Paul Almeida wasn’t sure he wanted a second term as dean of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.
In fact, he says, he wasn’t sure he even wanted a first one.
But something changed as Georgetown grappled with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Almeida, who had risen to the deanship in 2017 after more than 20 years teaching strategy and innovation, began to think differently about what could be accomplished at a business school that sits at the center of political power in Washington, D.C.
He saw a world of possibilities.
“It’s been a fairly good five years — I really mean it,” says Almeida, whose second term as dean began August 1. “We’ve had very good vice deans who really take on much of the internal work, especially related to faculty and programs. That’s really been helpful to me. I’ve always believed in fairly flat structures and I think that’s worked well during Covid, where there’s so much happening in so many different places, so people take authority and responsibility and make good things happen.
“To some extent Covid, though challenging — especially for undergraduate students — was not a bad experience because we also learned a lot. We learned a lot about the way technology works and doesn’t work. And we learned a lot about limitations and possibilities.”
BUSINESS AS A FORCE FOR GOOD: ‘PART OF OUR DNA’
Paul Almeida joined Georgetown McDonough in 1996 after earning his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. A professor of strategy and international business, he taught undergraduate, MBA, and executive students at Georgetown for more than 20 years. In 2010, as deputy dean for executive education and innovation, he assumed oversight of the McDonough School’s Innovation Initiative, which prioritized integrating Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit values into the school — a mission that has informed the many initiatives of his deanship, as well.
As dean, Almeida has seen the McDonough School become a leader in one of the most important movements in graduate business education — the embrace of sustainability. The school offers a long list of courses and degree programs focused on environmental sustainability in the context of business, from the Sustainable Business Fellows Program for undergraduates to a new M.S. in Environmental and Sustainability Management that welcomes its first students this fall and an MBA Certificate in Sustainable Business. Last year the school launched the Business of Sustainability Initiative, an umbrella for coursework focused on sustainability “within the context of business” through learning, thought leadership, and leveraging the school’s location by bringing together stakeholders in business, policy, and academia.
“Everyone talks about purpose now and everyone talks about business as a force for good,” Almeida says. “But that’s a part of our DNA, the idea of values and the idea of business serving the common good. I truly believe if we do business right, it can be the best solution to the world’s problems — not just economic problems, but social problems.
“Especially given our status, especially given our relationships, not just in the U.S. but in the Middle East or in South America — more than any other school, maybe in the world, we have an opportunity to actually influence and change approaches and policies and get people thinking.”
Q&A WITH GEORGETOWN McDONOUGH DEAN PAUL ALMEIDA
The McDonough School’s leadership hasn’t been confined to sustainability, as important an arena as it is. As dean, Almeida has overseen the launch of several new degree programs, including a B.S. in Business and Global Affairs, Georgetown’s first joint undergraduate degree that is managed with the School of Foreign Service. McDonough also has launched an M.S. in Management and an online M.S. in Business Analytics, and created a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) pathway in the MBA program. He has stewarded such major undertakings as the AI, Analytics, and the Future of Work Initiative, and he appointed the school’s first Standing Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in addition to launching numerous other diversity-related initiatives. He also launched an alumni mentorship program, PILLARS, designed to partner with alumni, parents, and other friends of Georgetown to bring real-world experiences and learning opportunities to the classroom through guest speakers, case studies, events, mentorship, and more.
It’s been a busy five years. What will the next half-decade look like at Georgetown McDonough under Almeida’s leadership? Even busier.
Three days before the official start of his second go-round as dean, he shared his vision for the future over lunch in a conference room in the B-school’s Rafik B. Hariri Building in the center of the Georgetown campus. It includes new degree programs and the possibility of a new international campus, among many other projects. The bottom line is that he’s not taking anything off the table. “Maybe it’s just like I’m trying to fulfill the dream I had when I joined in ’96, but what the hell? They can’t stop me now!” he says with characteristic good humor.
Below is the transcript of P&Q‘s interview, edited for length and clarity.
Poets&Quants: Congratulations on your second term.
Paul Almeida: I never knew whether I’d want a second term. I didn’t even know whether I wanted the first term! But that’s different. But in spite of Covid and I think largely thanks to our team — and I mean this sincerely, I know it’s the kind of thing people say — I think we’re a unique school where people kind of try to support each other, kind of try to look after each other, tend not to complain too much, which is quite something during Covid.
It’s been a fairly good five years. I really mean it. We’ve had very good vice deans who really take on much of the internal work, especially related to faculty and programs. That’s really been helpful to me. I’ve always believed in fairly flat structures and I think that’s worked well during Covid, where there’s so much happening in so many different places, so people take authority and responsibility and make good things happen. To some extent Covid, though challenging — especially for undergraduate students — was not a bad experience because we also learned a lot. We learned a lot about the way technology works and doesn’t work and the limitations and the possibilities.
P&Q: Do you think that it helped accelerate certain things like hybridization of programs? Because there’s some question about that, whether those things were already going to be adopted.
Definitely. If you think about it, we were, at least within the university, one of the leaders in doing online stuff because we started a Master of Science in Finance online eight years ago, which I think may have been the first premium online program. We charged just as much — actually more — per credit than our face-to-face program, so we made a commitment to give them a rich learning experience and a rich interactive experience, and we did that. We bring them a week here, we take them a week in South Africa.
I remember when I sold the idea to the then-dean, he said, “Paul, what do you mean by premium online? It just doesn’t mix,” and I said, “No, because what we’re trying to do is use technology effectively to enhance the learning experience, not substitute for some.” I think we did it. Then we had taken some of it into the MBA program, etc., but if you think about it, what percentage of our professors or what percentage of our courses were actually using technology effectively in some hybrid way? The answer was not that many, maybe 30%. Covid forced everyone to get at least a base level. I don’t want to say it reached that level of sophistication because for that you have to prepare well beforehand, you have to figure out what materials are going to be asynchronous, what are going to synchronous. That’s a whole different matter. But it allowed everyone to at least delve into this remote learning environment.
P&Q: Even the most reluctant faculty members.
Even the 80-plus-year-olds!