BIZ ED Linda Livingstone Dean of The George Washington University School of Business. Credit: David Parry/ FT
Linda Livingstone: "A lot of people come [to GWU] because it is in the centre of where it is all happening"

You can see it as a problem or you can see it as an opportunity - it is a mantra that business school deans love to recite. However, for Linda Livingstone, the newly-appointed dean of the business school at George Washington University, it is a saying that has been more real than for most.

In August, she took over an institution that suffered deep divisions as a result of the very public firing of its previous dean, Doug Guthrie, in August 2013. Yet her attitude is cheery. “I was able to join with a lot more information than in a traditional business school,” she says.

She acknowledges, however, that “there is pain in that kind of transition,” and a lot of patience is now required to listen to staff and professors.

Located in Washington DC’s Foggy Bottom district, a stone’s throw from the Pentagon, the IMF and the World Bank, diplomacy is second nature to most academics at the 200-year-old GWU, and Prof Livingstone is clearly up to the brief.

Prof Guthrie’s problems were as much about the recession as about strategy, she argues. “Any time you want to change, it’s difficult. There were some really interesting ideas, but it [the strategy] got tangled up in the economic issues.”

The DC business school might seem a million miles away - in attitude as well as location - from Prof Livingstone’s previous business school, the Graziadio school at Pepperdine University, where she was dean for 12 years. It has its main campus in Malibu, the home of surfers and Hollywood movie stars. But the two business schools have a lot in common, says the chipper professor of management.

Both are grounded in the idea of service - Pepperdine is a faith university - and driven by location, she says. “A lot of people come [to GWU] because it is in the centre of where it is all happening.” It is a university with strong links between business, society and public policy, she adds. “It draws faculty and students with those interests.”

With 1,600 undergraduate and 2,100 graduate students - including full and part-time MBAs, specialised masters and doctoral students - the DC business school has carved itself a real niche in subjects such as cybersecurity, government relations and financial literacy. It is now developing a speciality in data analytics, which the new dean believes is relevant to government, the aerospace industry and the military.

But Prof Livingstone believes there are three areas were the business school can still do better. Although the school has strong links in China - it runs a masters degree with Renmin University in Beijing, for example - other international partnerships are needed, says the dean.The business school also needs to better exploit its location in the American capital. And like all business schools, it needs to work more closely with other departments in the university.

Relocating across the US and taking on the top job at a new business school may seem like more than enough work for most professors, but not for Prof Livingstone. This summer she also became president of the AACSB, the US business school accreditation body, and she has big plans there too. “The next phase for the AACSB is how we expand quality business education.”

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