Dean’s Q&A: Marc Rubin, Miami Farmer

Marc Rubin, dean of Miami University’s Farmer School of Business. Courtesy photo

What was your first (paid) job ever and what was your biggest takeaway?

I started mowing lawns at about 10 and would put the money I earned in a savings account. When I went to work for the family business, my grandfather would take me out to lunch and give me some money too.

From my jobs, I learned about responsibility early on, that when I take on a job, it’s a contract that I’m being paid for something they expect me to deliver on. I should also do it to the best of my ability.

I can’t say mowing lawns was fun but I did it to have a job and to have extra spending money. I also learned about discipline from it and that not everything that I would do would be fun but they would have to be done anyway.

What trends and changes have you seen in business education?

Things are moving so fast today. We have always seen technology and business models change, but not at today’s speed. Typewriters, calculators, and computers are all tech that have improved business to some degree, but the pace of change and how it’s impacting and disrupting business models today is extremely fast. Five years ago, I would not have thought that Amazon would own a food store, or that ride-sharing technology would be so ubiquitous.

Another thing that’s changing is industry tools. Five years ago, we were not teaching Tableau to every student. But today, students are not only learning that but also programming and computational thinking. We are realizing that students need to develop agile business thinking skills to adapt to the business world and continue adding to their skill sets throughout their career.

There’s no way to predict what jobs will be available in 10-to-15 years and students skills are atrophying very quickly these days with the development of machine learning and artificial intelligence. There are jobs where 150,000 people were doing it five years ago and today, there are just 100,000 left. A third of the people have become redundant in those jobs, and one of those areas is cybersecurity.

While we cannot teach students about something that may pop up in five to six years from now, we can teach them about making ethical business decisions, global thinking skills, why diversity and inclusion is important no matter where they are, enough coding to talk to a coder, how to make data-driven decisions, and how to audit data.

We cannot teach students a tool for its own sake but we can teach them how to learn new tools on their own and how to find answers. We need to rethink business education and help our students figure out how they can add value to any organization they join.

I’ve told our department chairs that while I’m not going to say we should get rid of majors in our business school, a part of me wishes we would. I’m afraid that students are still thinking that if they take these eight classes, they’ll be a finance major. In the world today, it’s not about the number of courses, but about the skills and ability to add value, and the ability to use tools to solve issues in any type of area, whether it’s digital marketing, supply chain, or finance.

What current affairs topic is closest to your heart and how do you stay on top of it?

The pace of change in tech is difficult to contend with day in and out. From Facebook privacy issues to machine learning and artificial intelligence, I read a lot of newsletters from consulting and accounting firms, speakers on blockchain and more, to keep up.

When I became dean, I made it such that our faculty got to go out to the West Coast. Last year, they made two trips. Next month, faculty will travel to the Bay Area to talk to venture capitalist firms, incubators, startups, and tech companies to find out what’s going on. We need knowledge and skill-sets back in the Midwest where we used to have car and steel manufacturing industries. Those industries are not the future of the economy in the Midwest. We need to be about robotics and tech too and to do that, our faculty needs to be exposed to it and stay at the cutting edge.

Within our school, we bring in speakers and make it clear to faculty that if they have something creative they want to do, we’ll set aside money to invest in it. It’s how we put money aside for a blockchain course. We are also putting money aside to test out virtual reality in our classrooms as a way to enhance the education experience for students. We’ve got to keep thinking about how to use new technology and keep our students and faculty on top of things.

I don’t listen to podcasts because I like to chill in my car. I have a 45-minute drive between campus and home and I like to put on the Beatles or Frank Sinatra. My wife likes to listen to podcasts and when she’s here, she puts on the news.

I watch the news every day, I read the Wall Street Journal, CNN, get a daily newsletter from McKinsey and Wharton, Inside Higher Ed, and the MIT Sloan monthly magazine that’s good for tech issues.

Again, everything is happening so quickly so you’ve just got to keep up the pace on information.

Tell us about a time you experienced disappointment and how you grew from it.

I was disappointed when in my career I thought I was doing my best in teaching and research but yet that was not valued by others who I thought were important and should be supportive. It was difficult for me to accept that colleagues were not supporting my efforts.

I moved on, but decided I had to pursue my agenda in the best way I can and not be overly concerned with what others necessarily think. If I believe that I am doing the best and those closest to me are supportive, then things usually work out for the best and that has worked well in my career. Feedback is important to listen to, but you will not please everyone so first please yourself.

What was an incident in your life that influences the way you lead today?

When I was an undergraduate accounting major at Miami, I had the opportunity to take courses from the then-department chair of accountancy, Professor Harry Lyle. I was not intending to become an accountant, but rather a lawyer. Circumstances led to a meeting outside of class with Professor Lyle and that changed the trajectory of my career and I decided that teaching accounting might be my passion.

My initial meeting with Lyle turned into a number of meetings over my last two years of undergraduate work. I observed how much he cared about students and making sure that they were successful. He was professional and a great teacher but his humanity was what got me to think about joining the academy. His taking the time to meet with me caused me to want to meet with students — and faculty — whenever I can and to have an open-door policy.

As my way of paying it forward, I have received feedback in a number of instances from former students on how important an interaction or conversation I had with them influenced them in their personal or professional life. Often these interactions were casual and had no particular intention to them, but clearly, they had an impact. That is what has been so very rewarding to me.

What is one thing you could have benefitted from knowing earlier on in your career?

I believe that my doctoral education prepared for research and teaching in graduate school prepared for teaching as a faculty member, but managing a career in the university setting is pretty much learned on the job. Finding a mentor that can assist and guide you once you are a faculty member can be key and I would have tried to do that much faster upon reflection.  

Understanding the key factors for success at a particular school can differ considerably. Things like the importance of teaching and how that is evaluated, the type of research that is valued, what types of service assignments should you take on, and who are the key decision makers are all things I probably should have known more about from the start but it was a few years into my career until I realized how important all of those things are to success and how to appropriately evaluate them in the context of your university.


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