Geoffrey Garrett has joined the USC Marshall School of Business as its 18th dean. He becomes the Robert R. Dockson Dean’s Chair in Business Administration and professor of management and organization.
He is the former dean of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
We asked him to describe his initial steps over the summer and his vision for Marshall’s future.
Welcome to USC Marshall! You’re taking the reigns of a business school during a worldwide-pandemic and corresponding financial hit. It’s not your typical start.
Where do you start?
I am a big believer in always trying to turn lemons into lemonade. One really positive consequence of the pandemic is that I have been much more involved in Marshall and at the university before I formally took office than would ordinarily be the case for a dean transition.
I know I still have an immense amount to learn about the Marshall School and USC, and that is why I plan to spend the summer listening to and learning from as many people as I can. But of course, I cannot take my eye off the ball of executing a fall semester that will be unlike anything any of us has ever experienced, in ways that are best for our faculty, staff, students and stakeholders.
Higher education is facing challenges to its very business model. What’s your take on the future of business education?
The future of business education is bright, and Marshall is extremely well placed to be in the global vanguard going forward—we’re seeing that in the tremendous student interest in our programs, even during the pandemic. People understandably want real bang for their educational buck, and leading business schools like Marshall clearly deliver. Nonetheless, we must continually work on further improving the value proposition behind our education, because the world of universities is changing just as rapidly as the real world of business.
I think about business education on three dimensions—degrees vs. professional development; undergraduate vs. graduate; online vs. on-campus. The very good news for Marshall is that it has substantial expertise and experience on all of these dimensions. In many ways, it is more like a business university than just a business school, and I think that is a great place to be.
"I tend to think much more in terms of “challenging opportunities” than challenges, per se. The core challenging opportunity for Marshall is to continue its powerful rise up the ranks of the world’s best business schools, knowing that with every rung you climb, the next one becomes harder to reach."—Dean Geoff Garrett
What are Marshall’s strengths, in your estimation?
Universities are all about their people, and the people at Marshall I’ve already met are just incredible. Not only have they generously welcomed me, they have also been willing to share their insights and volunteer their support. Together, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
My sense is that one of Marshall’s greatest strengths is the palpable feeling of community. Everyone told me about the “Trojan family.” Now I know it is real. That loyalty and commitment is an incredible asset on which to build the School’s future.
Not far behind are Marshall’s centrality to USC, USC’s centrality to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles’ centrality to the world. Location really matters, and Marshall’s location could not be better.
Our challenges? How will you mitigate in this environment?
I am an optimist by nature, but I hope a realistic one. I tend to think much more in terms of “challenging opportunities” than challenges, per se. The core challenging opportunity for Marshall is to continue its powerful rise up the ranks of the world’s best business schools, knowing that with every rung you climb, the next one becomes harder to reach.
Winston Churchill seems to have had a quotation for almost every situation. Paraphrasing slightly, my favorite one for the unprecedented turbulence and disruption all around us goes something like: if you want a kite to soar, fly it into the wind.
I also believe now is a time for us all to think the unthinkable. Universities are infamously status quo-biased institutions. As a sage friend of mine likes to say, “Everyone likes progress, but no one likes change.” Right now, I feel we just have more degrees of freedom to approach everything we do differently. And we will have to, because the cost of inaction right now feels really high.
What do you want Marshall to look like in 10 years’ time?
As a wise econometrician is said to have observed: prediction is hard, particularly about the future. All the more so in an epoch that is characterized by pervasive uncertainty and unprecedentedly rapid change.
My hope is that Marshall will be a core player in shaping not only the business world, but also the whole world. People often criticize business for being part of the problem. Going forward, I think business will—and will have to be—part of the solution for most of the big issues confronting us. The Marshall School is well-poised to help make sure this becomes reality.