Idalene (Idie) Kesner is interim dean of the Kelley School at Indiana University in the US, where she studied for her MBA and PhD. She joined the faculty in 1995, after teaching for 12 years at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, and was chair of the full-time MBA programme from 2003-2006 and then chair of the department of management and entrepreneurship for a further three years.
In her spare time, Prof Kesner enjoys the theatre and foreign language films. She has also served as a consultant for companies working on strategic and board-related issues.
1. What is the average day of a dean like?
A typical day on campus starts with 90 minutes of exercise. The bulk of my day is then spent in meetings. On any given day I might spend a total of 30-60 minutes making short presentations and a similar amount of time might be devoted to working with various members of the marketing staff on external communications. Lunch is typically a working lunch with members of the teaching faculty or staff. On average I try to leave the office by seven to share dinner with my husband. [But] approximately three-four evenings per week involve some type of school or university function.
2. What do you enjoy most about your job?
I like to find creative ways to resolve challenges and take advantage of opportunities. There are so many exciting things happening in the higher education industry. The sky is the limit when it comes to capitalising on these opportunities, which range from geographic expansion (emerging markets throughout Asia, Latin America or even Africa) to new methods for delivering education (synchronous and/or asynchronous online education; Moocs (massive open online courses).
3. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
My greatest source of pride is having earned my PhD from Kelley. This accomplishment launched my career in academia, which in turn gave me the opportunity to achieve all my career goals.
4. What is the worst job you have ever had?
When I studied for my PhD, stipends were not as generous as they are today. Therefore, to earn extra money, I agreed to sleep overnight (serving as a chaperone) in the dorm at a camp for high school cheerleaders. My logic in accepting the job was that everyone would be on their best behaviour and tired after a full day of strenuous exercise; therefore, I would be paid to sleep. I clearly didn’t understand anything about high school cheerleaders.
5. What inspires you?
I am most inspired by people who unselfishly contribute to their communities. While there are many people who contribute large sums of money to worthy causes and I admire them for their generosity, I tend to be inspired more by people who devote their time and energy and build their careers around helping people and communities in need.
6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
My advice in dealing with male-dominated environments is the same as the advice I would give to women in business: be yourself. Rather than copying how others around you manage, use the style and approach that is right for you. Having said this, I believe there are still differences in the way men and women lead and manage.
In general, I think women are better at sensing things, whether this is through body language, tone or message content. Nevertheless, I am convinced that some of the more commonly cited male-female differences of the past, in areas such as negotiation,communication and even creative thinking, have dissipated. With more women in senior leadership positions, the observations that at one time were attributed to gender differences are recognised more often as personality and stylistic differences and business training in today’s schools is doing a better job of helping both male and female students fill gaps and build well-rounded leadership styles.
7. What is your favourite memory of school?
My favourite memory of school occurred in my first college-level strategy course. I was presenting my case analysis to the class. At the end of the class, [my] professor approached me and asked if I had ever considered a career [in academia]. Although flattered, it was the farthest thing from my mind. At the time I was interviewing for marketing jobs. The professor approached me a second time during the semester noting again that she was impressed by the way I presented my findings. Eventually I took the next step. I marvel today at how little things – a simple observation by someone – can change the course of a person’s life.
8. What is your favourite business book?
Because I came to my dean’s role from an academic path, it’s difficult to answer this question. Asking a business educator to name a favourite book or business case is like asking a film critic to name a favourite movie or a conductor to name a favourite musical score. Different books and cases are useful for highlighting different lessons. No single book or case is the perfect tool.
9. What are your future plans?
If I’m fortunate enough to be selected as the full-time dean, my plan is to serve Kelley for the duration of my term. We are in the midst of a multi-year $63m building and renovation project, which when finished will result in 520,000sq feet of classroom and office space complete with state-of-the-art technology. As an early entrant in the market for online business education – we started our Kelley Direct MBA programme in 1999 – we will [also] leverage this platform to launch several new programmes.
10. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
Like many busy mothers, I wish I had spent more time with my kids when they were young. Even now, I wish I could spend more time with them. My children are adults; my son lives in New York and my daughter lives in Washington DC. We talk regularly by telephone, but I don’t get to see them as often I would like. Similarly, I wish I had been able to spend more time with my parents when they were alive. Their love, guidance and pride in my accomplishments served as an enormous source of inspiration for me. I wish I had been able to see them more often to express my gratitude.