University of Southern California

A Conversation with Gary Fraser
Assistant Dean and Executive Director of the Keenan MBA Career Services Center
March 11, 2013 • by News at Marshall

Gary Fraser is assistant dean and executive director of the Keenan MBA Career Services Center. Fraser joined USC last summer following 12 years in career services, having worked previously as dean of students and associate dean of MBA student affairs at the NYU Stern School of Business. Fraser has also held several positions in brand management, including posts at Sara Lee, Cadbury Beverages and Kraft/Nabisco. He earned a bachelor of science degree from Syracuse University, an MBA from NYU Stern and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

What’s your initial impression of the school in your first year?

Marshall has a lot of energy and excitement, but in a relaxed and insightful way. The MBA students are outwardly competitive; they do a great job in case competitions and representing the Marshall brand. While strong competitors, the students are collaborative; they share information and work with each other to make their skill sets better not only in the classroom, but also outside the classroom, completing projects or preparing for interviews. It’s also a small enough culture that everyone knows everyone. You don’t find this at too many business schools.

What is your vision for USC Marshall Career Services?

There is a lot of opportunity. The focus is on giving students skills to perform well and creating more individual, customized career development plans. Therefore, we are developing more structure around self-discovery, self-assessment themes and career exploration. By going through this in a structured way, students will increase their confidence and their knowledge of all these industries and the options that they have.

Overall, I’m a strong believer in leadership development. I have a doctorate in education and higher education administration and my dissertation topic was leadership development in graduate business schools. Business schools are challenged with delivering the academic content that will make people successful managers in the future, but there is also an expectation of creating the CEOs of the future. To cultivate leadership, there has to be an assessment of leadership style and how students are going to develop themselves in this capacity during their two years in business school. This starts with an assessment in career development, but it eventually evolves beyond career development.

What are your goals for the Career Center, and what steps have been taken to realize your vision?

There are two important partners in the process: the students and the companies. One of the major initiatives we’ve undertaken is to divide the staff so we have resources that are fully dedicated to students and career development and a second team that’s fully dedicated to company relationship building. This allows us to focus on each partner fully. As a staff, we want to get to know the students, we want them to feel that there is someone — ideally two or three people —with whom they can have an ongoing dialogue.

We are also determined to do a better job of leveraging data, to drill down on how we can best serve students. For example, we want to further understand how students are using Career Services—the timing, the frequency and the types of interactions they have with companies. In addition, we hope to garner feedback from recruiters about their experience with us.

Describe the strategies that you think are making a difference.

Marshall’s small class size allows students to have greater and more intimate interactions with companies. For example, in the fall and the spring, we have industry night, where we invite company representatives from companies representing certain industries, such as media and entertainment or social enterprise. This event has both structured and unstructured components. People in the industry get to network with each other -- that’s the unstructured component. In the structured component, we have roundtables with six to eight students at a table and a company representative, who is onsite to answer questions about the company.

Our students get a lot more face-to-face time with companies than they would at larger schools. That’s significant because the amount of information they can download from those events, let alone the network they start to establish with different companies in the industry, really becomes invaluable.

To what additional types of companies are you reaching out?

In the fall, we asked our students about the companies and industries in which they have an interest. The industries that surfaced are: healthcare, consulting, financial services, media and entertainment—and we do well in these industries. Yet we felt that there were more opportunities, so we have added some new companies in the healthcare and biotech spaces. In addition, we have increased exposure to some of the tech companies in the Bay Area. We’ve also seen different consulting firms, reaching out to firms that specialize in healthcare and other areas.

What is the defining element of your personal leadership style?

I’ve always felt that I’ve had a lot of success through relationship building. When I think about people I work with, whether those who report to me or those with whom I work alongside, it’s important to understand where they’re coming from, to have humility to know that you can’t do everything, and to realize that some people do certain things better than you can! I am a big believer that an open dialogue brings the best results. These steps are critical in helping build trust on all sides, which is such an important component in leadership.

Any advice for those applying to business school?

The first thing prospective students should determine is what they want to get out of an MBA program. Sometimes students think about it tactically, and I really think they need to think about skill sets they want to acquire, content that they want to learn and ways they want to think. Just like finding the right match in a company setting, they want to find the right match in terms of a school. My best advice? Find out as much as you can about the business school in which you are interested. Then take some time to do a self-assessment and understand what you want to get out of the program, as well as envision what you’re going to be in two or three years after you graduate. If can you do that exercise first, you’ll find the schools that are probably a good match.

Is there anything else that you feel is really important for people to know about USC Marshall?

Marshall is a unique environment. When you think about top business schools, normally there are 300 to 600 students in a class, and we have a smaller program that treats each student individually and simultaneously has a wide range of courses that allow one to customize their experiences. This is just one of things that attracted me to Marshall. In addition, as a learning community, Marshall is very collaborative; it’s great to walk the halls and see everyone engaged with each other in a manner that supports growth. People are trying to see how they help each other reach their potential. It’s fun to work in an environment like that every day and see how students evolve in the short time they are here.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.