Gies Dean To Step Down A Year Early In 2024

Gies College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown

Gies College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown announces he is stepping down in a video message to alumni

Gies College of Business Dean Jeffrey R. Brown today announced that he would be stepping down from the job a year early at the end of the academic year. Brown, who has served as dean of the University of Illinois business college since 2015, will depart after his successor is found, a year short of his second term which would have ended in May of 2025. 

The surprise announcement was delivered to the school’s alumni via a video message this morning. In a blue suit and an orange tie, the 55-year-old Brown spoke directly to the camera in announcing his decision.

“This was entirely a personal decision and not an easy one,” said Brown on the video. “I am happy. I am healthy, and I love my job. But I believe a good leader always puts the needs of the organization first. And I truly believe that this is the right time for us to choose a dean to lead the next wave of innovation and growth.”

‘THE MOST REWARDING YEARS OF MY ENTIRE CAREER’

He called his past eight years as the tenth dean of the college  “the most rewarding years of my entire career… Serving as dean of Gies is by far the most exciting, impactful and gratifying job I have ever held.”

Brown will leave behind an extraordinary record of achievement in one of the most successful deanships of his generation. Named Dean of the Year by Poets&Quants in 2021, Brown raised more than $350 million, bringing in the largest single gift in the history of the University of Illinois – a $150 million naming gift from alumnus Larry Gies and his wife, Beth, 2017. In late 2022, Brown also hauled in a $25 million pledge to help finance a new academic building from Steven Wymer,  a Gies alum and the long-time investment portfolio manager at Fidelity.

He hired more than 60 new faculty, a more than 40% increase, doubled the number of enrolled students, revamped the undergraduate and graduate curriculums at the school, launched a highly successful branding campaign to give the school national and international prominence, and broke ground on a new building that will ultimately allow Gies to increase enrollment in its popular undergraduate business program.

‘PEOPLE NOW HAVE A SPRING IN THEIR STEP HERE’

No less important, however, Brown courageously closed down five programs, including a residential full-time MBA and an Executive MBA program, to focus more squarely on the online market. In doing so, he made good on his promise to democratize education, aggressively building out the online iMBA program at a disruptively priced $24,000 that became the fastest growing MBA in the world. It also won recognition from Poets&Quants as the MBA Program of the Year in 2022. From a standing start in 2016 with an initial cohort of 263 students, iMBA enrollment exploded to nearly 4,200 students from every state and all over the world. Today, some 5,156 graduate students are enrolled in the three online degree programs at Gies., including nearly 900 in its online Master in Management which saw a 49% increase in applications this past year.

To achieve that unprecedented growth, Brown smartly navigated all the inevitable bureaucratic hurdles that the dean of any school would face, along with a two-year-long state budget stalemate and the pandemic. He also had to rapidly build an infrastructure to handle the ballooning enrollments. Among other things, Gies faculty now do 45 live Internet classes a week, nine a day. Some 3.3 million learners have accessed its MOOC courses on Coursera, and as of February, some 12,300 learners are students or alumni of Gies online programs. This past year, the college has launched a series of credit-bearing certificates, from value chain management to strategic leadership and management, all stackable into the college’s online degree programs, yet another innovation that Brown believes represents the future of higher education. Like the disruptively priced online degrees, the 12-credit-hour certificates are also inexpensively priced at $3,984 each or $10,200 for certs in accounting and taxation.

Yet, asked in an interview with Poets&Quants, what he is most proud of, Brown says without hesitation an accomplishment less visible to outsiders. “I made this place believe in itself again,” he says. “There is a feeling of pride. People have a spring in their step. Our aspirations meet our capabilities. When I took this job, I knew we were better than we were behaving and better than how we were perceived.”

READING AND RESONATING WITH ARTHUR BROOKS’ FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

Gies College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown

Gies College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown

The decision to leave early, Brown explains, evolved over the past year. He had been reading Arthur Brooks’ From Strength To Strength,  a bAfter breaking ground on Steven S. Wymer Hall in April, in April, Brown began to think that its opening in early 2025 could very well become the start of a new chapter by a new dean. “There is a part of me that wanted to stick around and open up this new building, but it would be a great way for a new dean to begin. We have achieved everything we set out to do and frankly much more. And we all know leaders who have stayed around too long, and I don’t want to be that person.”

Once his successor is chosen, the outcome of which will be a global search by the university, Brown intends to leave for a year-long sabbatical. An avid outdoorsman, Brown says he has 14 national parks to hike, including a keen desire to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Brown, who earned a PhD in economics from MIT, a master’s of public policy from Harvard, and a bachelor’s in economics and political science from Miami (OH) University.  joined the Illinois faculty in 2002. He became as a professor in the college’s finance department after three years as an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard. From 2001-2002, he also served as senior economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

THINKING ABOUT ‘THE NEXT CHAPTER OF MY CAREER’

He tossed his hat into the ring when the deanship became available in 2015 and was named dean in August of that year. Brown immediately espoused  three key commitments. “We promised to create life-changing access to education; second we pledged to unleash a wave of innovation unlike any business school had ever seen, and finally we committed to investing in excellence. That meant hiring more faculty and supporting them in their research in every way possible,” Brown explained in his video message. ” I am proud to say that together we achieved everything we set out to do and more.”

Brown changed out the college’s entire senior leadership ranks, with only one exception. Most notably, he convinced Brooke Elliott, then the chairperson of the school’s highly regarded accounting department and the former academic director of undergraduate programs, to lead the online initiative as associate dean of online programs. Now executive associate dean of academic programs, she led a quick expansion in enrollment and programs, building out a large increase in staff, from videographers and course assistants,  to handle the growth.

While Brown won’t preside over the opening of Wymer Hall in 2025, the new building will bring much needed capacity to the college. It will add a 200-seat auditorium, two 80-seat classrooms, and four 60-seat classrooms, which would allow Gies to increase undergraduate enrollment beyond its current level of 3,112 students. In support of the college’s rapidly growing online programs, the new building will include two 40’x40’ sound stages, five blackbox studios, and six control booths. The additional studio capacity will also help to improve the school’s online undergraduate minor which has grown from 300 to 1,500 students in recently years.

While Brown says he will officially step down once his replacement is chosen, he expects to leave no later than Aug. 16th or earlier if his successor is in place. In addition to taking a well-deserved break during his sabbatical, he also intends to exchange ideas for the future of higher education with other thought leaders and to “think about what the next chapter of my career will be.”

DON’T MISS: DEAN OF THE YEAR GIES JEFFREY BROWN or POETS&QUANTS MBA OF THE YEAR IN 2022: GIES’ IMBA PROGRAM 

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.