Pitt’s New B-School Dean: University Plays Key Role In Rust Belt Transformation

Anderson: ‘Schools are going to have to decide whether they can compete as a Nordstrom, or do they have to be a Walmart? A Tesla versus a Toyota?’ Courtesy photo

In terms of your graduate programs, we’ve been doing a lot of reporting about traditional MBA programs really experimenting with different formats and deliveries as students demand greater flexibility. What’s your sense of the MBA right now, particularly in schools that aren’t in that top tier?

It’s a great question. Certainly we’re a long way from where we were in the 1970s and ‘80s when you could have your MBA any way you want so long as it was full time and on campus. The market has fragmented incredibly since then. You know, first we unbundled time with the weekend, evening, and part time MBAs. Then we started unbundling content with specialty master’s degrees. And then of course online and hybrid came along, and the pandemic has just accelerated all of this.

I think the challenge actually goes back to what I was mentioning earlier about being caught in the middle for some schools with the full time MBA. The strategy at the top of the food chain is to expand your MBA as far as quality will allow. I think Wharton must be 900 students now, Harvard is even larger. Meanwhile, all these different avenues for business education are shrinking the full time market. Schools are going to have to decide whether they can compete as a Nordstrom, or do they have to be a Walmart? A Tesla versus a Toyota?

I think for the schools that are in the next couple of levels, you’re going to end up running smaller programs, and running them for quality and reputation if you choose to keep them. And if you’re doing that, you better be offering something really quite distinctive for the students to do and with distinctive connections for their path forward.

I’m delighted to be in an urban area that’s experiencing a really interesting revival and transition from a post-industrial kind of economy to a much more innovation and knowledge based economy. And one that is doing it with inclusion and sustainability. I think we have the opportunity to offer students not just a world class business education, but to make Pittsburgh our learning lab and classroom. And to appeal to a segment of students who really want to be a part of shaping better communities and better business ecosystems.

We want to be not just the Pittsburgh business school, but the world class business school for Pittsburg. One way to do that is to find the distinctive ways to match the strengths of Pitt Business with the strengths and needs of Pittsburgh. It’s even more compelling if those are strengths and needs that have legs across the world.

I’m hard pressed to come up with a better model than Pittsburgh for cities and regions that are making this transition. If you can come here and learn in a real laboratory about how to lead, and the kinds of ideas you need to lead in and economies and communities that are like this, I think there’s something very powerful there that could appeal to a lot of today’s students.

Has this been part of the conversations so far at Pitt? Looking at your graduate programs and possibly making changes?

I think everyone who’s in this industry right now should be looking at their graduate programs and thinking about, do we have the right portfolio of not just degrees but certificates, stackable credentials, all of those good things. Do we have the right content delivered in the right way?

And certainly those business partnerships will be paramount to your exec ed portfolio as you dig in.

The school’s main executive focus recently has been on their executive MBAs, and certainly continuing, further developing, and elevating the corporate relationships is going to be important. But there’s actually, I think, a fair amount of opportunity to play a bigger role, to be even more essential to the Pittsburgh business environment by doing more in the non-credit exec ed space, both in open enrollment as well as customized.

Looking back on your past deanships, what are some of the things you’re most proud of?

When I look back, the things that I’m most proud of at both schools would be faculty and staff that were hired, and what we were able to do to support both great faculty and great students. There’s certainly a lot of program innovation at both places. Reputation wise, rankings are imperfect, but they’re important, and both those schools moved up quite a bit. Especially in U.S. News, the schools moved from I think the high 80s or 90s to the 50s.

What translates here, I certainly think about the importance of hiring and retaining great faculty as really core to being a great business school. It really drives home the importance of focusing on those business corporate relationships, and making sure the students can get the best placements and best career outcomes possible. Those are some of the general things that I would hope to be able to do even more of here.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m just really thrilled and excited to be here. It’s a really interesting place to be, the university and the city I think are at an inflection point. I really think that the future, not just for business schools, but really for higher education, is to become more impactful and to be the anchor institutions for their communities. If we’re going to have a world that’s more prosperous, more inclusive, and continues to be civil and democratic, I think research universities have a really important role to play. I think very few places have a better story to tell about that than Pittsburgh.