faculty, staff, students and decision makers for the dean’s job at Leeds College of Business.

Mark Ferguson, a senior associate dean at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, faced the music first on March 7th. Two days later, Kirk Dirks, director of the Bauer Leadership Center at Washington University’s Olin Business School flew in from St. Louis.

On March 14th, Sharon Alvarez got her shot to leverage her experience as the chairperson in entrepreneurial studies at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business. And finally, on March 17th, Vijay Khatri made his pitch. Khatri is the executive associate dean for strategy, innovation, and technologies at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, a school that also happens to be in active search mode for a new dean.

Exactly 41 days later, the university announced that Khatri won the shootout and will begin his new job on July 1 in the first named endowed deanship at CU Boulder, supported by a $5 million gift.


As professionally uncomfortable as it is to be publicly identified as a finalist for a deanship and then lose the shootout, an endless group of candidates is seemingly willing to vie for what may well be one of the most challenging jobs on a university campus. And there is no shortage of opportunities.

“There are so many dean searches in start up this season,” says Kenneth Kring, co-managing director of the Global Education Practice at Korn/Ferry International. “Perhaps for the first time in business education, some leading headhunters are having to manage potential conflicts of timing and overlapping markets.”

Kring, whose firm is currently searching for the next CEO of the B-school accreditation agency AACSB, should know. Over the course of his career as an executive search consultant, he has been involved in 50 business school dean searches, including three at the Wharton School alone, the last of which brought Emory Goizueta Dean Erika James to Wharton.


Kring, who co-authored a well-known white paper on how the business school dean’s job was being refined ten years ago, says the job of a business school is more complicated and challenging than ever. But it doesn’t put off all candidates. In Leed’s case, at least, the job will pay an annual salary of between $450,000 and $540,000 annually, not including relocation and signing bonuses.

“Ten years ago,” adds Kring, “there was a trajectory of complexity and it was all around increased emphasis on strategy and being global and the need for EQ skills to work increasingly within the university with increased financial skills. With the maturing of business education, particularly the traditional MBA, the job has gotten harder. A dozen years ago you were being creative coming up with different approaches to spread the portfolio. You are now starting to see people take things off the table, rather than put new things on the table. So it is a little harder to be a cheerleader who can rally the faculty when there are more arms crossed and people are wondering where their next meal is coming from.”

Searches for business school deans are more common than ever. Of the Top 100 U.S. business schools alone, nearly 10 schools are now actively looking for a new leader, including the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The search firm of Isaacson Miller alone has eight business school dean searches and two other prominent business school posts, listed among the open searches on its website, including the University of New Mexico, Bucknell University, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and the University of Michigan at Dearborn. The headhunters also are looking for an associate dean of programs at the University of Colorado’s Business School in Denver and a vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at Arizona State University. With the recent announcement that Imperial College Business School Dean Francisco Veloso is leaving for the deanship at INSEAD in September, Imperial will be the most substantial European school moving into search mode.

Among them, the biggest opportunity may well be UNC at Chapel Hill, a school that has world-class MBA programs. Russell Reynolds is handling the search for Kenan-Flagler where a new dean will lead 133 full-time faculty, 1,200 undergraduates, 2,175 graduate students, and 62 Ph.D. candidates. Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management would have been high up on the hot lists but only recently named Vishal Gaur, a professor of operations as its new dean effective July 1.


When a dean’s job opens at a public institution, it can also mean that final candidates have to be named publicly. Kring says the public exposure often makes it far more difficult to get experienced candidates into the final four. “It is a regression to the mean,” he says. “The quality goes down because it’s just those willing to take the risk to get a pay raise by going for the role.”

Jim Ellis, former dean of USC’s Marshall School of Business, agrees. “For a candidate in a public search, it’s terrible,” he says. “By the time they are done, they go back to their own campus and hear the president ask, ‘What the hell are you doing? You signed up for five years and now you want to leave in three?'”

More often than not, search committees often start out thinking they would prefer candidates who have already been deans. “Everyone says this is not a starter job, no matter where they are,” says Kring. “Every search committee says they need someone experienced. They also say we need somebody who is a real scholar because you can’t recruit faculty unless you have a real scholar who knows quality. So you start out with that as a sort of anchor and then you work against it.”

