Stepping up to Mays’ future
Eli Jones calls himself an “accidental dean”–and says most deans are “accidental” because academics rarely join the profession to be administrators. Academics are teachers, researchers and authors. One typically takes an administrative role as selfless service–a way to serve those he or she leads. As Aggies know, selfless service is one of the Aggie Core Values.
Early in Jones’ career, he finished an undergraduate degree in journalism at Texas A&M and pursued broadcast journalism. Later, he and his family returned to Texas A&M for a two-year MBA degree and Jones became a sales executive and sales manager at three Fortune 500 companies. Still, becoming a dean of a business school had not entered his mind.
However, there was a time in his corporate life when he thought back to something a Mays professor said to him–pursue a Ph.D. and become a professor. Back to school Jones and his family went, and four years later, Jones began his academic career–the path that would eventually lead to the dean’s office at Mays Business School.
Through a series of intentional decisions that led him back and forth between the corporate and academic worlds in an effort to continuously enhance his knowledge, skills and capabilities, the self-professed “hybrid” finds himself today at the helm of a leading business school–one that is on an upward trajectory and positioned to break into the ranks of the nation’s elite institutions.
“One might view Mays Business School as a highly talented, well-coached football team that has marched down the field to our opponents’ 20-yard line,” Jones said. “We have gotten where we are today through hard work, smart decisions and strong leadership. And we are poised to get into the end zone…to score a touchdown. But at this point in the game, our competitors have tightened their chinstraps, the playing field has shifted a little bit and the winds of change are swirling. In order to make that last push over the goal line, we will have to leverage the considerable strengths we’ve built to date. Just as important, we need to reimagine the roles that engagement, innovation and impact will play in the future of business education.”
The changing landscape of business and business education
Jones takes the helm of Mays at a time when companies are facing formidable challenges, such as technological advances, digitization of data, increasingly diverse and dispersed workforces and changing employee attitudes and expectations.
Business schools are pipelines to the corporate and entrepreneurial world – suppliers of new knowledge, young talent, and retooled managers and leaders. Thus, business schools are uniquely positioned to help businesses successfully navigate today’s turbulent environment.
Engagement, innovation and impact
While his professional background working in the corporate and academic sectors gives Jones unique perspectives and experiences to lead Mays at this time, he recognizes “At the end of the day, we need to actively engage our stakeholders; continuously innovate our research and programmatic efforts, and positively impact the students, companies and business and academic communities we serve,” he said.
Jones recognizes that the school cannot redefine innovation and impact in a vacuum, solely on its own terms. Rather, it must solicit the input of various constituencies–internal and external–to understand what innovation and impact mean to them. So this summer, he embarked on a “listening tour” traveling across Texas to engage key external stakeholder groups and give them a voice in the school’s larger strategic planning and visioning efforts.
The listening tour has included town hall meetings with students, faculty and staff as well as networking events with former students. In addition, Jones is conducting a series of small-group gatherings and one-on-one meetings with academic department heads, donors, corporate partners and recruiters, business clients and development council members. In each of these interactions, he is asking for opinions on a range of topics and questions, including “When you think of Mays Business School, what is the first thing that comes to mind?” as well as “Do we have the right mission, and how can we leverage the school’s mission to continuously improve as measured by innovation and impact?”
In January, Jones and his leadership team will begin discussing the stakeholder input and integrating key insights into the school’s formal strategic planning initiative. To help guide this overall effort, he has created a new position—interim director of innovation and strategic planning—and has asked Mary Lea McAnally to serve in this role.
Already, Jones has gleaned insights in some of the early meetings with stakeholders that will help shape the school’s plan going forward.
“We are writing the next chapter in the remarkable story that is Mays Business School, and I believe our opportunity to join the ranks of the nation’s truly elite business schools is now,” he said. “We will build on the momentum here, leverage the experience I gained from my two previous deanships, combine that knowledge with that of the amazing team of faculty and staff at Mays Business School, and generate the support needed to build to world-class status by fully engaging our Aggie network.
In addition to elevating stakeholder engagement, Mays’ world-class faculty is being enhanced by the addition of new faculty. This summer, Mays welcomed 11 new professors with degrees from other top institutions, including Duke, INSEAD, Stanford, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
“This group of scholars provides just the right influx of fresh perspectives, insights and experiences we need to complement our existing faculty,” Jones said. “They include seasoned professors, those in the middle of their careers and newly minted Ph.D.s who are just starting out on one of the most exciting, challenging and rewarding careers imaginable. And they will pursue diverse research interests ranging from sales leadership and behavioral economics to corporate governance and information asymmetry.”
One of the new additions is Assistant Professor of Marketing Cexun “Jeffery” Cai, who comes to Mays from Wharton. Of his decision to join Texas A&M, Cai said, “No other place promises the combination of dynamic, productive and helpful colleagues; engaged students who are eager to push their limits; a warm and friendly environment made up of people with a deep sense of values; and the opportunity to contribute to a highly reputable institution that is on the frontier of knowledge discovery and dissemination.”
