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Management's next dean
| Back in 1968, Howard Ross gave up being McGill's chancellor to take on a formidable challenge — to become the first dean of the University's brand new Faculty of Management.
In establishing the fledgling faculty on firm footing, Ross had to contend with some wary professors uncertain about the whole notion of merging McGill's undergraduate-oriented School of Commerce with the Graduate School of Business — not to mention student protesters who decried any kind of corporate presence at the University. He succeeded and led the effort to build the Samuel Bronfman Building to boot.
Now, as it embarks on a new century where the rules of business seem to be changing on a daily basis, the Faculty of Management is turning to a familiar name for leadership. Gerald Ross, Howard's son, has been selected as the Faculty of Management's next dean.
A businessman, strategist, educator and author, the Montreal-born McGill graduate takes on his new job in August.
Management professor Frances Westley served on the advisory committee for a dean of management that unanimously settled on Ross. "His experience in promoting innovation captured all of us," she says.
As the co-founder and senior partner of the management consulting firm Change Lab International, Ross spent the past decade helping corporate clients like IBM, Aetna, Reuters and Bristol-Myers rethink how they conduct their businesses. "He is fascinated by the whole process of how you can build innovation," says Westley.
Vice-Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet, the chair of the advisory committee, says the wide range of projects that Ross has taken on in his career impressed him.
Ross has trained banking professionals in Saudi Arabia on how to manage change. As the former director of the Industrial Technology Institute in the U.S., he assessed the impact of robotics and automation on the American auto industry. Working with the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, Ross developed a national strategy for pre-accreditation accounting education.
"We've managed to attract a brilliant individual," says Vinet.
Vinet warrants that there was one question mark hanging over Ross in the minds of committee members — his lack of university experience.
Ross has been involved with a number of top schools. He was the managing director of Yale University's Future World Leaders Program and part of executive education programs at both the University of Michigan and the Wharton School of Business. But he has never been a day in, day out academic.
"It's a bold choice in that sense," says Vinet. But the vice-principal doubts that Ross will have any problems adapting to the academic milieu. Vinet says Ross has the team-building skills and the scholarly approach to fit in nicely.
For his part, Ross says he wants to help the Faculty of Management build on its existing skills.
From his vantage point, Ross identifies these strengths as a top-notch professoriate, talented students, a budding expertise in international business and "a first-rate brand name. "You go outside Canada and you notice how the McGill name sticks in people's minds — more so than other top universities in the country." Ross believes the faculty has to do more to capitalize on this.
He credits current Dean Wallace Crowston for helping to initiate a number of new McGill programs in other countries such as the MBA program in Japan and Henry Mintzberg's International Master's Program in Management involving collaborators in France, India, England and Japan.
Ross wants the faculty to expand its activities in this area and to do it in a focused faculty-wide manner.
"The faculty needs to develop a point of view about how the business world is going to develop," says Ross. "The main question is what will organizations look like 15 years from now. We'll have to have a story to tell the business world about where we think business is going." Ross believes all of the faculty's programs -- in marketing, accounting, finance and other areas -- will have to reflect different aspects of this single point of view.
He muses that the MBA's days as the cornerstone of business education might be numbered. In a business world contending with a whirlwind of change tied to technology and globalization, McGill might think about shifting its approach to business education to a life-long learning model, tailoring programs to managers and executives who come back frequently over the course of their careers to upgrade their skills.
He is also a big believer in forging new ties with other McGill faculties and with the business world at large. In an era where e-commerce companies like Amazon. com are tearing down the time-honoured Henry Ford business model of factories and mass production, Ross says "We need to learn from business as much as they need to learn from us. Much of what's innovative in business thinking right now is coming out of companies trying out new approaches, not from the halls of business schools."
As for other faculties, Ross says other disciplines offer unique perspectives that can enrich business students.
The concept of chaos theory from physics can be germane to management, says Ross. A biologist might be recruited to connect his expertise on the intricacies of biological systems to the inner workings of organizations. Anthropologists and sociologists with insights into bridging cultural differences might have something to say about how Sam from Winnipeg can successfully work with Igor from Slovakia (not to mention how Frank from accounting, Deepak from sales and Ingrid from product development might bridge the "cultural" impasses unique to their particular departments).
"It goes both ways. Just about everyone needs some kind of background in business these days," adds Ross. "That biologist teaching in our faculty could need some training in how to manage his lab. Or he might want to start a biotechnology company."
Ross has a new book scheduled to come out later this year. Breakthrough Thinking for Conquering a Stressful World is targeted at teenagers. "It focuses on creative problem-solving for high school students," says Ross. "It helps students learn to think outside the box when it comes to things like dealing with their parents."
Hmm. If Ross succeeds in helping teens learn how to cope with the problems presented by their parents, rejigging a business faculty for the challenges of a new century ought to be a snap.