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On the surface it seems to be one of the best jobs in the world: disposing of vast budgets, in charge of arguably some of the most intelligent staff and customers in the world, the best corner office you could wish for, endless travel and a salary to match. But would you really want to be the dean of a business school?

According to Leo Murray, the former long-standing dean of Cranfield School of Management in the UK, successful deans need to be astute and have leadership skills, business acumen, the ability to influence people and selling skills.

And, on top of all that, the job is becoming harder because it is changing.

Gabriel Hawawini, dean of Insead in France, says the role of business schools and of deans is changing because the market is changing. "Business schools are becoming much closer to the business world," he says.

In its turn, this is having an effect on the rather cosy world of academia. Peter Lorange, the principal of IMD in Lausanne, suggests that in the past there may have been "a tendency to choose a dean who would not cause any problems". But today, he says, "you need a very different calibre of person. Leadership is the key issue. The role is not ceremonial any more."

One of the big problems deans face is that a business school is both an academic institution and a cash-producing business. Running such a hybrid raises issues of how it should be managed; in particular, can one or should one run a business school like a business?

Steve Jones, dean of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler business school, believes that although a business school is run like a business, there are differences.

"In a business the measures of success are very simple- return on investment, earnings per share and so on. At a business school they are more about the knowledge you are generating through research and passing on to students."

Jordi Canals, dean of Iese in Spain, thinks that a business school must be both a business and a school.

"If you're too much a business then you become like a consulting firm or a corporate university," he says. "But if you are just a school then you are just another unit within a university."

What is the best background a dean can have, academic or business?Both Prof Jones at Kenan-Flagler and Chris Bones, the newly appointed principal at Henley Management College in the UK, have a business background and both believe this is a help.

"I have been through a lot of management development experiences that have helped me," Mr Bones says. "I know how to do it." Dealing with faculty is probably the most demanding aspect of a dean's job. Full professors with tenure are effectively self-employed with considerable powers to determine their own job specifications, an unlikely situation in large corporations.

"Decision making is collegiate," says Prof Canals, "but ultimately you have to make a decision, even if there is not total consensus. That might mean some people are upset. But it is important the process is seen as fair, that their opinions have been taken into account."

A dean must be a figurehead; providing leadership for faculty, students, staff and alumni, promoting the school to the external world in general and the school's alumni network in particular, understanding and managing the organisation, watching the competition and, not least, raising funds.

"The role of a dean is that we try to practise what we preach," says Edward Snyder, dean at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business. "There are two elements: how does this organisation work? Because you must understand it to influence it. And the competition - you must keep your eye on it and address your own weaknesses and exploit your strengths."

Prof Canals believes in an additional role, arguing that schools and their deans must interpret business and companies to society and communicate to companies what society expects of them.But translating this into on-the-job time means deans are spread pretty thinly.

Robert Joss, dean of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, spends 40 per cent of his time on fundraising and external relations; 15 per cent with faculty recruitment and development; 15 per cent with students, 5 per cent on applicants and admissions staff; 15 per cent with staff on operations, people, strategy reviews; and 10 per cent with the university.

Although deans outside the US may spend slightly less time on fundraising, this is not an untypical pattern.

"It is definitely very demanding in terms of time and energy, as much as any major CEO job," says Prof Joss. "But that is the general environment that our alumni find in their business life as well."

With such demanding schedules, deans must be prepared to delegate. While they accept this is essential, there are some issues they say cannot be delegated.

"What you can't delegate are things like the core message. And it is hard to delegate fundraising," says Prof Snyder. In other words, people who are going to donate funds want to know from the man or woman at the top how their donation will be used. Stanford is unusual in having a senior associate dean for operations, effectively a COO, who was brought in from business specifically to relieve the dean of some internal responsibilities. Prof Joss works with him to help recruit top managers and review financial, human and resources management.

With this level of workload, hassle and general strain, how long do deans remain in office? There have been some notably long-serving deans, such as Don Jacob, who served 26 years at Kellogg. But today's generation seems a little less ambitious. Dr Lorange at IMD, for example, suggests 10 years as a typical stint. This, he says, gives time to set out and implement a clear course for academic value creation. A shorter period might lead to too many "stop/go" policies and politicking related to the choice of a new dean.

When they do go, how do deans feel about it and what do they do?

"As a dean you certainly do give up some things," says Prof Snyder. "Some day I would hope to return [to teaching and research] but I hope I would have the intellectual energy to do it; research can be very tough."

On the other hand, it is hard to let go. "I think this is the most fun job in academia," adds Prof Snyder. "Unlike a university president or provost you are still close to faculty and students. It's a lot more fun than it was 10 years ago. It's rocking out there."

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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