By MARTY LEVINE
“It’s the people and the potential that attracted me — and the place,” says Gene Anderson, an experienced school leader and customer satisfaction expert who joined the Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration as the eighth dean on Aug. 1.
He knows the place — he was born in Greensburg, raised in Baldwin and lived in Upper St. Clair until age 13. But the city of Pittsburgh and its surroundings have changed a lot since his family moved away in 1972.
“The Cathedral of Learning was not this color when I left,” he jokes about pre-pollution-control days, noting also that in 1972 the Pirates were the best team in town and the Steelers were still a few years from their first Super Bowl win.
Then he turns serious: “The most compelling thing is the transition Pittsburgh has made from the industrial manufacturing kind of economy to the knowledge and innovation-based economy,” Anderson says, and many communities around the world are trying to make the same transition. Why shouldn’t Pitt’s business school help lead that?
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example and a better classroom learning laboratory (than Pittsburgh),” he says. “That can be more powerful positioning for us. We have a public part of our mission and so that is something we want to keep in mind — what impact we’re having.”
Anderson was most recently dean of the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University (2017-2022) and dean of the University of Miami Business School (2012-2017). He began his academic career at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where he was senior associate dean for academic affairs, associate dean for degree programs and academic director of the executive MBA program. There he began his focus on customer satisfaction research, after a grant program funded the creation of a national customer satisfaction index for Sweden and his school decided to pursue the same thing for the U.S. The idea was to come up with a measure of the economy that went beyond the Gross Domestic Product.
“I was just fascinated by that,” he says.
Although as dean he will draw on his long experience, Anderson adds, “you certainly learn some things when you are in any environment, but you have to be very cautious about what you decide can be adapted to any kind of new environment. One of the challenges of coming into a new environment is to set aside the assumptions and beliefs you had about how things worked (at other institutions). It makes it even more important to ask all kinds of questions about how things work” already at Pitt, even if you have seen best practices elsewhere.
Pitt has “a real strong focus on scholarship here, both research and teaching, and a real strong professional staff. Terrific students.” He has also found here a “real sense of camaraderie and collaboration — a good culture …”
His top goals, he says, will be teaming up with the other colleges at Pitt for more business programs in their areas. Katz’s collaborations with the health sciences are already strong, such as the Executive MBA in Healthcare, begun by Anderson’s predecessor, Arjang A. Assad.
“I think there is a real opportunity to grow that,” Anderson says. “Health care is one of the areas that will continue to be promising,” along with more experiential learning and online/hybrid programs, which have grown more popular through recent years with professionals seeking further education.
He also wants to create more partnerships with business and community groups in the region: “To do more to bring together the strengths of Pitt with the strengths of the community. This is true of the professional schools in general but particularly true of the business school: they can be a conduit to community impact.”
In addition, he believes the business school deserves more recognition for what it already does — that the school is too modest about its accomplishments and strengths.
“Pittsburgh is where the Midwest begins and I think we’ve been too Midwestern,” as he puts it. “I think the school punches above its weight class. The school is well-known to peers but maybe not enough to business and community.”
The school also has “the other usual challenges,” he says: space and resources. With the tremendous growth in the undergraduate classes, the school could use more facilities and is competing with recent new business buildings at Carnegie Mellon and West Virginia universities, he says.
Overall, Anderson concludes, the school “is in good shape and part of it is the fundamentals are great, from faculty and staff to students and alumni. “If you’ve got those things you have got strong fundamentals to build on.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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