In addition to recruiting new faculty, Mays plans to develop innovative educational programs to meet the evolving needs of today’s students, corporate partners and the market. The new Master of Science in Business (MS Business) is one example of the kind of innovation to which Jones is referring. Scheduled to welcome its first class of students fall 2016, the MS Business is an intensive 11-month program designed to help non-business majors compete more effectively for jobs in the global marketplace. The program will provide students with core business knowledge, solid quantitative skills and a basic understanding of best practices in leadership—with emphases on experiential learning, teamwork and career preparation. Students will apply to the MS Business during their senior year, and the program will enable undergraduate students to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years. No prior job experience is required for admission.
Jon Jasperson, academic director for the program, says it will showcase some of the latest innovations in higher education. “We plan to build a challenging, innovative learning environment for the MS Business students that incorporates education best practices into the classroom,” he said. “The concentrated, block delivery schedule for the courses combined with role play, simulations and flipped classroom active learning techniques will provide better engagement for students in the learning process.”
For many years, Mays faculty have challenged students to apply what they learn in class to solve problems in a variety of real-world contexts—from consulting engagements and capstone projects to internships and study-abroad programs. The school’s undergraduate Business Honors and Business Fellows programs along with the Freshman Business Initiative offer a range of active learning experiences, including visits to corporations, guest speakers on campus, community service activities, and regional and national trips. Mays’ Full-Time, Professional and Executive MBA programs all feature a consulting or capstone project in which students work with actual businesses as well as some kind of travel-study component—either overseas or through the school’s Washington, D.C. Campus.
Case competitions and other business skills challenges have provided another fertile field of high-impact leaning for students. By testing business knowledge and problem-solving skills in a range of areas—from tax, entrepreneurship and ethics to fashion and retail—these activities force teams of students to merge theory and practice while dealing with the same kind of time, resource, and knowledge constraints they will face on the job after they graduate.
In recent years, Mays departments, centers and programs have expanded the number of competitions they host. Newer events such as the Wall Street Journal Challenge for undergraduates, hosted this year by Mays, have joined longstanding activities such as the MBA Venture Challenge and the Ideas Challenge, which is open to all students. Students are also participating in more external competitions, ranging from National Retail Federation Student Challenge to Deloitte’s FanTAXtic tax case competition and the National MBA Case Competition in Ethical Leadership. In 2013, a team of Mays Full-Time MBA students (composed of Janette Barnard, Matt Johnson, Lloyd McGuire and Robyn Peters) won the case competition in ethical leadership. Peters remarked on the impact of the learning experience: “Given less than 24 hours to dissect the case, craft recommendations and develop a flawless presentation, this competition was a test of critical problem solving and prioritization. Experiences like this are what really prepare us for our roles as future professional leaders.”
Mays will continue to participate in these and other experiential learning activities to ensure that its students are ready and able to put their hard-earned knowledge into action.
Impact on business
Corporate partnerships play a vital role in many of the high-impact learning experiences enjoyed by Mays’ students, as organizations help underwrite competitions or host students for consulting engagements or capstone projects. By forging new partnerships with industry, as well as deepening relationships with existing partners, Jones is confident the school can also boost its impact on business.
Mays’ Professional Selling Initiative (PSI) is one example of a new program that provides a platform for creating innovative, mutually beneficial partnerships with industry. Its existence, in fact, is born out of the school’s ongoing dialogue with corporate partners and a careful assessment of marketplace forces and trends. In recent years, the Department of Marketing has witnessed significantly increased demand from firms looking to hire graduates for professional selling jobs—in both consumer and business-to-business settings. After examining sales initiatives at other universities across the nation and talking to a number of the school’s current recruiters, the department launched the Professional Selling Initiative to meet a range of student, faculty and employer needs.
The initiative will provide enhanced educational offerings for students, including a Certificate in Sales along with a Professional Selling and Sales Management career track. Faculty will enjoy increased research opportunities along with more role-play rooms supported by state-of-the-art technology. Corporate partners will gain greater access to Mays’ top sales students through a variety of recruiting activities, social events and guest-speaking opportunities.
Perhaps most importantly, through more frequent interaction and closer collaboration, Mays and its corporate partners will be able to explore new opportunities to develop custom programming and conduct applied research that is tailored to the unique business needs and objectives of different partners.
As Jones looks to the future, he is humbled by the opportunity to lead his alma mater into a new era, mindful of the challenges that lie ahead and exhilarated by the opportunities they present.
“Moving into the ranks of the very best business schools is going to require everyone at Mays to step up their game,” he said. “We have to create new knowledge that is relevant and useful to companies. We need to offer unique education programs that prepare students to make valuable contributions to their employers from day one on the job. And we must develop leaders who are as focused on serving their organizations and transforming their communities as they are on maximizing shareholder wealth. There is no more important or rewarding work than this.”