A Conversation with Dean Brian Mitchell
Having completed two semesters of Business School, I believe that faculty is the top influencer of the MBA experience. In my opinion, a school can have the top facilities, a great location, and amazing students, but all of those factors can be mitigated by a sub-par faculty. The best part of the summer experience of the Emory 1-year MBA program is that we, the students, have had direct and unfiltered access to all levels of faculty.
I have really enjoyed getting to know the faculty and leadership here at GBS, and after polling some classmates, it sounds like we all want to get to know one of our leaders a little more: Dean Brian Mitchell. I was able to catch up with Dean Brian to get his thoughts on the transition from the private sector to academia, the challenges of creating a business from scratch, and how Phil Jackson has influenced his teaching philosophies, among many other things.
- What is it about the GBS culture that fosters transparency and accessibility to faculty and leadership?
It’s very deliberately engrained in our culture, as we want you as students to have the most exposure and best experience possible. We are also teaching students what we want them to model as business leaders. My dad told me a long time ago that “every business is a people business”, and I still believe that today.
How accessible and engaged you are as a leader says a lot to your team and a lot about your organization, and that is part of what we try to model here. Our accessibility is also one of the factors that make us special as a business school. Our deliberately small sized classes along with high staff and faculty interaction provide our students with the most intimate educational experience possible.
- Why did you choose Goizueta after such a long business career?
I was constantly coming back to campus to help mock interview students, guest lecturing in the marketing classes, and pretty much help out in any way that I could. After some time, it occurred to me, when I was approached about this position, that I have been doing this for the last decade without having been paid a nickel for it. I was so passionate about this school and these people that this career transition was a not a hard one for me to make.
- What is your favorite subject or course taught at GBS?
When I was a student here, I did a directed study with Dr. Rick Gilkey on adjusting traditional marketing modeling to the behavior of physicians as consumers. That blew me away in terms of my ability to design that project and go through the primary field research and reporting. Directed studies allow students to explore their interests, their areas of strength and improvement, and really personalize the educational experience. I always encourage all GBS students to explore directed study opportunities, as it’s a course that’s all about you.
- How do you feel about the current status of Goizueta Business School? What are your long-term and short-term visions and goals for GBS?
I am very happy with the current state of GBS, as well as where we are heading. We are on a phenomenal trajectory as a school, as we are tracking well with an incremental strategic brand equity growth plan that we articulated when I joined 5 years ago. Our level of brand recognition and share of voice are increasing every year, which I think is a great thing.
The outcomes for our students are also best in class, not only in placement rates, but in the quality of jobs, roles, and companies that top MBA students covet and have earned.
I am heavily focused on the globalization of Goizueta, getting our students more opportunities for global experiences and opportunities, getting our faculty research more exposure outside of the US, and getting our brand to spread outside of the US as well. We have strategic partnerships that we have been developing with a number of countries that will allow us to continue to globalize in the near future. One recent globalization initiative that we are very proud of is our 1-year program’s summer module, which is in Prague and Munich this year. We implemented this based on previous class feedback, and it has been a great success.
- What are your thoughts on 1 year programs and do you think they will continue to expand?
I think the 1-year program is a huge strength for our school, and it is a big differentiator as we go to market. It allows us to leverage our strong faculty to touch more students than they normally would, and it allows us to satisfy a growing demand in the marketplace for a 1 year MBA experience in a way that gives students a very high return on their MBA investments. As we’ve seen a high demand from quality students seeking a top tier 1 year MBA, we believe that many schools will follow suit and expand their offerings in the near future with similar programs.
- From what you’ve seen so far, what stands out to you about the 1-year class of 2017?
I think this class is an indicator of a lot of things that our team here behind the scenes have worked hard on and gotten right. We have folks like Katie Lloyd, Corey Dortch, Harriet Ruskin, and Amy Bentley working tirelessly to put together a class of students that can jump right in and completely engage academically through an intensive summer program, and that is what they have done with this class. We hit our marks in the ways I wanted us to hit them.
- You recently completed the Harvard Higher Education Program. What did you learn from that experience and what would you like to bring back to GBS?
I knew I could not take all of the lessons I learned from working in the private sector in the pharmaceutical industry for the past 20 years and just apply them here in the higher education world. My goal was to get a more thorough understanding of this environment and industry, as well as my stakeholders. I thought the best way to do that was to go to school and learn about these things.
I wanted to learn more and master the shared governance structure of higher education, which often differs from a traditional corporate structure. We have seen leaders from the private sector move into academia with tone-deaf attitudes that has catastrophic results, and my goal was to not be that type of leader. This course really taught me how to do that and there is a lot that it allowed me to bring back to GBS. It was a phenomenal, fantastic experience that I am glad I had, and now I am so glad to be back home here with my family.
- You lived every B-school students dream and started your own passion project business, Highland Cigar Co. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
That was the most fun marketing project I have ever worked on, with no offense to my marketing professors. It was a labor of love, and I do suggest that everyone explores what their passion projects would be, and if all of the stars align, I recommend that you all try it. The stars aligned for me, and we built a unique and recognized brand that I am very proud of. I worked on it for 8 years, and sold it last year. It taught me that while it was a great side passion project, I did not want to live that on a daily basis. I wanted to live Goizueta Business School every day. That being said, Highland Cigar Co. is still one of my favorite places to be.
- On the Highland Cigar Co. Website, it indicates that your philosophy is that “life should be celebrated every day”. Can you elaborate on that?
