Dean’s Q&A: Scott DeRue, Michigan Ross

Michigan Ross Dean Scott DeRue. Courtesy photo

Deans often talk to students on a daily basis about going out there and learning from experiences, persevering, and working hard. Many also come with impressive track records of experience in the industry, and Scott DeRue, dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, is no different.

He spent five years in private equity and management consulting at top firms like Merrill Lynch and Monitor Group, before moving to dabble in marketing for a luxury yacht company. He went from being an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan to being Dean at Ross School in 2007, and in 2013,  DeRue took his own words of wisdom to new heights by summitting Mount Everest.

“My biggest takeaway that influences how I lead Ross today is the importance of certain capabilities: critical thinking, curiosity and a learning orientation, the ability to thrive in ambiguous situations, leadership and teamwork skills, and a global mindset,” DeRue says. “These are the capabilities that companies across the globe are asking for, and we design the entire Michigan Ross education around action-based learning that helps students develop these capabilities.”

When asked what he loved most about his job, DeRue says without hesitation it is the possibility of creating an environment where talented faculty and staff could have a positive, transformative impact on our students, that kept him going.

“My greatest challenge is time, or lack thereof,” he says. “I love engaging with all of our stakeholders: students, faculty, staff, alumni, corporate partners, parents, media and the list goes on and on. It is through these stakeholders that I came to appreciate the extent to which Michigan Ross is shaping the most important conversations in business and transforming students lives and careers through a really innovative education. I wish I had more time to spend with all of these stakeholders because they are the booster shot of purpose that fills with me inspiration and motivation.”

P&Q: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in undergraduate business education during your time at Ross?

DeRue: Undergraduate business education is more global and more experiential than it has ever been before. In the last five years, our students have started over 200 businesses.

We now offer courses across the globe where students are doing real-world business projects for Amazon, Google, Tencent, Alibaba, and the list goes on.

Last August, I led a group to Africa for two weeks where we learned about leadership and teamwork as we climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. We even have undergraduate students that are, as part of their coursework, helping a luxury goods company launch and manage a new business line. The types of experiences that our students get across the globe was not even being imagined 10 years ago.

What makes the undergraduate business experience unique at Ross, and what kind of student thrives best at your school?

Our focus on global, action-based learning is very unique. Our students learn business by starting businesses, investing real capital in real businesses, consulting for companies such as Google and Facebook, and partnering with leading companies to launch new businesses. All of these hands-on, real-world experiences are in the curriculum, and students can gain these experiences anywhere in the world — all as part of their education at Michigan.

In addition, our students are routinely working with students from top five programs in engineering, data science, healthcare, the sciences, the arts, among others. So, our students graduate with a deep understanding of business but with a broad understanding of the world and different disciplines.

The student who thrives at Michigan Ross is curious, eager to learn, and is very team oriented. We pride ourselves on have a very collaborative culture where students will help each other. Our students have high expectations and are very achievement-oriented, but they also look for ways to help others excel and meet their own goals. It is a special community.

Our students today are more prepared and more accomplished at a young age than ever before. It is quite humbling to review applications to our program and witness the breadth and depth of talents of our students.

What are some of the most innovative things happening now at Ross, and in business education in general?

I’m most excited about just how global and action-based business education is becoming, and Michigan Ross is leading the way. I’m also excited about the focus on entrepreneurship, and the degree to which students now get to work with faculty and students across a wide array of disciplines, including technology, engineering, data science, health and life sciences, social impact and the list goes on.

Our philosophy is to provide each student with stretch experiences, surround the student with mentoring, coaching and faculty guidance, and provide robust feedback and assessment to accelerate the students’ learning and professional growth.

In terms of stretch experiences, every Ross student has the opportunity to start a business, invest real money in real businesses, engage in consulting projects with leading companies, and be on real teams helping companies launch new businesses. In terms of coaching, we have programs where both faculty and alumni provide one-on-one and group-based mentorship and education. In terms of feedback and assessment, we have programs where our students get highly personalized, custom feedback based on their performance in and outside of class. All of this together creates one of the most powerful, transformative experiences in business education.

If I could back to college today, I would. It’s a great time to attend business school, and I’m proud that Michigan Ross is leading the way in many of these innovations.

What trends do you see in business and finance that have surprised you, that the world should expect in the next three to five years?

Advances in technology are reshaping industries near and far. Traditional companies are becoming technology companies, and technology companies are redefining how business is done around the globe. We are living in exciting times!

In three to five years, I expect business school graduates who not only understand data science and technology but who also can translate the data and technology into sound business judgment and decisions will be in the highest demand.

The “translator” role is underestimated today because people are so focused on data and coding; the unique skill in the future will be the ability to translate those data into insights that lead to sound business decisions. That skill has always been important, and with the wealth of information and data available, that skill will be even more important in the future.

How do you think potential students and their parents view Ross School of Business? Do you think there are any misperceptions about studying business at Ross today? If so, what are they and what is your team doing to combat that?

The greatest misconception about studying business at Michigan Ross is that there are only three careers to choose from: finance, consulting and marketing.

Nearly 25% of our students are going into technology companies. Many are starting their own businesses, or going into real estate investing. There are so many different paths our students take. We are creating career and professional development programs in partnership with alumni all over the world to help our students envision the many possibilities that a Michigan Ross education opens up.

What advice do you have for high school students and their parents who are interested in studying business in college?

When you’re choosing a college, you definitely want to make sure it has a great business program, but that’s not enough.

You want to consider the whole college experience. You are making an investment not only in your business education, but you’re also investing in a community, a culture, and an environment that you’re going to be a part of the rest of your life.

Think of college as a long-term investment, and you want to be part of a community that will support you and help you become your best self — personally and professionally. At Michigan, we care as much about you as a person as we do you as a business professional, and I think that comes through in the culture and community.


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