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Business Observer Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 1 month ago

Meet the Dean: Business college welcomes new leader

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Gert-Jan de Vreede looks to keep the momentum going at University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business, in replacing a well-liked and charismatic leader.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

EYE: Education

May 2022 marked the end of an era at the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business. That’s when longtime Dean Moez Limayem — as dynamic and energetic a leader as you’ll ever meet — announced he had accepted an offer to become the next president of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Limayem’s departure after 10 years of leading the college occurred “late in the game,” according to the man who, as of Aug. 1, has succeeded him, albeit in an interim role.

“Typically,” says Gert-Jan de Vreede, “academic hiring is done more in January, February, March. When the news broke that he was a finalist, with all due respect to the other finalists, here in the dean’s office, we were like, ‘Oh my god, he’s gonna make an impression.’ We were not surprised when he was selected as the next president. So, it was a fast turnaround — incredibly fast.”

De Vreede, who hails from the Netherlands and goes by the nickname “GJ,” has been a professor in the college’s School of Information Systems and Management since 2015, except for a stint during the 2018-19 academic year when he served as interim dean of the College of Business at USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus. Prior to joining USF, he taught for 13 years at the University of Nebraska.

‘I see my role predominantly as a facilitator and enabler for the college. I believe that if I do my job well, people won’t notice it too much.’ Gert-Jan de Vreede, interim dean of the USF Muma College of Business

Personality-wise, the Muma school’s new leader couldn’t be much different from his predecessor. Limayem gives off a game-show host vibe, whereas meeting with de Vreede is akin to walking onto the set of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Mild-mannered and soft-spoken, he projects an aura of calm, thoughtfulness and intellectualism — all good qualities, for sure, but how will he fill the big shoes of Limayem?

“Moez left the college in incredibly good shape,” de Vreede says. “So, of course, there’s this notion of, ‘Don’t screw it up.’ We are not changing things just for the sake of changing things. That being said, the business environment is a very dynamic environment. So, you want to always make sure that you can fulfill your core mission, and that is to create and prepare talent for the business community.”

During Limayem’s tenure, the college was not shy about cultivating deep ties to Tampa Bay business leaders. In March, it received a $10.6 million gift from ConnectWise Inc. founder Arnie Bellini to establish the Bellini Center for Talent Development, whose courses will be led not by professors but business executives who will address both hard and soft skills desirable of future employees.

While he might not have the pizzazz of Limayem, de Vreede, like any good leader, is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses

“I like to think that I’m a good listener; I’m a problem solver,” he says. “I want to be decisive but don’t want to shoot from the hip. I see my role predominantly as a facilitator and enabler for the college. I believe that if I do my job well, people won’t notice it too much. They should only notice that their professional life is a little bit smoother.”

In the run-up to assuming the role of interim dean, de Vreede has also spent time analyzing the college’s pros and cons. He cites risk management and insurance, hospitality, entrepreneurship and analytics as key areas of study he would like to shore up during his tenure. The former received a boost last month, with a $5.26 million gift from Tampa-based BRP Group Inc., formerly known as Baldwin Risk Partners, to the USF School of Risk Management and Insurance, located on the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

That donation was preceded by April’s announcement that St. Petersburg philanthropists Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton had donated $14 million to help the Muma College of Business establish a fintech program that will focus on areas such as mobile banking, crowdfunding, blockchain, cryptocurrency and investment apps. Other business community support includes a $500,000 gift from Sarasota entrepreneur David Chessler, to establish the Helping Undergraduate Students Tackle Leadership and Entrepreneurship (HUSTLE) program, and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who gave the college $5 million to establish the Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management Program.

“We have built quite a reputation, and it’s a time to celebrate the momentum we’ve created,” de Vreede says. “We don’t want to take our foot off the accelerator, but at the same time, it’s also important when you are climbing and running to take stock. Because when you’re building something, you have to make sure your foundations are in order.”

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