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February 17, 2015

Andrew Ainslie’s goal: raise Simon’s stature

Andrew Ainslie in commencement garb, at a podium

Andrew Ainslie brings both academic and corporate perspectives to his new role as dean of the Simon Business School.

That multifaceted experience will be key to addressing Simon’s long-term goals, including a higher national profile.

“Simon stood in the high 20s for most of the ’90s, and we’ve allowed that to drop a little,” Ainslie says about the business school rankings. “I think a very sharp and long-term focus pays off for every member of the business school community. The bigger question is how to achieve that—and usually it takes a lot of detailed, small moves, not one gigantic move.”

Among the moves he identifies are the appointment of David Tilson as associate dean of the MBA program, and a commitment to finding students “the best career opportunities possible.”

He cites Simon’s location away from large markets as a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. The current placement in the 30s in business school rankings and the smallness of Simon add to the reasons why the school must be energetic in raising its standing, Ainslie says.

“We have to get out there and let recruiters know why they should be interested in our students. We’re a strong regional school and a strong international school. We’re good at attracting students from China and India, but it’s hard to recruit students nationally. We need to do better in the Midwest and on the West Coast.”

He adds that current trends toward a renewed interest in business analytics favor Simon, which has a strong faculty and track record in that area. “Simon has been much more focused on analytics than most schools and instrumental in introducing the idea of analytics of businesses in general. Some of the strongest intellectual property and capital that comes out of great business schools is in business analytics, and we have amazing research going on all over this school, in operations, strategy, marketing, accounting, finance, and pricing.”

A native of Zimbabwe, Ainslie came to Rochester from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, where he was senior associate dean of the full-time MBA program.While at UCLA, Ainslie oversaw a dramatic increase in student satisfaction rankings in Businessweek, moving from 21st place to third. He attributes the rise in part to an increase in student involvement, something he hopes to foster at Simon as well. It can be hard for students to fit such involvement in committees, clubs, and governance into their schedules, and the benefits they work for may only be realized for classes after theirs. But the investment of time pays off for everyone, Ainslie says, because “as the school does better, the equity of your MBA goes up.”

He has also pointed to creating well-rounded classes as a priority. “I think it’s easy for people to say we need students who are ‘X,’ and X might be incredibly intelligent, it might be amazingly good at networking, it might be deep experience in a particular career or field. And I think at different times different schools have said we’re really going to focus on one of those things,” he says. “But you need to be looking across all of those. I’m not saying every single candidate needs to be all of those—that’s impossible to find. But we need to be thinking about all three and finding people who have one or two so that we don’t become monotone as a class. There are many things people look for in candidates for their companies, and we need to think as they think.

Ainslie credits his background in both academia and business as a boon to his work as dean. He spent a decade working in industry before his last 20 years as an academic.

“That combination is very useful. Universities are unique entities, and understanding a university requires you to have spent a long time at it. I think it’s difficult for people who become deans from corporations to understand the academic environment—but it’s also important to understand the corporate environment we’re sending our students into, and that’s the advantage of having spent time in both places.”


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