UI’s next business dean faces shifting demands

University of Iowa dean Sarah Gardial talks with CBJ contributor Nate Kaeding during an early edition of “Real Success with Nate Kaeding,” held at the Hamburg Inn in Iowa City. Catch that episode below, and the new “Real Success” podcast here. PHOTO ADAM MOORE


By Katharine Carlon

Sarah Gardial will be a hard act to follow as dean of the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, but those invested in the college’s success say her replacement will need to continue the work of adapting to the changing demands of both business and students, while keeping fundraising levels high enough to attract world-class faculty and researchers.

“We need someone with the same strong leadership skills and strong understanding of industry, because that is changing very rapidly and very dramatically,” said Jack Evans, chairman of the Hall-Perrine Foundation and a member of the Tippie Advisory Board, a 29-member panel of CEOs, presidents and business leaders charged with guiding leadership on key activities and initiatives. “That is going to be the key to our competitiveness going forward.”

Ms. Gardial announced last month she had accepted a job as dean of the Massey College of Business at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, after seven years at the helm of Tippie. She will depart next March.

During her tenure, Ms. Gardial became known for taking bold and innovative action in response to the shifting academic and business marketplace. In addition to expanding masters degree offerings to include finance and business analytics, she oversaw development of a new online part-time MBA program that began this fall and phased out the college’s full-time MBA program, making the UI one of the first among a growing list of institutions to make that decision in light of falling enrollment numbers and changing demand.

Under Ms. Gardial, Tippie also expanded its professional course offerings in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities, revised and broadened its undergraduate curriculum, and led recruitment efforts that pushed enrollment to record highs. The college counted 3,148 undergraduate students and 408 graduate students in its latest profile of students, up from 2,936 and 304 the year before.

“Enrollment is very strong, and I don’t see that changing,” Mr. Evans said. “Whoever steps into this job will have great momentum on their side with a strong faculty that does a wonderful job in terms of outreach and research, and a board that is diverse – and diverse geographically and across industries.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges in store, he added, with pressure on Ms. Gardial’s successor to stay on “the cutting edge” of education at a time when the U.S. business school model is changing. A raft of recent articles, including one in The Economist earlier this month, have addressed the need for U.S. business schools to reinvent themselves in the wake of a 7% decline in MBA applications hitting even big-name programs like those at Harvard and Stanford.

In addition to a booming economy and tight labor market making expensive graduate education less appealing, U.S. business curriculum has been imported by universities in Europe and Asia (where MBA applications are trending upwards), and made cheaper than those of top U.S. programs, which can leave students on the hook for as much as $200,000 all in.

The “reckoning,” according to the Economist, has led to a host of new, more cost-efficient online MBAs, like the one instituted at UI under Ms. Gardial’s watch, and new programs in data, analytics and programming to help tomorrow’s executives manage technical staff.

The UI’s new business dean must be “someone with a strong, energetic, innovative personality,” Mr. Evans said. “It’s going to require resiliency and resourcefulness.”

David Hensley, executive director of the UI’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, said he hopes for a dean who can create and leverage strong connections with the business community to offer students real world experience. As dean, Ms. Gardial encouraged faculty to use real-life corporate situations rather than the traditional case method.

“Sarah did a great job starting that process of better preparing our students for the 21st century workforce,” Mr. Hensley said, adding he believed the college was well-situated for the future in a number of areas, including establishing a strong national and global brand to attract top-tier faculty, staff and researchers. Tippie was ranked the nation’s No. 22 business school out of all public programs by U.S. News & World Report in 2019.

“Of course, in higher education today, funding is always difficult,” he said, alluding to shrinking government dollars for state institutions and the pressure to fill financing gaps with philanthropic gifts. “How do we stay competitive and attract the best candidates? Whoever [the new dean is] will be challenged with fundraising.”

Financial pressure to fill gaps in financing has led some schools, like the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, to look outside academia to executives with extensive networks of potential donors. UVA hired former McKinsey & Company executive Scott C. Beardsley as its dean in 2015.

There is no indication the UI will go in that direction, and no job posting, nor list of search committee members has yet been made public, according to a UI spokeswoman. But statistics from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) highlight the increasingly demanding job of running such institutions, as well as the difficulty in filling dean positions.

According to the AACSB, there were 85 openings for business deans advertised on its job board in 2018, up from 70 the previous year. The 24 institutions currently seeking business deans include Baylor University in Texas, the University of California-Irvine and Howard University in Washington, D.C.

One person in a position to know, former Tippie College of Business Dean Gary Fethke, admitted the role is a tough one, though one with many rewards.

“There are not now and never have been shortages of exciting things to accomplish at Iowa,” said Mr. Fethke, who served as dean from 1994-2006 and as interim UI president from 2006-2007. “One pretty much defines their own agenda as dean at UI: new faculty to hire, new programs to develop, private support to seek, and a vast array of talented colleagues from across the campus to get to know better. In no sense is the job ever completed or the challenges exhausted.”

Mr. Hensley agreed that opportunities abound for Ms. Gardial’s successor, particularly in light of the university’s recent emphasis on cross-disciplinary entrepreneurship, including the hiring of a chief innovation officer charged with strengthening the UI’s role in boosting the state’s economy.

“For someone who embraces entrepreneurship and innovation, there are tremendous opportunities to leverage my program with other great institutes and departments here,” he said, adding he expected the opening at Tippie to attract a number of exciting candidates. “[The UI] is very well positioned to continue to attract talent and help our students achieve their goals and ambitions.” CBJ