For Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, 2023 will be a year of milestones.
The school is celebrating its 100th anniversary with plans to invite Leavey legends and alumni back to campus throughout the year. The school was founded in 1923, almost 40 years before the first women were admitted to SCU which was previously an all-men’s university in the Jesuit tradition.
It’s reimaging Lucas Hall, kicking off a renovation of its 86,000-square-foot home to create more space for collaboration and cross-functional teams.
And this spring, it will also launch its first strategic plan since Dean Ed Grier took the reins in summer 2021. Leavey PLUS – Partnerships, Leadership, Unifying Purpose, and Sustainability – outlines the areas of investment the school will prioritize as it steps into a constantly evolving future.
“It’s an acronym that really means something,” Grier tells Poets&Quants. “People are energized by it. They can find a place in any lane, and each one of those lanes has cross segments between all the rest. There’s a lot more work to be done, but we feel really good about the launch of this initiative.”
Work on the plan started last spring, on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students, faculty, advisory board members, and alumni all weighed in, trying to define Leavey’s strengths, values, and aspirations for the future.
Leavey is one of three prominent business schools in Silicon Valley, sharing the vaulted space with two entrepreneurial powerhouses: Stanford Graduate School of Business and UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business. Those programs ranked Nos. 1 and 9, respectively, in the Poets&Quants 2022 ranking of top MBA programs.
Sometimes referred to as the valley’s hidden gem, Leavey is ready for the limelight. It offers seven different business majors and eight minors to about 500 new undergraduates per year. While it doesn’t offer a full-time MBA program, it does have online, part-time, STEM, and Executive MBA degrees, as well as several specialized master’s degrees. It also serves nearly 2,000 professionals through its executive education portfolio each year.
Most recently, U.S. News & World Report ranked it No. 13th in executive education, and No. 19 in part-time MBAs (its highest ever placement). It ranked third in P&Q’s ranking of online MBAs, and 25th in our ranking of the best undergraduate programs.
Ahead of the official launch of Leavey PLUS, we spoke with dean Grier in more detail about the aspirational plan and his vision for the future. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What are some of the initiatives that have you most excited?
You know, that’s like asking who’s your favorite child? I would say I get excited about all of it. PLUS is an easy acronym to remember, but it’s really targeted on who we are and who we want to be in the future.
The partnership piece, you may think, “Okay. Every school has partnerships.” Certainly we do, but we’re in a strategic location here in Silicon Valley. Many of our alumni stay close to us. We just want to really leverage the partnerships that we have here for a number of reasons: for scholarships, projects for students, projects for our faculty members, and also just adding to this ecosystem that we have here.
We do it well right now. For example, each one of our departments have advisory board members. It’s a great asset to have because it helps on the curriculum, it helps on fundraising, but most importantly, it helps on the connectivity of our students here and in future.
What are the goalposts for partnerships? How will you measure success?
Here’s an easy one: What percent of your students have internships? Not only one but multiple internships? What percent of your students are employed three or four months after graduating? How robust are your advisory boards? Have they helped you in changing and staying current with the curriculum? Are you really a well known entity in Silicon Valley? Are we the go to place for leaders for big, small, and in between companies? That’s when we’ll know we’re there.
These are the types of metrics we’re formulating now as the plan develops. The task we have now is, who’s going to own each one of those?
What about leadership? What are you trying to achieve there?
I will say we’re all influenced by leadership. You know, I was in the corporate world before here, and I was always amazed at the power of the leaders that I had — good, bad, and indifferent.
Certainly the core elements of leadership are there. They want to have high integrity, be inspirational for the people that work for them. People look for that, and that has not changed.
What has changed now is we’re in a rapidly changing environment — culture is changing, workforces are more diverse, you have to be spot on and everything all at once, all those things. Most importantly, you have to be nimble about it. So that’s what we have to do.
The other thing we have on our side, too, is what type of leaders are going to be important? The ones that are going to have a positive impact like they get when they come through our program. That’s what we really want to put our stamp on.
And we have a great start with that. You know, some of the best leadership professors are here, Barry Posner for one. His book (“The Leadership Challenge”) has sold something like 3 million copies already. We’re really gonna lean on professors who are here from that standpoint. A leadership center is in the offing as well.
This will be something I think we will be known for. Students that come here, what is their leadership experience? They won’t be leaders immediately when they step out, but they’ll know what to look for in great leaders, what traits they can aspire to, and that’s what we want to do from a leadership standpoint.
And what about unifying purpose?
Our unifying purpose has three main pillars: First, we want to rethink Lucas Hall. It is about 20 years old, so I think we can create something that will actually draw people back post Covid in more of a collaboration space. Collaboration is going to be important because that’s part of unity, too. We want cross disciplinary activity. If you’ve been in the marketplace, businesses always tell you now that you’re going to work with different people. The best ideas, the best products, the best outcomes come from cross functional teams, so we have to create a space for that cross collaboration.
The other part that’s important to me is we want to be an international Nexus. We should have a global footprint. We’re somewhat there.
I’m a little biased here. I lived in Paris with my family. I lived in Tokyo, a little bit in Hong Kong. I think the international experience changed me, and I think we want to be a thought leader from an international standpoint. Now COVID is gone. we hope, so this could be a big coming out party for us. We just haven’t taken advantage of that in the way we could have in the past.
