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A Conversation with CSOM Dean, Andy Boynton

Andy Boynton. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Hennessey | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 27, 2014

Boston College has a Jesuit tradition of vigorous research and excellent teaching. How does the Carroll School of Management fulfill that mission? 

Since I started the job, we’ve had a few strategic things we wanted to do. One was faculty excellence – great teaching and great research. I don’t think there’s a business school in the country that has a better combination of research and teaching than ours. You can see it all over the place. We have great research and that’s essential; often times our best researchers are our best teachers, and we clearly have great teaching. We do many, many things here to help our faculty be great teacher and researchers in terms of processes, resources, community activities, and measurements for what we do. There’s no other school in the country that measures teaching and research like we do. 

How do you influence the research culture?

It’s not a simple answer but in effect, first you hire great scholars. And then you surround them with the context and the environment where they can excel. So we have resources when they need it; financial resources have increased dramatically. Technical resources, staff support resources, we have research seminars amongst the faculty, we track and measure how people are doing and we make it quasi-public so it’s transparent – people know who’s doing what. We have an ongoing research committee and we think constantly about how to provide an environment for better research.

How have you seen this research benefit the Carroll School?

Two ways: One, right now we compete for faculty that the best business schools in the country want to hire. So we attract better talent because they want to be where there’s great research. That’s just the way it is. And second, we’ve also seen a benefit in terms of our rankings and reputation – people know what we do here. The whole academy of all the different disciplines, whether it’s finance, accounting, organizational sciences, marketing, operations – they all know what’s going on. BC has a name as a place for scholars and that helps our reputation. It’s a key part of our rankings.

You just passed your nine-year anniversary. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

One is the faculty – I feel we really have a great culture and talent, and they do great things. And I, along with others, have really worked hard to make that happen. Our terrific faculty are the ones mentoring the students, advising the students, and teaching the students. And this school is changed forever because of the faculty we have now. And that’s not easy to do, to really build and attract the kind of faculty we have. The other thing I’m most proud of is the undergraduate program, which is supported by a great leadership team and staff. Rankings aside, I think we’re the best undergraduate business school in the country in a way that’s true to what Boston College values. None better.

About a third of management students are now majoring or minoring through the College of Arts and Sciences — a figure you’ve said you want to increase to 60 percent within the next few years. What advantage do Carroll School graduates obtain through this marriage of the liberal arts and management education?

Liberal arts, the humanities, and the sciences are the most important thing for young men and women to learn. And they’re going to get that through the Boston College core curriculum, but that’s just the first step. We think that the management education we provide is really important, but it plays a supporting role and we want all of our students to get broader exposure to liberal arts or sciences. The heart and soul of Boston College is the undergraduate experience and from a learning point of view, it’s the liberal arts. We recognize that and we want to promote it because it’s better for our students.

It all goes into students not being so narrowly focused and providing a richer experience.

Sure, a much richer experience and having them learn in humanities what it is to be human and deal with those issues and that’s very important for young people – that’s a part of the formation mission at Boston College we take very seriously. While formation is primary, careers can’t be forgotten. You can’t ignore that. We’ve invested a lot more in career items too here, whether it’s mentoring or advising.  

What are your priorities for the future?

We have some really exciting centers in mind that would further engage learning. We have other ideas in mind for new concentrations. We’re always thinking about innovations, but always with the eye to shaping a great faculty and a great undergraduate experience. We’re also focused lately on improving the graduate programs, especially the full and part-time MBAs. All of our exciting graduate programs are attended to closely by faculty and the graduate support program as well.

Can you shed some light on some of the new things you’re thinking about?

We’re going to have a center on real estate and urban action, and we’re hoping to get moving towards a center on entrepreneurship and maybe a co-concentration in entrepreneurship in the years to come. We want to start focusing more on curriculum around business analytics and the whole information revolution. We’re exploring the possibility of a co-concentration in analytics, so those are all pretty big changes within the school.  Every time we change something one of our challenges is you have to do it in scale. We have 2,000 students so you can’t just make a change and hope it affects 50 students. So everything we do eventually has got to be big enough to support lots of students, or make a positive impact on our full-time MBA program. When we did Portico years ago for undergraduates, it was a big initiative, because we have 400-500 students a year in the program, depending on the size of the freshman class.  

You’re a Carroll School alum. What kinds of changes have you seen the school go through since you were a student?

There have been a lot of changes since I got here in 1974. One is it wasn’t the Carroll School when I was here, it was just the School of Management.

Here’s a big change: When I came to Boston College from New Jersey, I applied to the School of Management because it was the easiest school to get into. I was OK as a high school student – I never remember doing homework because I was too focused on playing basketball after school. And now? Forget it. The whole prestige and nature of students we get, that’s true for all of Boston College. But I think there’s one thing that’s still true: It is a place where we help young men and women become adults who build a capacity to think well, and with their values, help give back to the broader world. I think those values still hold.

The other thing that’s really helped us is tremendous alumni support – much, much more alumni involvement, engagement and support, now than in the past.

To what do you attribute that increased alumni support?

Two things: At the university level, [Senior Vice President for Advancement] Jim Husson and his team have really done a great job. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have some great people to work with and they very much are part of our team. The Advancement team and I are always out around the country, we’re always trying to build that alumni connective tissue. And so it’s been nonstop for nine years and it really gives us a rich set of resources that have really fueled us. Financially, coming in and working with the students, advising, just the energy that the alumni provide has been important. Moving from, “We love BC, we love the sports” to “We really want to be involved with the Carroll School and we want to help - what can we do?” That’s the spirit the alumni have and that’s been key.

 You’ve said in the past that you wouldn’t be where you are without Boston College. Can you talk about that?

I was fortunate to be mentored by faculty and administrators who I admired and respected and who really pushed me intellectually in the classroom where I worked my tail off and I was recognized. They also challenged me to think about my values, and what really mattered most. In my sophomore year, I was asked to be in the honors program – I never thought I’d ever see that. I worked hard because I was afraid I was going to fail. I said, “I’ve got to get going,” so I got going. I spent hours and hours in Bapst Library. I really learned to love learning while I was here. That seed blossomed later when I said, “I want to be an academic. I want to be a professor. I want to have a life of learning.” So that was big. 

In recent years, the Carroll School has implemented a shift in coursework to center around ethics and corporate responsibility. How has that shift been working out, and how is it being received by students? 

I think it’s going well. I think the students now, the millennials, really want to be part of something bigger and more than just working for a living and being part of a profit maximization machine. I think the corporate social responsibility issue is huge and I think we have the biggest and best center in the country on that. I think the ethics part is huge: You just have to read the headlines over the last six, seven years in business to see that. So I think students feel that’s got to come from within.

What’s your daily challenge?

I look at as kind of a prism of challenges. One is we can never get complacent. I think that’s the key – complacency is the sire of mediocrity. We’ve just always got to be better. Another challenge is to make sure everybody feels that way. We have a whole new team and I’ve got to get people on board with that.  Everybody has to bring energy, ideas and the spirit of change to the table. I think we have it with our faculty and with our staff. We’re always changing. Everyday we’ve got to look to do new things better, better, better and I think it’s my job to personally do that, and then transmit that as the leader to get everybody energized.

What’s a surprising fact people may not know about the Carroll School?

We’re the best undergraduate business school in the country. People may not know that but they should know that. And yet we can be better. We’re going to be better.

Final thoughts?

I feel like I’m lucky to have the job. I feel honored to be here. Things really fell right, you know? It’s not a job for me; it’s more like a mission. I was really lucky in life.

Click here to read the next interview in the series: A Conversation with Boston College GSSW Dean, Alberto Godenzi