The following interview with SMU Cox School of Business Dean Matthew Myers appeared in the Nov. 20, 2017, edition of The Dallas Morning News.
November 29, 2017
By Jim Mitchell
Business education needs to change with the demands of the times, says Matthew Myers, a global marketing and strategy expert who recently took over as dean of SMU's Cox School of Business. A specialist in cross-border business relationships and Latin American economies, Myers spoke recently with The Dallas Morning News editorial board about his aspirations for the business school, its relationship with Dallas-area companies and ways to graduate better MBAs.
What made you want this job, and what do you want to do with it?
At a business school, it's extraordinarily important to have the most robust relationships you can with the business community, obviously. You've probably heard the saying, "You can't have a world-class city if you don't have a world-class university," and I add that you can't have a world-class university unless you have a world-class business school.
I think we need to really grow social relationships — not just corporate relationships, but strategic corporate relationships. But also with the city — working with the Dallas Regional Chamber and other nonprofits. We have a lot of room to run, and that offers us an enormous amount of opportunity, not only with the companies that are here but also the companies we want to bring here.
Technology innovation entrepreneurship is a big part of what we want to do. We want to get more involved inside of the incubation of potential community here. We want to understand how venture capital works in Dallas, which is different than how it works in Austin, which is different than how it works in the Bay Area.
Does this represent a change in the school's international thrust?
It's so important for us, as the Dallas-Fort Worth community, to be thinking about our position in the global competitive landscape. We're not just competing against names that are coming up recently: Denver and Atlanta and Houston. We're competing for talent; we're competing for research dollars on a truly global basis. We can't sacrifice one for the other. It all works together.
What's the biggest challenge to understanding the venture community here?
We want to make sure that the type of research we're doing has value to the community. That's critical. We have to have the right kind of connections with the business community, a back-and-forth flow of ideas and communication of what sort of business solutions are needed inside of businesses.
Emory in Atlanta is a great example of a university that works closely with the business community. They have really strong research commitments, strong relationships with the businesses that drive the direction of what the research looks like. Business schools are in conjunction with engineering schools who are conducting research, or business schools and medical schools are conducting research.
If we don't have those relationships, it's really difficult for us to put the type of research on the plate and have the sort of initiatives in place that help the business community, and there's a disconnect. We want to reconnect, and how we reconnect is often through the type of research we're able to do.
So what's the strategy to develop the school in this broader way?
Since 2008, 2009, what companies have put together, relative to their talent recruitment and talent acquisition strategies themselves, has changed dramatically. There is a flat line relative to the number of MBAs being hired in this country. And there's a flat line relative to the number of MBA applications. Not surprising — and the correlation is readily apparent.
All business schools put out really good students who can run spreadsheets, write marketing plans and do second-order derivatives, but all business schools aren't putting out really good leaders. Because of that, they were looking at a smaller constellation of really strong business schools, particularly undergraduate business schools, where they could recruit that talent earlier.
Many companies now are looking for sophomores, or even second-semester freshmen, to determine whether they might be good fits in their leadership model, as opposed to a good accountant, a good marketer or a good supply-team manager. To be able to survive against our competitors, leadership acquisition is something that we have to improve.
What's the venture-capital community saying about what's needed?
Well, they are looking for ways to recruit talent that understands the traditional investing models are broken. And how they're going to recruit that talent is largely investing inside of the programs that can provide those graduates who can run directly into venture capital or even private equity. More and more, you'll see the top business schools have very strategic relationships with independent investors, or independent private equity firms, to help build the types of programs they need to put up to the graduates.
It could be supply-chain expertise. It could be business analytics or a combination of mechanical engineering, engineering and marketing. And that's where a lot of the feedback's coming from, relative to the growth of the differentiated types of programs that are being offered at the Stanfords and the Berkeleys and the NYUs, and the future of the Cox school, too.
That's where the real growth and the competitive edge inside of business schools are going to come from. It's not going to come from just having the best finance department. It's going to come from producing the types of graduates who have specific talents to go into the investment community or the advisory community.
How will you differentiate yourself?
You have to be willing to make the difficult decisions to build the types of programs that address that shift. All business schools aren't doing that. I don't think all universities are doing that, either. Universities are like tankers. It takes 20 years to make a small change. A key point is that if you're not willing to recognize the shift in the market for talent and research, you keep doing the same thing. The status quo is definitely a dangerous position to be in.
So is there any vision for what you see, say 10 years from now, in Dallas, as to what kind of business stronghold this will be?
I'm trying to figure out why the network isn't a little more tied in, like Atlanta. Georgia Tech and Emory work together. A constellation of excellent universities isn't doing their own thing all of the time. They work together for the betterment of Atlanta. With SMU, TCU, UTD, UT Southwestern, there's a lot of things we could do. One of my big areas of interest is how supply-chain clusters influence economic development and developing economies, i.e., how technology and innovation impact the distribution of wealth inside of an urban community like Dallas and Fort Worth. Not the redistribution of wealth, but the distribution of wealth.
Technology and innovation are making a whole lot of folks at the upper strata very wealthy. We also know that a lot of folks are middle and lower class. Everybody understands that's a major problem here. Many European cities understood this and have recruited specific industrial sectors and venture capital — Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rotterdam. This is also an opportunity for companies to give back the value of the triple bottom line— revenue, sociological impact, environmental impact.
What do you know about how Amazon works with universities?
You know, I had the opportunity to work with the vice president of the supply chain for all of Amazon when I was at the University of Tennessee. It is a different way of thinking, of looking at things. There are no boundaries. They are looking for new models, innovative ways to source the ideas from inside and outside the organization. It would be phenomenal to be a part of that.
No organization sits in isolation in a community. Successes beget successes. And those constellations and constructs that go from the success of something like what's happened in Seattle could benefit us in ways on the educational side that we can't even imagine at this stage. This region must be a willing and strategic partner, and how we communicate that back to Amazon is going to be key.
We need to be ready. If this doesn't work out this time, we need to be ready next time, to be thinking about that next iteration of opportunity that's going to come to town, and how we're going to be able to articulate that. Are we producing enough talent for their pipeline? Are these the educational communities where the people who would be moving here, from the standpoint of quality of life, want to put their kids?
All that matters, and we have to be ready for it and have that introspection now so that we can have that ready the next time. The University of Washington exploded with Seattle — the quality of students, the quality of faculty and research dollars. Correlation is not causation, but I'm going to guess they had a lot to do with each other.
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