Milwaukee Talks: Marquette business dean Brian Till
Brian D. Till is the James H. Keyes Dean of Business Administration at Marquette University, a position he has held since July 2015. He is responsible for the academic and professional leadership of the college.
Prior to coming to Marquette, Till was dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University. So he has an interesting perspective on life and business in a similar sized market, Cincinnati.
I sat down with him recently to talk MU, Milwaukee, business education and more. Enjoy this latest edition of Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee: Give me the three minute Brian Till overview. Give me your life story in a little synopsis.
Brian Till: Sure. Went to a large state school for undergraduate, continued on for an MBA program, took a position in industry of brand management at Purina and decided to make a switch to an academic profession route, so left for a PhD program, also a large state university. Took my first faculty position at Drexel, a private school, and after about three years moved to Saint Louis University, which was my first move into the Jesuit University system. I was there 17 years, seven years as Department Chair. Really developed an appreciation for the importance and role that a Jesuit university experience has on preparing and shaping students. Left SLU for the dean position Xavier in Cincinnati and then moved up here to Milwaukee seven months ago.
When you're looking at the differences between maybe Xavier or Saint Louis and Marquette, what makes Marquette special? As you were evaluating options, what was the calling here?
All three, there's certain commonalities that they share, and they're all in solid Midwestern cities. Love to be in a city because of the experiences it provides for our students. Xavier is a smaller university. The business schools are very similar in size.
What's the size difference?
Xavier is about 7,000 students in total. Had a great experience. Cincinnati's a wonderful town. The opportunity to come to Marquette was attractive because it has a little bit more of a national footprint, larger university, and I just really enjoy really living in Milwaukee and the opportunities it provides personally and professionally. That's really what prompted the move, and it's great to remain in a Jesuit university.
Did you know a lot about Milwaukee before you moved here?
I did not. People that I mentioned that I was moving here were pretty unanimous in saying, "Brian, I think you're going to love Milwaukee." That was very good affirmation. Then since coming up here, I've enjoyed getting to know the city. Live in the Third Ward, close to campus. Great vibe. The lake's beautiful.
Good. What's been the most surprising thing about Milwaukee, something that you didn't know or didn't realize?
The mild winters.
There you go. Every winter is like this.
Exactly, that's right, exactly. I would say that just how easy it is to get around. There's a little bit of navigation with construction, highway construction, but super easy city, very livable.
Good. We're going to talk a little bit about the business school as a whole and maybe business education as a whole. With so much change, obviously change being constant now, what makes business education or a business school progressive these days?
Great question. We've been in the process of putting together our college strategic plan. We've been in the process of articulating a need for a new business school building. Part of that is to ask ourselves, moving forward, what does a contemporary business school look like?
I've been pointing to two things in particular, and those two things are collaboration and experiential learning. Collaboration is about students being more collaborative in their academic work together. It's about the business school collaborating with the business community to provide experiences for students and to provide value to the business community. It's about the College of Business collaborating with other units on campus. Collaboration is extremely is important.
The other thing that's very important as we think about contemporary business education is experiential learning, that we're moving students beyond book learning and immersing them more deeply in the actual practice of business.
The path to putting all that in place, is that obviously ongoing or are there certain benchmarks that you're looking for?
Sure. It's a little of both. It is ongoing. We have in the college some programs that really exemplify experiential learning. The Applied Investment Management program, great example of that. Our Supply Chain program, very good example of that, where are courses are partnered with companies in industry and give students those real world examples. We have areas of that throughout the college, so it's really a matter of dialing that up, putting greater emphasis on it. With respect to collaboration, this is something that's important to the college. It's also important to Mike Lovell, our president, to really get the College of Business to be connected with more parts of campus and the community. This isn't completely new to us, but the push to do more of it is ongoing.
Everybody's in sales. Everyone's in business.
Right, right, exactly. Regardless of your degree, your major, business will be an important part of your future, absolutely.
