Back, Looking Forward
by Helen Etters, WAKE FOREST MBA MAGAZINE, Fall/Winter 1991, Vol.5,
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
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
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.
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
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."
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
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
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
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."