Wednesday, April 9, 2014

9:47 AM
A special retrospective that looks back at the man
who steered the course for the Simon Business
School by always looking ahead.
When Mark Zupan became the sixth dean of the Simon Business School in 2004, he knew it would be a challenge. With eternal optimism, and never one to be daunted, he looked forward to the opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

Zupan arrived at a time when the landscape of business school education was rapidly changing. After seven years as dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, he spent six months traveling between Tucson and Rochester, actively listening to members of Simon’s various constituencies about the future for this world-class business school.

Knowing well the issues confronting all business schools, Zupan got to work. “In 2004, my biggest hope was promoting an entrepreneurial spirit at Simon,” he says. “The traditional full-time MBA faced challenges, so it was important to figure out a way to invent the future. And overall, Simon rose to the occasion.”

Zupan’s first order of business was to launch two special task forces, comprising faculty, administrators, students, and outside advisors, to examine the full-time MBA and executive MBA programs, with a focus on continuous improvement. Those task forces led to the School’s first of two Strategic Plans under Zupan’s leadership. A firm believer in the importance of strategic planning, Zupan focused on creating a robust set of programs that would play to the School’s advantage, strengthen its reputation, and sustain its financial model. An idea that came to fruition during his tenure was the Early Leaders® Initiative, aimed at attracting the best and brightest young minds to pursue a Simon full-time MBA degree.

The dean admits when a faculty member proposed in 2004 to introduce an MS in Marketing, faculty colleagues were lukewarm, but it proved to be the beginning of a very successful portfolio of specialized master’s programs that have grown appreciably over the past seven years. Other MS program offerings followed in areas that included Medical Management, Accountancy, General Management, Pricing, and Business Analytics. Noted for his emphasis on collaboration and innovation, Zupan worked with other units in the University to offer specialized degree programs such as the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management program with the Hajim School of Engineering, the Center for Entrepreneurship, and the undergraduate business program with the College of Arts and Sciences.

Saad Alam ’08S (MBA) is one of those who came to Simon as an Early Leader shortly after his undergraduate studies. During his time at Simon, Alam became president of the Graduate Business Council and, with Zupan’s support, co-founded Citelighter, an award-winning online academic research platform, with his classmate, Lee Jokl ’08S (MBA). “While many have provided advice and guidance, there are only a few who have profoundly affected the man I have become,” Alam says. “Mark embraced me from the moment I walked on campus and has supported me ever since graduation. He went beyond the duties of a dean and helped me realize my potential.”

Fostering talent regardless of age became an emphasis during the Zupan years. Simon’s most recent Strategic Plan, approved by the University Board of Trustees in 2013, focuses on improving full-time MBA rankings, expanding undergraduate business offerings, and deciding which programs to retain and possibly remove if there isn’t enough demand. The plan also builds on the School’s established presence in the world’s financial capital by introducing new programs to complement its MS in Finance and MS in Management in New York City.

A dean on the go. Mark Zupan's tenure is a testament to the
passion and energy he brings to the his work and the entire
Simon Business School community.
Under Zupan’s leadership, Simon has experienced record enrollments of highly qualified students from nearly 60 countries, and has attracted nine tenure-eligible faculty members over the past five years. Zupan is especially proud of the progress made in fundraising and financial stability. Simon has raised $65 million toward its goal of $85 million as part of The Meliora Challenge, the University’s $1.2 billion capital campaign—the most ambitious fundraising endeavor in its history. More than 450 alumni, friends, faculty, staff, and students have supported Simon by joining the George Eastman Circle (against a goal of 300) and a record $1.5 million in Annual Fund discretionary support last year. And, now for four consecutive years, Simon has recorded no more than a 5.5 percent endowment draw—an astonishing accomplishment, according to University officials. “Mark’s ability to create an executable strategy and build resources during tough economic times was exceptional,” says Evans Y. Lam ’83, ’84S (MBA), senior vice president, Wealth Management, and senior portfolio manager, UBS Financial Services Inc.; member, University of Rochester Board of Trustees; member, Simon National Council and Executive Advisory Committee; and Los Angeles Regional Cabinet member. “For a business school of Simon’s small size, that is really something.”

