Running a business school like a business sounds obvious — but in academia that’s not always a certainty. One new dean embraces that mission.
Southwest Florida native Chris Westley says that when he grew up in the 1980s, there was feather-light enthusiasm, at best, among he and his buddies about the region’s long-term job potential. “We thought we would never come back here — not at least until we retired,” says Westley, a Naples High School graduate.
Westley first went north, to Gainesville and the University of Florida. After a short stop in Washington, D.C. to work for a think tank, Westley spent 15 years in academia, teaching economics at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala. But Westley did return to the region, and long before retirement, he joined the faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers in 2015, again teaching economics.
After several other roles at FGCU in the past five years, including a nine-month stint as interim leader, Westley is now dean of the university’s Lutgert College of Business. Westley, 56, was named dean Jan. 6. He replaces Robert Beatty, who left FGCU to run the Soules College of Business at the University of Texas at Tyler. Beatty ran Lutgert for five years.
In thinking about his goals as the new dean and his strategy to achieve them, Westley seeks to keep his youthful recollections of the region in the forefront of his mind. He wants Southwest Florida to be a job hotspot for young professionals, not the wasteland of the 1980s. His role overseeing and steering Lutgert, he believes, is the best way to do that. “Deans come and go, but what really matters is the impact on students,” Westley says. “That’s what I want to be judged on.”
In setting up his role at the school to be like that of a CEO of a company with 4,000 unique customers (undergraduate students), Westley has several priorities. The list includes raising morale of staff and faculty and raising the national and business school profile of the college — tasks he considers overlapping. He also aims to improve the school’s fundraising efforts and, in an important but rather unglamorous goal, oversee a smooth reaccreditation process with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. “These are areas that have lagged in recent years,” says Westley, who, in addition to his professor role, has run the Regional Economic Development Institute at FGCU.
Some recent happenings at Lutgert, outside teaching students, represent the kinds of steps, Westley says, which both serve students well for long-term regional job prospects and build the school’s buzz. Examples lie in the school’s bachelor’s degree offering in supply chain management and a pending master’s in health care management. Westley says both programs respond to workforce trends and fill a gap for students.
Westley has been working with Ann Cary, dean of FGCU’s Marieb College of Health and Human Services, on the health care management master’s degree. “That’s in response to an industry demand that goes back a long time,” Westley says in an FGCU statement on his dean appointment. “There are a lot of other areas of collaboration the college could pursue in response to community needs. Some possibilities are in extended living care management or work with the School of Entrepreneurship.”
The supply chain management degree follows Westley’s mission to foster a region where FGCU graduates can always look to stay for jobs. One recent program graduate, he says, got a job at Scotlynn, a fast-growing Fort Myers logistics and transportation company with more than 1,000 employees and $191 million in 2018 revenue. “I ran into that student’s mother, and she was so excited about her son’s job, which FGCU made possible,” Westley says. “She said without that program, her son was going to leave [the region].”
Taking another page from the run-it-like-a-business book, Westley says Lutgert, under his leadership, will continue to add programs and find new, innovative ways to attract, retain and place students in sought-after jobs. “Business schools that become stagnant are not long for this world,” he says.
A final goal for Westley is a big one: to build Lutgert’s rankings, so it’s on par with other business schools nationally known by one word, such as Wharton, Kellogg and Stern, to name three. “Some business schools are brands onto themselves,” Westley says. “Wouldn’t it be great if we can do that at Lutgert?”