Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Winter 2001Kellogg School of Management
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  The Dean's Initiatives
  The Dean's Initiatives: Leadership
Behind the scenes in the Office of the Dean
Kellogg's new associate deans Besanko and Magee share their leadership ideas

By Matt Golosinski

For Kellogg School professors Robert Magee and David Besanko there will be no more quiet chats with faculty peers over a leisurely cup of coffee, or at least fewer such chats. The coffee, too, is more likely to grow cool before either of the men have the chance to enjoy it. That's what happens to the pace of your professional life when you're called upon to join Kellogg's Office of the Dean for a three-year term.

  Associate Dean David Besanko
© Nathan Mandell
  Associate Dean David Besanko

As of July, Magee and Besanko became part of a senior administrative team led by Dean Dipak C. Jain. The two peers now share the role of associate dean for academic affairs, a position formerly held by one person -- Dean Jain. Because of increased demands associated with the school's development, the duties of the office have been distributed. Specifically, Magee addresses issues pertaining to faculty and research, while Besanko shores up the school's curriculum and teaching agendas.

Both professors have earned reputations as exemplary scholars and teachers. Magee is the Keith I. DeLashmutt Distinguished Professor of Accounting Information and Management; Besanko is the Alvin J. Huss Distinguished Professor of Management and Strategy.

  Associate Dean Robert Magee
© Nathan Mandell
  Associate Dean Robert Magee

Magee joined Kellogg in 1976. He is the author of Advanced Managerial Accounting and co-author of Efficient Capital Markets and Accounting, and has published more than 25 articles in accounting journals. In addition, he served for three years as editor of The Accounting Review. In 1999 he received the American Accounting Association's Outstanding Accounting Educator award and in 2000 the Illinois CPA Society Outstanding Educator award.

Besanko came to Kellogg in 1991. He is co-author of Economics of Strategy, a widely used textbook on strategic management, and has published more than 35 articles in leading professional journals in economics and business.

The two recently shared their leadership ideas with Kellogg World.

Kellogg World: How are you handling the shared responsibilities of the Office of the Dean?

Dean Magee: In the first two weeks, we each felt like we had to know everything that was going on. As more and more comes to the fore, we're splitting up our duties. By the same token, we meet regularly. Our offices are right next door to each other.

Was the idea of splitting the role a surprise, or was this decision on the table for a while?

Dean Besanko: Many of the prospects we interviewed for the position of dean had an idea along these lines. Dean Jain was the person who articulated the plan most clearly. He understood from his personal experience how vast this job has become now that the school has grown.

The role seems formidable for just one person. How has the transition into the administration been for you, coming as you both do from the faculty?

Magee: Pretty smooth. One of the reasons for that is the administrative staff in the dean's office has been terrific. It's been very easy to learn and collaborate with members of the team. The thing I have missed most is hanging out with my accounting department buddies. I can sometimes go up to the department and have lunch with them, but that's about it.

Besanko: The biggest change for me has been moving from a mode of predictability in my daily schedule to a mode where things are more fluid. In the Office of the Dean, half your day involves things that you would not necessarily anticipate. Part of the challenge for me is that during my time here as a faculty member more than one conversation began with 'those guys in the dean's office shouldn't be doing that.' Now I'm one of those guys. [laughs]

Magee: We have met the enemy and he is us. [laughs]

Like Dean Jain, you both come from the academic rather than the corporate world. Do you find this situation brings advantages that help you do your job better?

Besanko: There are pluses and minuses. We have a better understanding about what excites academics. We understand better than a business person might why research is important for faculty, and how much preparation teaching demands.

That sounds like a crucial distinction.

Magee: On the dean's search committee, we talked about this a lot. We wanted someone who had an appreciation for how this place operates. It's wrong to think of this school as not being the real world. It is the real world. Our familiarity with the demands faced by academics is a big plus for us. The minus is that we don't come with a built-in set of external contacts that a corporate person might. We have some, but it's not like we come from consulting in which case we might have a Rolodex full of names of people who would be helpful to the school.

Besanko: As academics, we are not trained as managers. In a sense, our role as a researcher and teacher is much more entrepreneurial than managerial. We're all about going out and finding ideas, making discoveries, finding new and interesting subjects to teach and figuring out interesting ways of teaching those things.

