Timothy Smunt grew up in the Chicago area, but spent much of his professional career in Indiana and North Carolina. In August, Smunt became the fifth dean of the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Smunt has more than 25 years of experience at leading universities in both the United States and Europe. He has published work in numerous academic journals and has taught in the MBA and executive MBA in top-ranked institutions all over the world. Smunt holds a DBA in operations management from Indiana University, an MBA from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a BS in Industrial Management from Purdue University. Smunt has spent the last 10 months getting to know the Milwaukee business community. He recently discussed his vision for the UWM business school with BizTimes reporter Alysha Schertz. The following are excerpts from that interview.
BTM: What appealed to you about the position at UWM? Why did you decide to pursue it?
Smunt: “There were two main reasons why UWM was a good fit for me. One is just the region. My wife and I are Midwesterners, we are comfortable in the Midwest and we like the people here. It is an accepting culture with hard-working people and the values are what we were brought up with, and we liked the idea of coming back to that. The second part of it was that if you want to be the dean of a business school, the best place to be is in a city where the businesses are. The businesses are our research laboratories. I found during the interview process, and this was confirmed over my last few months as dean, that the connections that the Lubar School has to the business community are just exceptional. I don’t know any other school that has the same connections to the business community and the same level of support.”
BTM: What was your first impression of the Milwaukee business community? What surprised you or disappointed you?
Smunt: “Well, nothing disappointed. The surprise was how well-connected the business community is among themselves here and what great support they’ve given the school in the past and the plans for their continued support. It’s not only financial, it’s working with our students, it’s working with our faculty and it’s their continued support that helps make the Lubar School of Business what it is today. Every CEO I talk to in this town highly values this business school, and they almost always ask me how can they help.”
BTM: What were your initial goals and priorities for the school after you settled in?
Smunt: “I didn’t come here with any preconceived notions of what we were going to do over the next five years. Being a dean hired from another institution, I really needed to take the time to get to know the resources that are available here, what we are capable of doing and how we can transform those into something better over time, because every institution should strive to get better. So, what I promised everybody and what I’ve done was to meet with all the faculty one-on-one. I got to understand their hopes, their dreams and their aspirations, and I’ve also met with all of the major members of the business community. In late January, I started a strategic planning program that includes four members of the business community and 16 members of our faculty and staff. We’re meeting every two weeks to develop benchmarks for our program, we’re looking at our competitors and determining who we want to aspire to be like and right now we’re right in the middle of that.
“We haven’t set any of our plans in concrete yet or listed any of the initiatives that are going to come out of this, but what we do know is that we have always been a high-quality business school, we want to continue down that path and we want to increase the quality of whatever it is we do. That will probably require some refocusing of our current programs, and some restructuring of the way we do our work and it will most certainly require that we have some new initiatives which may include some additional interdisciplinary degree programs that would expand across the school.”
BTM: What can UWM do to foster the next generation of entrepreneurs for Milwaukee?
Smunt: “We have a full array of offerings in entrepreneurship and many opportunities for our students to connect with entrepreneurs in the Milwaukee area. One key initiative is our annual business plan competition, where local entrepreneurs act as judges and mentors for the students, and the other is our internship program where we place students within local entrepreneurial companies. Sometimes those companies are as small as two or three people. Sometimes they are larger, but the idea is that our students get immersed in a meaningful project and often times end up working side by side with the entrepreneur or owner of the company. The students come out of those experiences completely motivated to start their own company. They’ve gained valuable insight and experience and a passion for that drive that keeps their business going. Many of the entrepreneurs we place them with are former students of ours so they understand the value in giving back to the students and sharing that entrepreneurial fight with them.”
BTM: What role will the business school play in making Milwaukee a booming water industry city?
Smunt: “I think the Lubar School of Business is going to play a large role in the university’s efforts to expand and strengthen the water industry in Milwaukee. As you know, we’re in the initial stages of that project at the university level, but we already have great contacts with the companies that are part of this consortium. A.O. Smith and Badger Meter are on my advisory council, and so we have already made those connections. As this progresses, we will be looking for specific ways to connect to those other schools, including the School of Fresh Water Science.”
BTM: What other collaboration opportunities and plans do you have for the business school?
Smunt: “As part of the strategic planning process, we are going to be looking at what connections the business school will have with other parts of the university, and water will be part of that, but so will the schools of Public Health, Engineering, Nursing, Health Sciences and even art. One of our new initiatives is to collaborate with UW-Madison Business School in the Ph.D program. We’re looking at ways we might be able to share resources and enhance both of our programs with a certain level of collaboration. Locally, we are also exploring ways to strengthen our relationship with the Medical College of Wisconsin. We already do some research projects with them, but we’re discussing some additional joint research projects as well as some possible curriculum collaborations. UWM does not have a medical school. They are a stand alone medical school, so a stronger connection between the two institutions makes a lot of sense for everybody, and I think both sides are interested in exploring that further as well.”