Opinion
Columns: Editor's Note

Editor's Note-The Future in Our Backyard

Carlson School Dean Alison Davis-Blake believes that a great school of business requires a "first-rate business community."

Editor's Note-The Future in Our Backyard

You might have noticed that this space is often used to draw your attention to an item in the current issue, such as this month's focus on executive education programs for entrepreneurs. Because one such program enables business students at the University of Minnesota to work with start-up companies, this is a propitious occasion to introduce you to Alison Davis-Blake.

Davis-Blake is the 11th dean of the University’s Carlson School of Management. She grew up here, the daughter of a Carlson professor of management information systems, the school’s most lauded discipline. Before returning to the Twin Cities last summer, she spent most of her academic career at the (Red) McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas. She is soft-spoken ("I’m an introvert; most faculty are introverts") and purposeful ("You have to focus your efforts; you have to say no to some things that are worthy"). Both attributes should make her a welcome member of Minnesota’s business community. So should her desire to make the school a part of that community, a goal not pursued successfully by all of her predecessors.

Fifteen years ago, the Carlson School’s ninth dean met with 150 Minnesota business leaders—and received scorching reviews of the school’s performance. He was told that the faculty had become arrogant and insular, their research was theoretical and arcane, and the administration was uninterested in teaching and unconnected to the companies that were expected to hire the school’s graduates—and by the way, the facilities were substandard.

Much has changed since then. The school moved into new quarters; its faculty has grown; and grades and test scores of entering students have been elevated, as have rankings proffered by publications. Stellar programs provide real-company experience in branding, investment management, and electronic commerce.

New deans get tugged in multiple directions, but Davis-Blake exhibits resistance to distraction. For now, she is focused on building Carlson’s undergraduate program; recruiting "world-class" faculty members (a third of the school’s professors are expected to retire in the next five years); and—you’ll like this—creating "a portfolio of MBA programs that make sense for our students and the business community." Carlson’s executive and part-time MBA programs "exist to serve the needs of our local community," she says; if the school were in another location, they would be unlikely to exist.

"I am committed to enhancing this rich set of interconnections between the school and the business community," she adds. "These connections play a vital role in the creation of knowledge, employment, and wealth." She adds that a "first-rate" business school "needs a first-rate business community" for support.

The Carlson School, says Davis-Blake, is "enriched" by contact with Minnesota business leaders: "You cannot teach entrepreneurship or do anything about entrepreneurship without the help of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists willing to come into your classroom and assist in instruction . . . . I think the future is right here in our backyard."

Our state’s businesses will be enriched by her presence at the university.



››› My guess is that you know at least one young business leader who you believe is exceptional: someone who is accomplished beyond others of his or her age, and from whom even more substantial achievements can be expected. I would like you to do that person a favor: Describe his or her accomplishments and attributes on a nomination form for the second annual Emerging Leaders Awards, presented next spring by Twin Cities Business and MDA Leadership Consulting of Minneapolis.

Recipients will be featured in the March issue and honored at a March 21 awards luncheon. Nominations are due by October 13 and will be reviewed by an independent panel of judges. I am eager to hear from you—and to hear about the exceptional young Emerging Leaders you know.

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