So what are the plans for Lucas Hall?
We’ve hired an architect to really help us on it, and they’ve worked with some of the big players here locally — Google, Facebook, the University of Oregon. So we said, here’s who we are, come down and give us some ideas. We had the first walk through on January 31, and we’re pretty excited about that.
And what about sustainability? That’s obviously a hot topic right now.
Yes, it’s a hot topic, but we’re going to approach it in maybe a different way. Certainly attacking things like climate change could be part of it, but our approach is, how are we creating a sustainable mindset from a leadership standpoint? What impact can our students have on the globe?
We use the UN sustainability goals as a guideline. So that’s a broad based approach. From an accreditation standpoint, AACSB’s new accreditation standard looks at what business schools are doing to impact their communities. Certainly from a sustainability standpoint, there’s a component there for diversity, equity inclusion, that we really are going to focus on in a big way. The university has done a wonderful job from a diversity standpoint, but we know we can do better. We have to make sure our students understand the diverse world they’re going into.
And with ESG out there in a big, big way — sometimes it gets buried, sometimes it comes back; sometimes it’s positive, sometimes negative — our students just have to understand that marketplace. Whether it’s through investments, or they’re going to work with a public company, or whatever, they have to understand the language. We have some great partners already lined up, our faculty are pretty excited, and our students are excited about it.
Do you find students are demanding more ESG courses or lessons?
It comes from different points of view from the students. If there’s a world event, then they kind of get excited about it. But from the University’s perspective, we’ve talked about the core curriculum for undergraduates, and how that should be infused with sustainability ideas or thoughts. We want to give students an opportunity, if they want to really go down that path of sustainability, to explore what it looks like for them. If they want to enter the nonprofit space, for example, we have the Miller Center that really focuses on impactful social entrepreneurship.
They certainly want to talk about it, and we need to lead that. Our finance professors and our econ professors are all in. We’re going to produce a number of courses really focused on ESG. From a more technical aspect, we want students to know just how the reporting requirements have changed for companies. It’s changed dramatically.
You previously said that the qualities that make up a great business leader are not what they used to be. What do you mean?
Some of those core tenants are the same: integrity, honesty, inspiring people, that has not changed. I think what has changed is, and COVID was a big part of that, expectations of your employees are totally different. Expectations of your clients or customers are different. How you can make sure that you’re staying attuned to that is very important because you can lose it quickly.
I do think that’s what’s going to be important. It has to be nimble. Be prepared for change all the time. A lot of turnovers happen, and all those things have been quite shocking for a lot of folks if you don’t react to it. But I also think from our standpoint, it gives us an opportunity to say, “Okay, this is what you have to prepare yourself for, not for what’s there today. Think about how we prepare you to be nimble, to take on change, to be able to accept things that are nebulous.”
Where you’re located, there are a couple of big name business school brands all holding onto the Silicon Valley mantle. What sets Leavey students apart?
Well, we’ve been here since 1851. What makes us distinctive is that we have alumni that stay here. And so when you think about students that are part of us, they are here. So, if you asked what’s the leadership in those big companies in the valley? I mean we don’t own it, but we have a big slice of it.
We love having those schools around us, they are great schools. I think it adds to the stake of being here.
One other thing, we have been a Jesuit institution since 1851. Those values — a just, more sustainable world — you can say they’re very lofty. But it’s important for us, and this leads back to our leadership challenge too — to ask: What type of leaders do we want to have go through our system here? And we really lean on those values as a kind of standard bearer for us. That makes a difference for us, and I don’t know how many other schools can say that.
Tell us about your centennial year. How are you going to mark 100 years of the Leavey School of Business?
It is a big milestone, so we want to really increase the awareness. It speaks about the legacy of the Leavey School of Business and it speaks to the longevity and the strength of who we are in the valley. So there’ll be a number of things.
One we’re going to produce a tabletop book that takes you from day one, 1923, before women were admitted, to now. We’re going to have celebrations throughout the year, bringing back legends to talk about their time when they were here. We’re going to have a gala event.
I think the students are excited about it. This is a great place to stay, but this year is really special. What a great time to study. We’ll have alumni events to come back and talk about Leavey as well. It’s a really great opportunity to talk about the longevity of Levy, what’s to come, and how we’re really preparing for the next century.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I just think that the plan is ambitious, as you’ll see when we get all the components to it. It’s been a big collaboration from all elements, from our students, our faculty, our alumni, our advisory board members. Believe it or not, when we asked for big ideas, they’re still coming. Culturally, it’s been embraced. It’s not that broad, what we’re talking about is really distinct.
Under those banners, people can really grab onto something and say, “This is for me. This is my plan.” That’s what’s important to me.
Now we want to make sure that we have the right folks in place that are going to own those components. That’s the real work to be honest. These are great ideas, but who will own them and making sure that we hit the deadlines is equally as important. For example, when we say 100% of students get that internship, what needs to happen? We have to have great mentorships, we have to have great connections. So we’re setting those platforms in place so when those goals roll up, one quarter, two quarters down the road, we know this work is productive.
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