Looking Back, Looking Forward

by Helen Etters, WAKE FOREST MBA MAGAZINE, Fall/Winter 1991, Vol.5, Nov.3


When John McKinnon came to the Wake Forest MBA program in 1989 as its sixth dean, the management school had already outgrown its facilities and plans were under way for construction of a new building. With the completion of this new Professional Center in late 1992, Wake Forest MBA students will share a physical facility with the Wake Forest law students.
    More important than the physical proximity is the unusual advantage the students will have -a regular exposure to knowledge relevant to the fields of business and law McKinnon anticipates that professors from each school will give lectures in one another 's courses, joint law and business research projects will be developed, and MBA students will have the option of taking electives in the law school.
    From its inception in 1969, the Babcock School has progressed toward its goal of uniqueness, of being a top-quality graduate school which would find and fill its own niche. Charles H. Babcock, the benefactor for whom the school was named, believed graduate-level education was the proper preparation for professional careers in management. A successful businessman and son-in-law of the founder of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Babcock was committed to management education. Substantial grants from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation required the establishment of an MBA program. With the recognition that every story has a point of view, the history of the Babcock School is, to a considerable degree, the story of a succession of deans who gradually defined that niche, and who moved the school ever closer to its realization.

The Early Years
     In the beginning, there was rebellion.
     J. Timothy Heames was one of the instructors for the first class at the new Babcock School. He bought a computer simulation that provided students with data to make decisions, the decisions providing new data upon which to make new decisions, which provided ... well you get the idea. You might want to ask I leames, but the story Professor Robert Shivelv tells goes something like this: 'The computer kept breaking down. We had to think of alternatives until it could be fixed.
    The students rebelled. They called the faculty into a meeting and said, We won't continue until you get this straightened out.' We had been teaching them to be proactive, and they, turned our lessons on us."
    Robert S. Carlson, the school's first dean, recruited an eclectic faculty from the nations top business programs. During his tenure, the Babcock School was one of the first in the nation to offer an executive MBA program - a weekend program for midcareer executives that allows students to continue career responsibilities while earning MBA degrees. Speaking from his home in Hawaii, Carlson remembers the weekend program as being an immediate success. 'There were a lot of people who were hungry for that type of program - a backlog of people who wanted a weekend program:' Carlson felt the weekend program was a way for the Babcock School to contribute to the local community.
    The Babcock School's goal of becoming a distinctive institution has been realized in other ways. Carlson describes the school as concentrating from the beginning on the master's level. Instead of offering undergraduate, master's, and Ph.D. programs, "we wanted to focus at the masters level - a top quality MBA unfettered by a doctoral program or an undergraduate program."
    The Babcock School has always been, and continues to be, a solid general management school, From its beginnings, the school wanted to focus on teaching excellence - emphasizing close, informal interaction between faculty and students. And, said Carlson, "We wanted to have an international perspective." That early recognition of the increasing importance of an international economy has continued to be a strung feature of the Wake Forest MBA.
    The first students were admitted in 197 1. By this time, the board of the Charles H. Babcock school of Business Administration had changed the schools name to Babcock Graduate School of Management, and Jack D. Ferner was appointed acting dean.
    Ferner accepted the deanship with the primary object-tive of seeing that the concepts already in place became a reality Ferner liked the informality - the close interaction between students and faculty the field study projects. He liked the concepts of integrated core curriculum, case method, and experiential learning. 'All those innovative concepts, still working for us today, were planned in '70-71.
    "Starting a new venture of any sort is fraught with problems", Ferner reflects. "There were no grading systems, no governing policies. The new school ran deficits. Financial viability was in question, and fund raising took on an urgency."
    Additionally, the management school's position within the University had to be resolved. Like the University, the Babcock School wanted to serve the community. "But Wake Forest;' recalls Ferner, "was a traditional liberal arts school and had no idea of what a professional management school should be. We tried to do our own fund raising. We had our own budget. We put together a long-range plan and had an on-going process of strategic planning."
    The emphasis was on teaching over research. "Research was very much on the back burner," Ferner recalls. "Not that we weren't concerned about research, but we wanted to be primarily a teaching school."
    Echoing the sentiments of his predecessor, the second dean recalls: "We wanted to be innovative." Almost presciently, the Babcock School was offering overseas study long before other schools. Babcock students used personal computers and spreadsheets as early as these were available.
    In 1973, during Ferner s tenure as dean, the first MBA degrees, and the last BBA degrees, were awarded.

