Guru Mantra: James Dean, Kenan-Flagler Business School

Dr. James W. Dean Jr.
Dean, Kenan-Flagler Business School

James W. Dean Jr. is dean of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and professor of organizational behavior. Leadership, organizational change, strategic decision making, international management, and organizational performance improvement are the focus of his research, teaching and consulting. He has served as senior associate dean for academic affairs, associate dean of Executive Development and associate dean of the MBA Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler. He earned PhD and master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and a BA from The Catholic University.

Rahul- Kenan-Flagler Business School has launched an online MBA program for working professionals around the world. Please take us through the genesis of the idea and why you believe it fills a need in the MBA market-space?

Dean Dean- MBA@UNC is a new model for MBA education, and we’re very excited about it.

UNC Kenan-Flagler has a long tradition of educational innovation, and offering a top quality MBA in a new online format is the next logical step. As the world of business grows ever more complex and global, we see a need among working professionals who want to earn their MBA from a top school but are unable or unwilling to relocate to do so.

The time is right, too. Technology has transformed all parts of our lives, and, ultimately, it will redefine education, too. We have a rare opportunity to lead this transformation.

MBA@UNC is designed for high-potential professionals wherever they are working in the world. It has the same very high standards for faculty, students and curriculum as our existing programs. Students will meet the same selective admissions criteria and master the same material as do the students in our current programs. What’s different is how we deliver it. No other school offers anything quite like it.

Rahul- You became the Dean of the School in fall 2008, right around the beginning of the recession and still strengthened the position of the School. What are the top two leadership lessons your learnt, which could be relevant for other educational leaders?

Dean Dean- One lesson is that our organizations are more resilient than we sometimes think they are. I tend to try to shield the organization from some of the impact of the financial difficulties, but when I consulted with my colleagues and asked for their help, they have been willing and able to bear their fair share of the burden, and have thanked me for being clear about the challenges we are facing.

Another lesson would be not to assume a defensive a posture in light of challenges, financial and otherwise. We have been able to move forward on several areas that are strategic to the School, despite limited resources. Obviously, we meant we had to choose to not do other things that are less strategic. But we will come out of this much stronger as a School due to this willingness to keep moving forward. The strong team and culture we have at the School made this possible.

Rahul- What are your strategic priorities for next three years for the School? What role educational partnerships with other institutions would play in offering joint-degrees or exchange programs in the future?

Dean Dean- We continually work on enhancing the leadership development opportunities we offer our students, with an aim to become the best school in the world for leadership development. We also are focused on increased globalization, technology and global brand building. Our choice to purse MBA@UNC now supports several of these strategic initiatives.

Building educational partnerships is critical to our global engagement. In 2002 we launched the innovative OneMBA® Program, which was designed and is taught by five partner schools on four continents. This truly global executive MBA provides students with the opportunity to earn from the faculty and students from all five partner schools: Faculty of Business Administration at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM); Tecnológico de Monterrey Graduate School of Business Administration and Leadership (EGADE); Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo da Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV-EAESP); and UNC Kenan-Flagler.

We went on to establish an undergraduate business program, GLOBE, in partnership with Chinese University of Hong Kong and Copenhagen Business School in 2004. Each year 45 students from the schools study together for 18 months at our campuses in Denmark, Hong Kong and the United States. Again, students learn first-hand from the professors at each school — “local” experts — about business operations and cultures in Asia, Europe and North America. (GLOBE recently won an award.)

We also partner with other schools for exchange programs and “Doing Business In,” which give opportunities for our MBAs to study abroad and explore other cultures during a one-week or two-week immersions at exchange partner schools.

A newer and significant partnership for UNC Kenan-Flagler is with Tsinghua University, one of China’s top universities. We founded the UNC-Tsinghua Center for Logistics and Enterprise Development in 2007, and, as a result of this successful research center, we are developing a dual degree program with Tsinghua’s Department of Industrial Engineering.

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