That quote is from me, and I was insistent that this language remain a part of the business. The essence of that idea is not about a cigar or a glass of champagne, it is really about enjoying life and celebrating moments every day, however you chose to do so. Every moment should be celebrated.
- Much has been written about networking, and it is on the minds of many B-school students. What is your philosophy and/or advice on effective networking?
I think that the importance of networking is very high. Networks are priceless, and the key to building one is coming from a genuine place, rather than a need basis. You never know where your life is going to take you and where you may intersect with someone, but those connections will at time benefit you and at times benefit someone else. The best networks are formed and maintained out of a genuine common denominator, and with whom you resonate and have the best connections with as opposed to people with only the best credentials will always make for the strongest network.
- What’s your biggest failure? What did you learn from it?
There have been plenty, both professional and personal, but there is one very clear example that comes to mind. A few years ago, I broke my femur, the largest bone in my body, riding my bicycle. I was in a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with, and was overconfident in my riding and navigating abilities at that time, which resulted in a fall that broke my leg. There two main failures there: failure to plan and overconfidence, that I had to ponder over the next year of rehab and two surgeries. This accident taught me how to learn and recover from my mistakes, and as a reminder to myself, I carry the three 4-5-inch-long titanium screws that were put into and removed from my leg with me everywhere I go.
As an epilogue to that story, I revisited the crash site last year, better prepared and more cautious, and completed the ride I had set out to do on that fateful day to conquer my past failure.
- I know you are a big sports fan, do you see any correlations between sports and business?
Yes, absolutely. I am a huge sports fan, and have been all of my life. I think there are analogies from individual players, teams, preparedness, and trash talk. Sports also shows how there are little things that differentiate the good from the great, and they also help us understand what makes great teams that perform well over time.
There are parallels at the leadership level of business with the coaches in sports. As you can imagine, I am a huge (11-time NBA Champion coach) Phil Jackson fan, and I study the way he motivated and lead his teams. Phil is a voracious reader, and gave many books to his players to inspire and prepare them, which I think is a great leadership trait. I’ve never told anyone here this, but Phil was one of the inspirations behind the GBS reading series, so you all have him to thank for that.
I also think there is something to be said about keeping score. We do it in sports, but the important of metrics in business is paramount to succeeding and winning. The competitive nature of sports should translate to business, and I believe that all top performers want to win.
- I know you have some experience in writing white papers (?), and thought leadership. What do you think the importance of that is?
I think it is extremely important, and think it can be underappreciated. It is very important because it helps you remain a student of your business or craft, giving it some depth of thought that can often be lost. Depth is important, and I believe being a deep thinker and researcher are attributes that separate real leaders from people who just talk the talk. Talking is great, but you need the substance and knowledge to truly master a craft.
- Being green is a huge focus of GBS and something students here really care about. What do we do well there and what would you like to improve?
We are very proud of our LEED certification, as retro-fitting our buildings took a lot of work. We also do very well in separating how we dispose of our trash (including recycling and composting), and this effort is led by Harriet Ruskin. I think we still use way too much paper, and it is something we are actively working on. I believe we can go paperless, which sounds impossible, but it isn’t. The traditional higher education model is paper-based, but I think there is a middle ground that we can get to that we have not yet made it to.
I also think we can talk more and teach more about clean energy. I’d like to see that infused into our curriculum, which could inspire people to seek alternative forms of energy. For example, after learning more about clean diesel technology, I was inspired to purchase a clean diesel vehicle, which I really love. Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “if you know better, you should do better”, and I think that the more people know, the better decisions they can make. I want us to disseminate more of that information at GBS.
- How do you see the role of alumni in the GBS community, and what do you think the best opportunities for them to get involved and give back are?
The role of alumni is very important, as you will be an alum for much longer than you will have ever been a student. I think it is important for alumni to give back financially when they are able and genuinely willing, and also to give back in the form of time spent, which is invaluable. Helping current and prospective students with mock interviews and mentoring is so important. We all got to where we are with help from previous generations, and that is what I continuously encourage alumni to do. GBS alumni are the living testament of the power of our program, which can help students chose and navigate our various programs.
- How have you balanced your own personal interests with your work and family life?
I always encourage students to not “put the cart before the horse”, meaning that when you are looking at the next phase of your career, don’t overthink the work-life balance piece before starting the work. Many companies now emphasize work-life balance as well, and they do a lot to help you with that. So I recommend playing that out prior to having concerns about work-life balance, and if you’re unhappy, you should speak up and more often than not, your organization will help you course correct.
- Quick Hits
- Title: Associate Dean of Full Time MBA Programs
- Bio Link:
- Favorite Sport: Football
- Favorite teams: All Chicago sports teams (Bears, Cubs, Bulls, and Black Hawks), still searching for a college football team
- Food: Chicago Dog. Frankly in Krog Street has great ones!
- Movies: Blues Brothers (old school Chicago) and Pulp Fiction (love Tarantino)
- ATL Spot: Bantam Pub – amazing food for brunch, lunch, dinner. I have never had a bad meal there! Anywhere in the Inman Pak Corridor.
- Hobbies: Biking on the Belt Line, spending time with wife and daughters (Ava, Lena, and Maya), doing home renovation projects on our house (built in 1920).
- Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you want to express or convey to current or prospective students or the world at large?
I always want to reiterate how much I appreciate what all of our students are going through and how much empathy and respect I have for what you all are doing. It is a tough decision to stop what you are doing and invest in yourself, and I admire the heck out of you for doing it and will support you in any way that I can.