As he winds up a second year as CEO of the Faculty of Management at the University of Calgary, David Saunders has been able to personally deliver his message to key players in the business community.
But he wonders whether the reasons BEHIND the message are getting through. The message whispered into corporate ears is this: We want to be recognized as one of the top 50 business schools on the globe.
It’s not snobbery. It’s not because the dean wishes to strut around campus with “I’m No. 50” tattooed on his chest.
|Dave Olecko, Business Edge|
|David Saunders believes there should be more to a business faculty than just placing graduates in high-paying careers.|
Saunders wants to crack the elite for the same reasons a hockey coach thirsts for the playoffs.
Because a number of Very Good Things tend to develop for schools granted admission to the hallowed Top 50, even the Top 100 (emphasis: MBA programs), published annually by the stuffy Financial Times of London.
The hot-list notifies the world that these schools have been externally evaluated and recognized for excellence.
And when the stamp of quality is applied, doors open. Fund-raising gets easier. B.Comm. and MBA degrees — both of future grads and alumni — rise in value.
The nod of approval helps to attract top-calibre scholars and provides wherewithal for better research funding, more chair professorships and new scholarships.
The FT considers 20 criteria, with benchmarks weighted heavily in favour of how large a salary a school’s grads can command. (Top Canadian biz school? Currently, it’s the University of Western Ontario, at No. 19. U of Alberta is No. 95).
“It makes me a little uncomfortable,” admitted Saunders, 45. “There’s more to a business school than creating the opportunity to get a high-paying job.”
Still, if the goal is to produce students of high quality, their “hirability” is as good a litmus test as any.
While Saunders was associate dean at McGill, the Montreal management school made it to No. 37, so the dean thinks he knows what it takes — like a coach who’s tasted bubbly from the Stanley Cup.
And Saunders has already applied Financial Times-type criteria to Calgary’s management faculty, comparing it to a dozen Canadian schools. He was delighted to discover U of C programs stack up remarkably well.
“Now the trick is to get our people to believe in themselves as much as I do,” he smiled.
Another trick is to let the world in on the secret. Hence, a renewed emphasis on public relations.
The management school enjoys other significant assets, namely the head-office execs who sit in the high towers downtown. Business donors have created a robust endowment fund, which annually spins off about $2 million interest.
Added to $12 million in government grants, that gives the faculty a spending edge that a business school like McGill’s can’t match.
Such stellar community backing has allowed the faculty to create six new chair professorships since Saunders set up shop.
By the way, that early reference to the dean as U of C’s CEO of management is no typo. U of C deans are described in those terms under the Universities Act, which allows for a spirit of faculty independence which the dean — sorry, CEO — finds refreshing.
And the reference to the Financial Times of London as “stuffy” can in no way be applied to Dean David Saunders, PhD.
Scratch his non-demonstrative demeanor and you find a refreshingly droll and down-to-earth dude . . . I mean, dean.
He’s also a roll-up-the-shirtsleeves guy — a good improviser.
Saunders set up a wholly-owned subsidiary of McGill in Tokyo four years ago, establishing a new MBA program, which turned a profit the first year.
Almost single-handedly, he explored legalities, set up the books, and rented housing for faculty members.
While hurriedly spending $25,000 to buy their furniture, using a BMO debit card, his Canadian bankers shut it down. Saunders spent four hours on the phone, trying to explain the shopping spree.
Accommodation seems to be a recurring bugbear for him. As we speak, business schools at the U of C, U of A and U of Lethbridge await provincial approval of a combined $60 million in capital grants.
“We’re looking at adding an east wing to the building — about two-thirds the size of Scurfield Hall, for to five storeys high, sometime in the next 10 years,” Saunders said.
At the moment, U of C turns away 300 qualified B.Com students a year, because “there just isn’t a chair at the table,” added the dean.
Even a dean with so much experience buying furniture can’t fix that — not unless the province unlocks the vault.