The Middle Years
    When Frank Schilagi accepted the appointment as dean in 1974, the curriculum: was in place, the degree programs were running, and the Institute for Executive Education was offering non-degree management development courses. Bringing his strong business acumen to the financially insecure school, Schilagi embarked nn a new phase of development: increasing ad missions improving place ment and establishing financial stability.
 "We raised a lot of money," recalls Schilagi, now a Winston-Salem businessman. "We began to develop a surplus every year and returned money to the endowment. I attribute the success of the school to the faculty who enabled me to raise funds. You can't be out of the office raising funds, and in the office administering."
    The concentration on financial stability involved increasing admissions. "We increased the numbers," Schilagi recalls. "The faculty admissions committee took care of the quality." Schdagi wanted more people to know about the school. "We went out on public speaking tours, and went from not having a full class to having a waiting list."
    One way to increase admissions is to increase placements for graduates. "We invited companies to come to school to hire ourgraduates. We enlarged the facilities recruiters used. There were recruiters for wake Forest, but not for MBA students. We set tip a separate recruiting program for MBA students." In terms of maintaining the philosophy of the school, Schilagi "wanted this to be a place of learning first, with research coming second."

Accreditation
     In 1980, during the tenure of Dean Edward L. Felton Jr., the issue of accreditation was in the air. A year earlier, University Provost Ed Wilson had formed a committee to study the application process and recommend procedures for seeking accreditation. According to Wilson, the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) would not accredit the graduate program unless the undergraduate program was accredited, and the undergraduate program could not be accredited except as a separate school. And so the trustees created the school of business and accountancy to replace the department of business and accountancy, and sought accreditation for both.
    This was also a time for the decade-old school to reexamine its place in the community.     During his second year as dean, Felton asked Professor Robert Shively to assess the school's image in the community. Shively learned that most of the community knew little about the-school.
    In 1982, when Shively was appointed dean, his major thrust was to raise the visibility of the Babcock School. Shively observed that the young school - having once applied for accreditation and having had that application rejected as "premature" - needed recognition. "I wanted to gain regard for the faculty, from within the university and within the profession." And that, said Shively, "is derived from faculty research and publication." -
    Gaining recognition and respect for the school, Shively observed "had to be done like ripples in a pool. We had to establish respect here at home before we could expect national recognition You don't leap over the community, the region, and achieve national fame." In addition, Dean Shively's faculty had to establish an acceptable level of research and publication to secure promotion and tenure.
    In 1985, the school made ii, second attempt to become accredited by the AACSB. This time, the application was appnwed. "Three faculty members accompanied Bob to Orlando to await that news" recalls Jack Ferner. "When the sealed announcement finally arrived, the word was 'accredited.' A few champagne corks popped that night."
    With accreditation in hand, attention turned toward the everyday functioning of the school. Placement procedures no longer met the needs of the growing enrollment, and Shively established the first full-time placement office. In 1987, the evening program, today the largest of the four MBA programs at the school, admitted its first students.

Looking Ahead
    Just as the executive program was a tremendously successful innovation for 1970, the evening program had its impact. With enrollment in the evening program now surpassing that in the full-time, and with reactivation of the Institute for Executive Education, there will be greater emphasis on providing academic resources to the larger business community. To some extent because of attrition, but also largely because of the evening program, nine new full-time faculty members have been added in the last two years.
    When John McKinnon came from Sara Lee's Chicago offices to assume the duties of Dean of the Babcock School, he began looking to the future. He went to the faculty, the alumni, the board of visitors and asked: "What kind of school do you want this to be in five years?" From their ideas, and his own assessment, goals were clarified, along with strategies for realizing those goals. The mission statement that emerged is more a confirmation of old values in a context of changing times, than a change in direction. We will see a more connected relationship with the law school, and, largely as a response to community surveys, more emphasis on data management. We'll see graduates with expertise in strategic account management - the ability to work with customers as partners. We'll see the new venture into the area of health care management and the beginnings of the MD/MBA program.
    "We'll always be a general management school," says McKinnon, "We'll give students the skills to get their first job, and then well track into special areas that we will be known for. There will be increased emphasis on placement for our graduates"
    McKinnon stresses that Wake Forest MBA will constantly be focusing on quality. "We've been quietly doing things for years that other schools are just now beginning to do. We just haven't been talking about them."
    Wake Forest University has three times been ranked first in the US News and World Report survey of regional universities in south. McKinnon wants the MBA school to always maintain a national ranking at least equal to that of the university "To do that", says McKinnon, "we must go out and tell our story."

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