How does Kellogg improve upon its reputation as a school that's widely regarded as one of the very best?

Besanko: Kellogg is in great shape. We've done a terrific job honing all aspects of the student experience, from admissions to the classroom to career management and alumni. The challenge is building on that success without compromising all those things we do very well. Our priorities include seeing if we're doing everything we can to allow our faculty, especially our younger faculty, to become world-class scholars.

That concern on the part of the school has got to be attractive to potential faculty candidates from outside Kellogg.

Magee: Absolutely. The recruiting, development and retention of faculty is one of the most important things we have to consider, because faculty is a scarce resource -- particularly faculty who meet the demands of Kellogg, where they're expected to do high-level research and to bring that research and insight into the classroom in a way that's useful for students.

So the old dichotomy between teaching and research is less pronounced here than it might be at another institution?

Besanko: Our professors are expected to be full-service faculty members.

Magee: Schools that may have had more push in one dimension or the other are now back toward striking a balance between teaching and research. When that happens, Kellogg faculty look pretty attractive.

Besanko: Another initiative we will explore involves assessing the current curriculum to determine whether the structure makes sense in light of the skills that young managers need to enter a global, knowledge-based economy. We want to see if there are innovative majors we can develop. In the last couple years we've developed some very interesting majors. Things like Analytical Finance and Analytical Consulting. Are there other kinds of depth majors of that kind that we can put together?

How will you learn the answers to those questions?

Besanko: Certainly there will be a task force that will involve faculty, administrators, alumni and some students to look at that broad set of curricular issues.

Magee: We've asked the departments to do some benchmarking to see where we're doing well against our competition. We asked where they think their academic fields are going, what resources are likely to be needed for them to be at the forefront. A lot of what we have to do in terms of the intellectual life of the school is give people the freedom to pursue their intellectual interests. And of course to choose the right people to join the faculty.

Besanko: Another aspect that Dean Jain has emphasized is alumni relations. Are we doing everything that we can to deliver on our promise that we make to our graduates -- that education at Kellogg is a lifelong experience? We're continuing with the MBA Update series that has had a successful start. Are there other programs of that kind we should be developing? That's an important question we will consider.

Besanko: We really want to hear from our alums about this. There are institutionalized ways in which this communication will happen. We have the Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board, and both Bob and I will be involved in that, but we also want to hear more generally from our alums about what's on their minds, what has been the usability and durability of the Kellogg education, and what can we do to continue to add value to that.

What is going on here to keep the curriculum fresh?

Magee: There are a couple new research centers. One is the Center for International Business & Markets, and another is the Center for Health Industry Market Economics (CHIME). The idea, in particular with the international center, is to bring together all the people and resources working individually around the departments.

Besanko: That center is headed by Professor Dan Spulber, who is a very energetic person who can make things happen. He has a very good track record as is evidenced by his building of the Journal of Economics & Management Strategy.

Magee: Professor David Dranove will direct CHIME, and he has a well-established record of research and intellectual output in that area.

Both of you, as well as Dean Jain, will continue conducting research in addition to your administrative duties. Is this situation beneficial to you in your new role?

Besanko: Not only is research a big part of our careers, but it's also critical that we continue to be active researchers. Neither of us plans to stay in this job forever, so we will go back to an academic life as scholars. Our fields are fast-moving enough that if we don't keep working, things will pass us by.

Magee: If our publication rates drop while we're occupying the Office of the Dean, I don't think that's a problem so long as we're able to stay familiar with the research in our fields. One of the things I hope to do now is attend some research seminars that I've not been able to visit.

Besanko: If we're going to attract other world-class faculty, it's absolutely critical to demonstrate that Kellogg's commitment to research starts at the very top of the organization.

What do you anticipate being the hardest part of your new role? Do you have any concern that you might you have to fire friends at some point?

Magee: Our promotion and tenure process is very faculty-driven, so most of us have had to make some tough decisions about our colleagues. But I have a great deal of faith in the administrative processes that we have instituted here to strive for excellence.

Besanko: We want to feel confident that when we have to make tough decisions that turn on research quality or output that we are making the right call, both for Kellogg and for the person. For us to be actively involved in research is a critical part of having the confidence to make those hard decisions.