That’s because the skills necessary to be a great scholar often fail to coincide with what it takes to be a strong dean. “The faculty typically wants the academic,” says Ellis. “They want that strong researcher to be the leader. In actuality, the skill set required of a dean is to lead, manage and sell. The skill set of an academic is to research and teach. Those are completely different  skillsets. You talk to an an academic about fundraising and they will tell you I don’t know how you do all those breakfasts, lunches and dinners.”

business school dean search

How the four finalists for the deanship at Leeds College of Business were presented on the University of Colorado’s website

Candidates for these jobs more often than not have to run through a mind-numbing gauntlet of bureaucratic obstacles.

Consider the Leeds College of Business deanship that suddenly became vacant last June when Sharon Matusik left after six and one-half years to assume the deanship of the higher-ranked and more prestigious Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Candidates first had to go through Leeds’ hired headhunters at the executive search firm of Isaacson, Miller, which at the time was also engaged in the dean searches at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. Then, there is the 19-member Search Advisory Committee chaired by Keith Molenaar, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science. The group, which began meeting last October, includes an undergraduate and a graduate student along with advisory board members, professors, deans and program directors.

Their work to date led to the very public shootout in which each of the four candidates had to make his or her case for the job at open campus forums that could be attended in person or via Zoom. Finally, the committee forwarded its recommendations to university higher-ups, including CU Boulder Provost Russell Moore, who plucked Vijay Khatri out of Kelley where he has been for nearly 21 years as a professor and administrator.

It was an exhausting and grinding process that inevitably left three people deeply disappointed and a little embarrassed.

Here’s a guide to the current searches at the Top 100 U.S. business schools:

Deans Wanted:

Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Ranking: P&Q 19, US 19, FT 23
Succeeding: After eight years, Doug Shackelford abruptly resigned in September of 2022 and Interim Dean Jennifer Conrad.
Details: Will lead 133 full-time faculty, 1,200 undergraduates, 2,175 graduate students, and 62 PhD candidates.
Brief Link
Search Firm: Russell Reynolds
Contact: RR Managing Director Jett Pihakis

Broad College of Business, Michigan State University

Ranking: P&Q 45, US 33, FT 43
Succeeding: Sanjay Gupta was pressured to resign in August of 2022 after seven years as dean and Interim Dean Judith Whipple
Details: NA
Brief: NA
Search Firm: NA
Contact: NA

Neeley School of Business, Texas Christian University

Ranking: P&Q 61, US 50, FT NR
Succeeding: Dan Pullin who became TCU’s first president in February of 2023.
Details: Will lead 107 full-time faculty, with 23 endowed positions, 3,248 undergraduate and graduate students and a total of 215 employees.
Brief Link:
Search Firm: Storbeck Search, Managing Director R. Thomas Fitch

Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University

Ranking: P&Q 68, US 63, FT NR
Succeeding: After five years, Eugene “Gene” Anderson who left in July, 2022, to become dean of Pittsburgh’s Katz School and Interim Dean Alexander McKelvie
Details: Will lead 88 full-time faculty, 64 staff, 1,825 undergraduates and 1,210 graduate students. School has a $140 million budget.
Brief Link:
Search Firm: Isaacson, Miller
Contact: IM Partner Anita Tien, with Micah Pierce, Jonathan Sanchez

Crummer Graduate School of Business, Rollins

College Ranking: P&Q 78, US NR, FT NR
Succeeding: After six and one-half years, Deborah Crown left in November of 2022 to become dean of Pepperdine’s Graziadio School and Interim Dean Greg Marshall
Details: Will lead a full-time faculty of 20 and 12 part-time instructors, enrolling about 275 graduate students a year.
Brief Link:
Search Firm: AGB Search, Principal Kim Bobby, with Larry Ladd, Robert Holyer

Spears School of Business, Oklahoma State University

Ranking: P&Q 98, US 94, FT NR
Succeeding: Ken Eastman is retiring at the end of this semester after more than 30 years at Spears.
Details: Will lead 92 tenured or tenure-track faculty, 44 faculty of professional practice, nearly 4,900 undergraduates, 700 graduate students and more than 100 doctoral students.
Brief Link
Search Firm: Buffkin/Baker, Managing Partner Martin M. Baker

Scheller College of Business, Georgia Tech

Rank: P&Q 26, US 26, FT 64
Succeeding: After nine years, Maryam Alavi will step down on June 30 of 2023
Details: Will lead 194 full-time faculty and staff, which includes 69 tenured or tenure-track faculty. 1,296 undergraduate and 611 graduate students.
Brief Link: NA
Search Firm: Heidrick & Struggles, Jackie Zavitz, Ellen Brown Landers, and Meghan Ashbrock

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