For a business school to appoint a woman as dean is unusual enough. For the same woman to head two business schools consecutively is rare indeed.
However, Judy Olian, who recently took up the reins at the Anderson school at the University of California at Los Angeles, had led the Smeal school at Pennsylvania State University for five and a half years.
Prof Olian joins Laura Tyson, who has been dean at both the Haas school at UC Berkeley and London Business School, in a club of just two women who have headed more than one top school. Like Prof Tyson, Prof Olian is also working outside her native country - she is a native of Australia, while Prof Tyson, now at LBS, is a US citizen.
And if that is not enough of an achievement, on July 1 Prof Olian will become vice chair of the AACSB, the US business school accreditation body, with a view to taking over the chair of the organisation in July 2007.
For many, the move from from Pennsylvania to California might have a lot to do with the weather and the culture – the Anderson school is situated just off Los Angeles’s famous Sunset Boulevard. But for Prof Olian, 54, it was a decision based on scholarship. “It’s such an intellectual environment. When you are in the business of knowledge, UCLA is at the top.”
Prof Olian is no mean academic herself. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and a masters and doctoral degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Although an organisational behaviour specialist by training, she might easily be taken for a marketing professor, as she promotes both the university and the business school. She describes the University of California as “the greatest university system in the world”.
She also believes California is a great place to run a business school. The size of several countries in its own right, California has a mix of ingredients which Prof Olian believes are key to business.
It is strong in biosciences, it is the global centre for media and entertainment, and it is huge in real estate. Perhaps most significantly, it is the homeland of entrepreneurial culture and many of the great entrepreneurial companies. “I think the entrepreurial company will be the corporate model of the 21st century,” she says.
As the eighth dean of the Anderson school – she took over in January from Bruce Willison, who had been dean since July 1999 – Prof Olian will have challenges posed by the University of California system as well as the regular problems faced by any business school professor.
Most notably, the University of California is a state university, and like publicly funded universities everywhere in the world has been subject to spending cuts. “Only now are we back to where we were before the dotbomb,” she says. Course fees have risen and the Anderson school will look to its spirited new dean to continue the fund-raising efforts begun by her predecessor.
At Smeal, the college raised more than $55m from private donors and foundations during Prof Olian’s tenure as dean and she spearheaded the campaign to raise $68m for Smeal’s new building, which was opened in 2005.
But UCLA also has a governance system all its own, which Prof Olian believes has both advantages and drawbacks. On the plus side, those academics in charge are “intolerant of mediocrity” she says, safeguarding the intellectual heart of the university. On the downside, the governance is “overly process driven”.
In the universal race to snatch the best faculty, Prof Olian says the Anderson school has attracted between eight and 10 staff this year, bringing the total to 78. The hunt for the best will continue.
New programmes are also on the cards: the first will be a one-year MSc in financial engineering. And old programmes are doing well. The full-time MBA has seen applications rise by between 10 and 12 per cent this year. This will probably mean an incoming class of 360, up from 330.
The MBA for full-time employees is doing even better. It has seen a 40 per rise in applications this year. “The biggest growth is in part-time enrolment,” says Prof Olian.
In executive education, the Anderson school prides itself on its Leadership Suite, which is comprised of the UCLA African-American Leadership Institute; Latino Leadership Institute; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Leadership Institute; and Women’s Leadership Institute.
The faculty who teach on each of the five-day programmes specialise in each a specific area.
Like all deans, Prof Olian is planning to make the Anderson school more global in its approach to business.
The school has strong links with Asia and runs an executive MBA programme in Singapore with the National University of Singapore.
Now it is looking for partners in Latin America and Europe. In Europe, London is seen as the most likely destination.
All of which will be a new start for the Anderson school as well as for Prof Olian.