Have you seen an increase in students asking for more from the entrepreneurial, creativity and innovation end, and how do business schools address those desires with students? In a "Shark Tank" world we live in, how can business schools meet those needs?
Sure. Yes, our students come to us with a variety of professional goals. Some students, their professional goal is something in the entrepreneurship space. We do have a degree program in entrepreneurship to meet those students' needs and, importantly, there's been an increase in resources around campus to support entrepreneurship and innovation for students in the business school and also students outside the business school who have an interest in that in that regard. The activity of our Kohler Center, which supports entrepreneurship, has been ramped up, really in the seven months that I've been here.
What do you think is missing from business education today, if anything? Maybe nothing at Marquette but ...
Right. I think that one of the things that we put extra emphasis on that for these times that we're in is particularly important is the ethics and values component. We've seen the effect that lapses in that have had on the macro economy as well as the lives of individual people who have been affected by some of these changes. One of our strategic goals in the college is ethics and values to help ensure that our graduates have a sensitivity that business decisions are not just by the numbers, but that there's another overlay to that and something that we take pride in here at Marquette.
I guess maybe along those lines, how can business education encourage students to follow, go after their calling and use what's within them instead of just going after a job? Nothing wrong with that, but has that been a shift at all in the last 10 or 15 years?
That's great. One of the things that I'm sensitive to is that students are following the path that's right for them and not choosing to major in this or that field simply because of the economic advantages that may come from that. Now it's a personal choice every student makes.
One of the things that we've done is we've moved up some of our business courses earlier on in the student's curriculum so they get a taste of business starting first semester, freshman year. Now that has a lot of positive benefits to it. One benefit is that if business isn't right for a student, they discover that very early on and have the opportunity then to explore majors that might be more consistent with their spirit.
Through your career in life, who's been your mentor and a role model – people that you look to for inspiration?
Two people come to mind. One is my PhD advisor, who's just very well regarded in the field and just a wonderful coach and mentor for me on the academic side. Then I had a professor in my MBA program, an accounting professor, who was just a very powerful role model for teaching, which has been very important in my career.
Do you get to teach day to day?
I don't. I don't.
Or is it something you can do, or executive order it?
I could do it. I miss it. I was drawn to the profession because of the love of teaching, but the job's just too big to be able to also teach.
You talked a little bit about the business school and university connecting with the community. Obviously, Marquette does that on many ways. How about a couple of specific things that the School of Business is doing with different corporations or different entities or wants to do?
Sure. Within the College of Business, we have a number of advisory boards drawn from businesses in the Milwaukee and Chicago region that help keep our curriculum relevant and provide opportunities for our students.
On a more granular level, we have courses in which students are directly applying their business expertise to help the community. We have a group of marketing students that are working with the city of Brown Deer on helping to brand the city. We have a program called the Justice for Fraud Victims Project, where our accounting students are working with small businesses to help uncover and document instances of white collar crime and fraud. It's getting our students just very directly involved in helping businesses and organizations with problems they have.
You had mentioned a path to a new building and facility. Is there a time frame there, and also, what are newer business schools? What's hot from a design standpoint, and how are they different from 50 years ago?
Sure. The time frame is a little bit to be determined. The university is going through its own master planning process, and Business School is part of that, so there are a lot of moving parts that need to be resolved.
In terms of building school design, I would say the two things that are most important, one is to have more collaborative meeting spaces for students to gather. Then the other thing is to re-look at the classroom setting. When we went to school, it was very much students face the front of the room in these seats with the professor at the front lecturing. Now it's about more flexible spaces. It's about opportunities for students to work collaboratively in class where the professor is more of a coach, if you will, than a lecturer. So really moving in that direction from a space standpoint.
What's the last business book you read?
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.
What is your definition of success?
At the end of the day, our fundamental mission is preparing our students to go on and lead successful, professional and personal lives. My most important measure of success is what our graduates do after they leave here. That is, in my mind, number one.
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