Zupan says none of this would have been possible without the support and hard work of the Simon community. “I’ve always believed in promoting a sense of ownership,” he says. “The more that people are involved, the more successful the outcomes for the institution. Having skin in the game matters. It is remarkably consistent. Care for the organization among all the constituents will move us forward.” 

After 10 years as dean, Zupan announced that he planned to pass the baton of leadership on July 1, 2014.

Upon the announcement, University president Joel Seligman praised Zupan for “a magnificent job” and creating an inspiring legacy. In a statement, Seligman said, “I personally appreciate the hard work, discipline, and tough decisions involved in being as successful a dean as Mark has been, particularly during challenging economic times. More than anything else, Mark deserves our gratitude for a job well done.”

J. Peter Simon ’08S (LLD), chair of the National Council and Executive Advisory Committee and son of the late William E. Simon, the School’s benefactor and namesake, served on the search committee in 2003 that appointed Zupan, and then worked closely with him during his two terms leading the School. “Mark has always been a first-class dean. He was head and shoulders above the many other qualified candidates,” Simon recalls. “Mark is the most energetic and positive person I know. It has been a privilege to work with him. There can be no replacement, only a substitute. I am thrilled that Mark will remain at Simon and teach. The students are lucky to have him. We will miss his strong leadership.” 

Among his major accomplishments, Zupan is noted for engaging the support and guidance of an array of the School’s constituents, including students, faculty, staff, corporate partners and friends, and alumni, among them Joseph T. and Janice M. Willett, ’75S (MBA) and ’78S (MBA) respectively. During Zupan’s tenure, the Willetts endowed a chaired professorship for teaching and service, supported student scholarships, and created a faculty research fund for junior professors. They also served as members of the Executive Advisory Committee, while Mrs. Willett remains a member the Simon National Council and the University of Rochester Board of Trustees. “Mark is enormously talented, dedicated, and principled,” Janice Willett says. “He has worked tirelessly on the School’s behalf, and we are very fortunate to have had him at the helm for these 10 years—and to be able to count him as a friend.”

Zupan’s initial goal of promoting an entrepreneurial spirit at Simon was realized with the help of successful and established alumni entrepreneurs, including University of Rochester trustee Mark S. Ain ’67S (MBA), founder and chairman of Kronos Inc., the Chelmsford, MA-based market leader in the workforce management industry.

Each term, Mark Zupan invited new Simon full-time MBA
students to his home for a lasagna dinner. The dean's
personal touch is a hallmark of his tenure.
Over the past 10 years, Ain has committed $3 million to support entrepreneurial programs at Simon, including the annual Mark S. Ain Business Model Competition, which recognizes and rewards aspiring student entrepreneurs. Ain, who also serves on the National Council and the University of Rochester Board of Trustees, calls Zupan a visionary leader. “Mark is always thinking about and initiating plans to make Simon ‘ever better.’ He really embodies what the University of Rochester stands for and lives it,” he says. “Mark is so supportive of Simon students, from recruiting to staying in touch with them as alumni. He is a great relationship builder and a truly genuine person. He will forever be a friend.”

Over the years, Zupan’s influence extended well beyond Simon. He served on the boards of directors of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) and the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), and traveled extensively on behalf of the School. “Mark continued the Simon tradition of having an exceptional leader as its dean,” says David A. Wilson, outgoing GMAC CEO. “He has been a courageous visionary at a time when the landscape of graduate management education around the world vacillated between states of disruption and flat-out chaos. From changing demographics to a global recession to the online programs to, most recently, the massive open online courses (MOOCs), business schools all over the world have had to change. Mark knew that he could not alter the wind; but he could adjust his sails and change his heading. That is just what he did. He will be missed.”

