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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2
   

Cutting Edge
By Joan O’C. Hamilton

In June, UCSD’s Rady School of Management moved into its new building, and at the same time graduated its first crop of full-time students.

 
     


In the late 1990s, Robert S. Sullivan, then-Dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, got a call from California. A steering committee from UCSD was looking for help developing a new business school and it sought the advice of Sullivan, a 30-year veteran of some the nation’s best-known and highly regarded M.B.A. programs. Sullivan had taught at schools as varied as Addis Abba University in Ethiopia and Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, and worked with many brilliant academic colleagues conducting research; he’d seen thousands of gifted students; and he’d reviewed plenty of exciting and imaginative courses and curricula. But he’d also perceived a glaring and widespread shortcoming: “Most business schools are not well integrated into their campus community,” he says.

Sullivan immediately recognized that UCSD had a unique opportunity: it could build a program from scratch specifically designed to leverage the campus’ strengths, including its world class life science and technology departments, as well as the vibrant, entrepreneurial business community that surrounds it. “Within five miles we have the highest density of Ph.D.s in the United States,” Sullivan says. “Yet, every study pointed out that the Achilles heel of this region has been that it’s one of the only innovation communities in the country without a top-ranked business school.” Sullivan soon signed on as the new school’s founding dean and began an intense and successful push to raise the money and recruit a faculty to fill that gap. Today, sitting in the conference room adjoining his office in brand new Otterson Hall, now home of UCSD’s Rady School of Management, Sullivan, who also holds the Stanley and Pauline Foster Endowed Chair, says proudly, “This is the school the innovation community wanted.”

Sullivan’s success in raising more than $90 million to fund that effort was impressive by any measure, but all the more remarkable given two factors: first, there was no existing business school alumni base to tap; secondly, the UC Regents gave their approval for the project in 2001 just as the “dot com boom” was going bust and taking many would-be philanthropists with it. Sullivan says that what made the school a reality was the tremendous support of the local business community, including a $30 million gift from local financial services entrepreneur Ernest Rady. “I knew San Diego needed this facility,” says Rady, founder of Westcorp, now owned by Wachovia. “Its mission filled the legacy I want to leave—to give others the chance to enjoy a business career as much as I have enjoyed mine.”

That pivotal commitment triggered a wellspring within the community. The 50,000 square-foot Otterson Hall (named for the late William Otterson, co-founder of UCSD CONNECT, the regional development organization) for example, was built using entirely private funding from 340 donors, most of them local business people and companies. Explains Sullivan: “Ernest Rady bet on our future without any track record. He provided the credibility that allowed us to get others on board.”

From then on, progress was steady: The school’s Center for Executive Development began offering non-degree programs to local business professionals in 2003. The first part-time “FlexMBA” students began taking classes in 2004. And the first full-time M.B.A. class showed up in the fall of 2005 just as construction of Otterson was beginning, with classes meeting in Pepper Canyon Hall and other nooks and crannies. On a bright and wind-buffeted June 18, that first full-time class of ’07 graduated from the nearly complete courtyard outside the dramatic Otterson, a modern, bright building whose design evokes a ship with plenty of open-air decks headed for the Pacific Ocean.

It may have an impressive building, but what’s really setting Rady apart is its innovation agenda: “A disproportionate number of our students have advanced degrees” in engineering, science and technology fields, Sullivan notes. Members of the class of ’07 , for example, include 12 students with master’s degrees, eight Ph.D.s, and one M.D. In addition, 60 percent of the class had an undergraduate major in science, technology or engineering. When these students arrived, Sullivan explained, they could “speak the language of science but they weren’t credible with business analysts.”

Making those students what Sullivan calls “bi-lingual and bi-cultural” in business, too, involves several efforts, the most specific being Rady’s Lab2Market, a three-course sequence that begins in the classroom and moves into project-based environments. The school describes it as an “immersion” in the real opportunities and business plans for real companies. Already, two companies that began as Lab2Market projects have been founded by Rady M.B.A. alumni. Additionally, On Amir, an assistant professor of marketing who came to Rady from Yale, fields four or five calls a month from local companies, looking for help from his students. And in just two years, the students have completed dozens of independent study projects with companies, ranging from biotech concerns, big tech companies and a mutual fund to a high-end restaurant. Essentially they are exchanging real-life problem-solving experience for what amounts to millions of dollars worth of consulting services.

New graduate Nick Boyle is emblematic of this hands-on attitude, bringing his real-life experience to his studies at Rady. An accomplished chemist with a Ph.D. from the University of Sheffield in England, Boyle was leading a team of chemists for a biotech company working on exciting new HIV treatments.

“I saw how difficult it was becoming for Ph.D. level organic chemists to get a job in biotech/pharma,” Boyle says. Science journals have reported that employment in the U.S. chemical industry has been sliding in recent years and Boyle says that as recently as 2004, “the organic chemist unemployment rate was as high as it was at the end of World War II.” Rady’s focus on integrating innovation in science and technology with a business education captured his imagination, and he found himself fielding offers from companies within weeks of simply starting the M.B.A. program. “I attended hordes of networking meetings and took on consulting projects with local companies, all the while putting the classroom into context.”

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"Ernest Rady bet on our future without any track record. He provided the credibility that allowed us to get others on board."