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Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding discusses reappointment, global business challenges

On Feb. 15, President Vincent Price and Provost Sally Kornbluth announced that Bill Boulding, who has served since 2011 as dean of the Fuqua School of Business, will serve another five-year term through June 30, 2023. A nationally recognized scholar of marketing and management, Boulding has bolstered Fuqua’s interdisciplinary collaborations around campus, developed its international strategic partnerships and strengthened existing degree programs. The Chronicle’s Rob Palmisano communicated with Boulding over email to learn more about his thoughts on being reappointed, the position and his goals for Fuqua moving forward.

The Chronicle: What was your reaction upon learning you had been reappointed to serve another five-year term?

Bill Boulding: I was humbled and excited by the news. It is a privilege to be part of such a remarkable community. I am inspired daily by our students, staff, faculty and alumni. Our community truly believes in the transformational power of the education we provide. We believe business can be a force for good in the world. I’m excited to continue our mission of developing business leaders who can both do well for their companies and good for the world.

TC: Can you walk me through a typical day of being the Dean of Fuqua?

BB: One of my favorite things about the job is there really is no typical day. When I’m on campus, I’m meeting with students, faculty and staff. We are constantly talking about ways to tweak and improve the current curriculum and experience, as well as innovation to make sure we maintain relevance for what our students need today. Many days I’m also traveling to meet with our alumni, advisory boards or business leaders. I think it’s important that we stay plugged in with industry so that we are making sure we are graduating leaders that have the skills the market needs.

TC: What do you love most about what you do?

BB: I am so energized by our students, alumni, faculty and staff. It’s really incredible for me to witness the amazing examples of the ways our community is using business to impact the world positively. We strongly believe in a way of working we call “Team Fuqua.” It hinges on the ability to pull out the strengths in each other to work toward a common goal. It is baked into everything we do during a student’s experience in our programs. However, it also translates into their careers. Our graduates are the individuals in companies who capture hearts and minds of their teams and can bring people who are very different together and harness the power that lies in difference to truly find better ways to do things and thus meaningfully innovate. I strongly feel the world needs those type of leaders perhaps more than ever during such polarizing times. I’m never prouder than when I hear about how one of our alumni was able to leverage the type of leadership he or she learned at Fuqua to help solve a tough challenge in a company or in society.

TC: If you had to name your proudest accomplishment as dean so far, what would it be, and why?

BB: A lot of folks might assume it was when Fuqua was ranked number one by Bloomberg Businessweek. That really was a great day because it was an external recognition of what we already knew—that we were developing the kind of collaborative leaders and research insights needed in business today. However, there are also less visible moments in which I’m tremendously proud because we have such a committed community to our mission. For example, our faculty very quickly approved a number of innovations this past year—in part so some of the additions to curriculum would be accessible to current students. Our staff went to work implementing the innovations immediately. It was a tremendous amount of work to change so much so quickly, but it was also the right direction in making sure we are relevant for our students. I’m lucky that I get to witness that type of commitment frequently and that makes me proud.

TC: Can you recall the greatest challenge you've faced as dean so far and any lessons you took away from overcoming that challenge?

BB: When I first started as dean, I was trying to do too much. There were so many demands on my time and I felt each of them was important. I had a conversation with alumnus Tim Cook who now leads Apple. Tim told me to pick three or four focuses and stick to them. That simple advice has stuck with me and really helped me make the best use of my time.

TC: How do you believe the nature of "business" is changing, and what changes do you foresee over the next five to 10 years?

BB: The big question is what role business will play in an increasingly polarized world. Will business exacerbate the rifts we see in society or act as a healing, binding force? The former is possible if we push on opportunities that will avail themselves because of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics without stopping to think through the ethics and the role of human judgment. The latter is possible as we see businesses stepping up to support members of teams and communities at risk of being marginalized in such polarized and emotionally charged times.

TC: Do any of these changes, in turn, factor into specific changes you'd like to see at Fuqua moving forward?

BB: That’s a great question and we are continually evaluating the challenges being faced by business and leadership today. For example, we have a strategy class being taught by [Fuqua Associate Professor] Aaron “Ronnie” Chatterji that is focusing on the intersection of business and politics. Students grapple with real-world issues leaders are facing, including weighing complex factors about when to speak out publicly on a political or social issue.  We are also developing a course specific to issues facing women in business and leadership. General Martin Dempsey is also teaching a course for us about real-world leadership challenges. The demands of business leadership are changing and it’s important our students be exposed to frameworks to think through those challenges during their time at Fuqua. In addition to the leadership curriculum, it’s important we are staying current on the technology side of things with courses in blockchain, AI, machine learning and how to use big data. In addition to our master’s programs focusing on data analytics, we’ve added a certificate in our MBA program focusing on that subject. It’s critical that we are teaching folks to not just think about how to find insights in big data, but how to square that with human judgment and making sure we stay true to core values.


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