Zupan says he is proudest of the sense of ownership that has developed at Simon. “You see people rise to the occasion, rarely in ways you expect, anticipating and overcoming the next set of dynamics. You rarely get to choose your challenges, but it’s how you react and respond to those challenges that matters,” he says. “The enduring memory for me about Simon is the unique combination of world-class talent coupled with a sense of humility and being grounded. There are many unchecked egos at top business schools. Adversity is a great teacher. It’s the spirit of ‘Meliora’ or ‘ever better,’ as well as Toughen up.™—the sense that you still have to prove it. You should always strive for improvement.” Consistent communication and personalization have been a hallmark of Zupan’s tenure as dean. He became noted for his frequent School updates, 24/7 e-mails, one-on-one meetings, handwritten notes to incoming students, faculty, and staff on birthdays or important occasions, and homemade lasagna dinners for new students hosted at his home.

“You can’t communicate enough,” Zupan says. “Cultures are built on consistent communication. Management is not just a science; it’s an art. We have to cultivate the right brain so our students can express what they know. The element of creativity is built through clubs and management communication projects. It’s much harder to teach, but it’s important.”

Flying with the US Navy's Blue Angels was one way Mark
led by example and modeled his love of adventure and
exploration to students, faculty, and staff.
Zupan says being a good listener is just as crucial. “People will generally tell you what’s wrong, given the chance to be part of the solution,” he says. “We have to keep thinking about how we can add value to society. That question speaks to both differentiation and authenticity. It’s being able to hold up a mirror to the organization, thinking hard about how we want to define the future.”

Zupan will begin a one-year sabbatical starting July 1, 2014, with an eye toward reinvention. “The sabbatical is a wonderful opportunity to reinvent and explore,” he says. “I’m looking forward to teaching and leading the Bradley Policy Research Center, which is so much a part of our School and its rich history. Staying true to our roots, we will continue to examine the appropriate role of government in society and such fields as health care, education, and finance.”

In his announcement to the Simon community last September, Zupan said, “Educational institutions are as close as one can get to the proverbial fountain of youth, and having had a decade to stay young at heart through interacting with so many talented, ambitious, innovative, and caring individuals as dean of the Simon Business School is a gift I will always cherish.”

Sitting in his office and thinking back on it all, Zupan smiled with characteristic optimism and a palpable sense of gratitude. “Seeing all of the different places that people come from to where they go when they leave ... I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to have been part of it.”


A Gifted Communicator, an Even Better Listener

By Evans Y. Lam ’83, ’84S (MBA)

Senior vice president, wealth management, and senior portfolio manager, UBS Financial Services, Inc.; member, University of Rochester Board of Trustees; member, Simon National Council and Executive Advisory Committee; member, Los Angeles Regional Cabinet

Evans Y. Lam
Ten years ago, Mark Zupan made a huge impression when he called and asked to meet with me personally. It was the first time anyone from the University had done so. When we met in my office, Mark put me at ease and held my attention in his subtle and unassuming way. As he updated me on what was happening at Simon, we discussed how I could make a difference, and he helped me understand how important my re-engagement with the School could be.

The second time we met, my wife, Susanna, joined us. Mark clearly related to her interests in astronomy and history, and by the end of the meeting, there was no one more eager to contribute to Simon than my wife. That’s Mark. It’s his personal charisma, intelligence, and genuine interest in others that forms a common ground.

Whatever the challenge, Mark handles it. He sets an example for how a good CEO engages his team, makes them feel comfortable, listens to them, and creates an executable strategy with resources to make it happen.

As dean, Mark faced some very tough challenges. While the financial crisis happened in the middle of his term, he was still able to revitalize and re-engage the alumni network with unprecedented vigor. He also created a well-defined strategic plan to move the School forward. Mark introduced many new programs and raised the visibility of the School in New York City and around the world.

But with all his accomplishments, there is something about our first meeting I will never forget. When I walked Mark out, I noticed he had rented the most economical car available. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a part of his team. The rest is history. I endowed a professorship, supported students, energized the LA Alumni Network, served on the National Council, and sponsored the New York City Conference, all because of Mark. That’s leadership. That’s inspiration. That’s Mark.


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  2. Best wishes, Dean Zupan. Thank you for 10 years of leadership!

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