Refining the Mission

Don’t tell Larry Benveniste, dean of Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, that business school has to be stuffy.

On a sunny day in September, just days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region, Goizueta students set up a Katrina relief dunk tank. For $5 a throw, or three for $10, students could knock their favorite faculty member in the water. Benveniste passed on sitting in the dunking booth but did make the mistake of walking past all the Katrina relief “vendors” on the way to his car.

“I spent all the money in my pockets on T-shirts, hamburgers, whatever they were selling,” he says, laughing.

Full-time MBA students held an “Apprentice” style contest to develop a business plan and product. The weeklong challenge raised $75,000 for the American Red Cross and served another purpose as well: reinforcing the Goizueta ideal, that business leadership includes being a good corporate citizen.

Benveniste approaches his job with the zeal of a new convert. He delights in the Goizueta School’s recent rankings – sixth in BusinessWeek’s rating of executive MBA programs and 18th in U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Graduate Schools,” with the Evening MBA Program ranked 15th among part-time programs and the W. Cliff Oxford Executive MBA in the 10 spot.

Yet Benveniste says the school can do even better. “There is a lot more potential,” he says. “We’ve just scratched the surface. The comparative strength of our school lies in its size – we’re small – and its culture, which is supportive of our diverse community. With those two strengths we can drive this

school to even greater heights.”

Benveniste understands that Goizueta is compared to and competes with schools that have a 50-year head start, but he doesn’t find that fact daunting. “I believe we’ll achieve our goals sooner rather than later,” he adds.

Those goals include further emphasis on the recently launched Values-Based Leadership Institute; a model focusing on the whole person with measurable benchmarks to discern how much leadership value has been imparted to students when they leave Goizueta.

“We intend to strengthen academics even more,” says Benveniste, who explains that the school wants to add 15 new endowed faculty members in the next five years. Raising the Goizueta profile in Atlanta is another key initiative. “Some people don’t even know we have an evening MBA program, let alone know how highly ranked it is.”

Though the initiatives are challenging, Benveniste has no doubt they will be accomplished. “The culture at Goizueta is absolutely unique,” he says. “It’s rare that you find a faculty that is second to none and feels a part of the mission. That’s the reason we’ll continue to move up [in rankings].”

Prior to his July 2005 arrival at Goizueta, Benveniste was dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Though he is a California native, Benveniste and his wife were happy in Minnesota; their son still lives there. But when the Goizueta School came calling in late 2004, they decided to take a look. Goizueta turned out to be the offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I wasn’t looking for a job,” he says. “But when I came through [the school] as part of the [interview] process I was impressed. People outside of Emory told me, ‘You can’t believe everything they’re showing you,’ but everything has been better than I expected.”

Asked about the most pleasant surprise in Atlanta, Benveniste blurted the obvious answer of a Minnesota transplant. “The first thing that comes to mind is the weather,” he says. “But even better is that there’s something real to Southern hospitality and that attitude is something that really distinguishes Atlanta.”

Benveniste loves that Goizueta students receive their “trademark Emory liberal arts education” in addition to a top of the line business education. He is especially proud that Goizueta was ranked first by U.S. News & World Report in the leadership sub-category, beating out Harvard, Stanford and the Wharton School. “Everyone recognizes the need for developing the whole person,” Benveniste says. “We intend to refine the mission even more, distinguishing ourselves [in leadership] while still providing access to top academics.”

The challenges are many, but Benveniste’s enthusiasm for them is just as strong.

“Business is fun,” he says. And when Benveniste says it, you believe it.

Categories: Influential Georgians