So in this case your research interests come to bear on your administrative function. Are there any other ways that your research informs your role as associate deans?

Besanko: I spent a couple years studying the links between strategy and organizational structure and incentive compensation at Citibank. One of the things we learned is how important it is to clearly communicate to everyone in the organization. At the end of the day, it's not Dean Jain and Bob and David making all the decisions around here. The decisions that impact this school are made every day by hundreds of people: teachers who are teaching their classes, administrators who are making decisions about running their areas…

Magee: And the MBA students in classes and recruiting.

What drew you to academics? When you were kids did you know what direction you wanted to go professionally?

Besanko: I didn't. In fact, I was an MBA student at Northwestern in 1977. I came here thinking I wanted to get my MBA and go out there and manage something. I wasn't entirely sure. I found that my experience here in that one year was very important in shaping how my career unfolded. One of my epiphanies occurred while sitting in a financial accounting class taught by Larry Revsine. I loved the class. It was unexpected. I had no idea what accounting was.

Magee: [laughs]

Besanko: Of course, I'm not an accountant, so my career has unfolded in somewhat different ways since then. But I remember that in that class Larry was a terrific professor and great researcher spending time in his classroom talking about the thing that he was really passionate about. I thought, "This is what I want to do."

You caught the bug.

Besanko: Absolutely. I saw that this experience replicated in many other contexts at Kellogg after that, but that class was really like a bolt of lightning for me in my career.

Magee: One of the things that shaped my passion for teaching was the intellectual competitiveness of the profession, and you'd find that to be a common characteristic across faculty anywhere, but certainly at Kellogg. This is where the kids who really, really wanted to get the highest score on the algebra test end up. [laughs] Another thing that's shaped my path is teaching. As much as anything, my teaching has helped give me a lot of research ideas.

Some might say that teaching is a distraction from the "real" work of researching, but that doesn't sound like the case here.

Magee: No. Ideally you're going to be teaching in an area that stimulates your research, so even if a student doesn't ask a probing question, as you're getting ready to teach you are anticipating what the students might ask. In that preparation you may find a research idea.

Dean Besanko, you oversee the curriculum. If you discover an area that no longer seems to have the same relevance it had a year ago, will you jettison entire courses?

Besanko: I'm not anticipating that I'm going to find lots of irrelevant areas, because one of the things that Kellogg has been good at is responding to the market and continually evolving. We have lots of pieces and programs. I'm exploring ways to combine those programs to create additional value. Also, if we're doing our jobs as teachers we should be challenging students, providing them with fresh material and insights, and challenging their assumptions and mental models. There are people in this school who do that very well. Daniel Diermeier, for instance. He was professor of the year this past year and is very good at challenging students, but at the same time creating a fun and supportive classroom environment. Steve Rogers is another example.

Magee: As an instructor, the best thing that can happen to you is to have an alum say "I thought of you today because I used what you taught me at Kellogg to avoid a mistake or see an opportunity." We want to make sure we're giving people what they need for their careers.

Besanko: The quality of classroom teaching at Kellogg today is very strong. We have delivered very well on the classroom experience. We need to realize that the classroom is an extremely important part of our teaching, but that there are other aspects to the job that are also important. For instance, textbook writing. Textbooks enable your teaching to have a kind of legacy as you make a real contribution to your field.

It's a physical manifestation of the faculty's knowledge.

Besanko: It's a physical manifestation of how we as teachers have conceptualized the area in which we are teaching, and helped shape that area. One of the distinctions that Kellogg has had over the years is that this is a place out of which textbooks have emerged that have shaped the field. This is a very important part of the teaching mission.

That seems like a great way to celebrate faculty excellence. What will be your biggest challenge, Dean Magee?

Magee: Retaining faculty is going to be a big issue. It's not easy to do, so we must ensure that Kellogg remains competitive in the packages we offer. Those packages are multi-dimensional, involving compensation, but also the resources available to a faculty member, including the quality of the colleagues here. If you look at where Kellogg lands in national rankings, you'll find us up in the Top 5 in virtually every category, and No. 1 in general management, marketing and executive masters programs. So we have to work at keeping many areas of strength -- and keep improving all those areas.

©2001 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University