March 20 , 2006
Taking care of business:
BY alfred charles
By nearly all indicators, Goizueta Business School is at the top of its game.
The school recently ascended to the No. 6 slot in the worldwide rankings of BusinessWeek magazine’s list of top executive MBA programs, and seems poised to move up in the rankings of U.S. News & World Report, which currently lists Goizueta’s full-time MBA program as being 18th best in the nation.
The school’s standings are impressive but still not enough, according to Larry Benveniste, the new business school dean who took over the reigns last July.
“We need to make sure we continue to be as innovative as we have been and change faster than our competitors,” he said recently from his fifth floor office, which has a sweeping, panoramic view of the business school’s new wing. “That’s the biggest challenge we face.”
It has been about eight months since Benveniste, 54, pulled up stakes and left his position as dean of Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. He and his wife, Marie, decided to leave the chilly climes of the upper Midwest and relocate to Atlanta and the South after receiving an overture from Emory, which was looking to fill its dean’s vacancy created by the departure of Tom Robertson. (Robertson has been tapped by President Jim Wagner to fill a new position that works to boost the University’s profile abroad.)
Benveniste said he had never thought seriously about leaving Minnesota, where his grown son still lives, but he couldn’t turn down a chance to lead Emory’s B-School. “I definitely did not want to think about changing jobs,” he recalled. “But it was intriguing because Emory’s business school had gained prominence so quickly.”
So far, he said, the move has been a slam dunk.
“I think it’s great here. It’s a wonderful business school, and I love the culture, the size and the common vision,” said Benveniste, a tall and imposing man whose mane of white hair contrasts deeply against his steely blue eyes. “It’s everything I expected.”
What many on the Emory campus may not know about Benveniste, a self-described “former hippie,” is that the road to Goizueta began in Culver City, Calif. That’s where Benveniste was born and raised in a home located about three miles from the beach.
He obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of California-Irvine and received a Ph.D. in mathematics from UC-Berkeley
during the Vietnam War.
After finishing his studies, Benveniste landed his first academic job, teaching economics at the University of Rochester. Five years later, he accepted a job at the Federal Reserve System in Washington, where he worked as an economist.
From there, Benveniste was given the opportunity to work on Wall Street, offers he rejected in order to return to academia. He would go on to teach at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and at Boston College, where he taught finance.
He ended up at Minnesota, filling an endowed finance department chair position before rising to the dean’s slot four years later. It appears that his tenure there was well received. “He works like a slave,” John Boyd, a friend and finance professor at the Carlson School was quoted as saying two years ago during a profile of Benveniste printed in The Minnesota Daily, the university’s campus newspaper. “He’s able to set an agenda and stick to his priorities.”
When asked what his priorities are for Goizueta, Benveniste ticks off a list of goals he wants to accomplish in order to cement the school’s reputation.
The dean said he wants to continue the work of advancing the B-School’s programs, with a focus on building students’ leadership skills; to increase the number of faculty members and their recognition while also raising the number of endowed faculty slots; to raise the school’s stature in the metro Atlanta area while also building Goizueta’s reputation around the world; to boost the school’s outreach efforts to its alumni; and to build diversity.
He said the school’s potent alumni network has made his transition to Emory much smoother.
“I did not expect the passion of the alumni to be as strong as I’ve found it to be, and that’s fantastic,” he said. “The alums have been willing to give of their time and energy.”
It appears that the school’s alums are responding to Benveniste.
“Larry is very approachable,” said Bill Brosius, president of the school’s alumni board. “He has a warm, inviting demeanor.”
To help him carry out his vision, Benveniste has reorganized the school’s top staff. There is a new executive director of external affairs, Karri Hobson-Pape, who works to strengthen and coordinate Goizueta’s image outside Emory. And Maria Radulovic now serves as chief of staff, working as Benveniste’s senior-level aide.
In addition to the priorities he wants to focus on, Benveniste said Goizueta faculty must adapt their teaching practices to address two elements sweeping Corporate America: globalization and ethics.
The executive suites of some of the country’s biggest firms have been rocked in recent years by corporate malfeasance. Benveniste said Goizueta must ensure that its students have the wherewithal to act properly when faced with moral dilemmas.
“Good people can make bad choices if they’re not prepared,” he said. “We can help to prepare our students not to
[give in] when they face ethical challenges.”
As far as globalization goes, Benveniste said the school must now adapt to the reality that political borders have vanished when it comes to business, and the American executive now must compete on an international playing field.
“All companies are thinking globally,” he said. “We have to have our students understand the challenges of thinking globally.”
In terms of his own management style, Benveniste likes to run his department with an open door and an eye toward inclusion.
“Transparency is the right word,” he said. “I like people to know why decisions were made and let them have access to as much information as I can.”
Benveniste has hit the ground running, operating on a schedule that keeps his days tied up with meetings, meetings and more meetings.
It’s a hectic schedule that, at the moment, is quite necessary, he said.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there, and I don’t want to lose traction,” Benveniste said. To unwind, he lists golf, travel and family as his priorities when blowing off steam.
“But not in that order!” he laughs, wary of what his wife might say if she reads his words.