2017 Champions of the New Economy

For the eighth straight year, DBusiness selected five regional executives who are driving growth in highly competitive industries.


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Dr. M. Roy Wilson

President, Wayne State University, Detroit • Students: 27,326 • Budget: $631M

Why he’s a Champion of the New Economy

When Dr. M. Roy Wilson arrived on campus in the summer of 2013 to become Wayne State University’s 12th president, there were a handful of recently completed student apartment buildings, a business school in need of a new home, and lots of people working on research projects in individual departments. “There were silos in the various schools we operate, and in the various departments within those schools,” Wilson says. “Over the last three years, our research teams have become much more collaborative, and that has provided a much more enriching experience for our students, our faculty, and the greater community.” Wilson also worked out a deal to build a new business school — the Mike Ilitch School of Business — at the southwest corner of Woodward Avenue and Temple Street, immediately north of Little Caesars Arena (set to open in September). The business school, which will open in April 2018, was named after Ilitch and his wife, Marian, who provided a $40-million gift. Mike, who co-founded Little Caesars Enterprises, passed away on Feb. 10 at the age of 87. The $59-million project will include multiple classrooms, a 260-seat auditorium with room for vehicle displays, a trading room/finance lab, graduate and undergraduate services, a comprehensive career planning and placement center, an executive MBA suite, a café, and an expansive atrium, among other offerings. “It will really be a jewel in Detroit,” Wilson says. “It wasn’t popular when I first talked about it, but everyone loves it now.”

What impact will the Mike Ilitch School of Business have on the university and the business community?

The reason why I (thought) we should have a business school in the downtown area is comparable to why we have a medical school where the hospitals are. The students are that much better trained because they’re working within their chosen field. Soon after I got here, I was getting reports that the business community wasn’t as connected to us as they’d like to be. The new location is certainly one aspect of what we did to improve things, but we also improved our interaction with the business community in terms of learning about their needs and how, in part, that reflected on our curriculum. It’s important we hear from businesses about the skills and talents they’d like to see in our graduates, who we hope will eventually work for them. That’s what made things so exciting when we started working on the new school with the Ilitch family — and it goes two ways. (The Ilitch companies), and other businesses in the city and region, will get a steady stream of well-trained business school graduates who have been trained with general knowledge, but also, for example, very specific knowledge of the Ilitch business operations. Through internships and other programs, our students will get a very well-rounded education. That’s one reason why interest and enrollment in our business school is skyrocketing.

Soon after you arrived, you helped to instill team science and cluster hiring of scientists. How has that effort been going?

It’s going great. We’ve broken that silo mentality we had, but not completely. In our new iBio (Integrative Biosciences Center) Building (at Cass Avenue and Amsterdam Street ), we didn’t separate the space (so that) a portion was given to the medical scientists, another portion to pharmacy studies, and another area to another discipline. There are no separated areas, and now different teams work on  projects such as how diabetes and metabolic diseases affect our urban communities. In addition to the pure medical aspects, there is psychology, social aspects, and the chemical imbalances of obesity to consider. It takes a team approach to tackle the problems that take into account the quality of life in our urban areas. We’ve really been organizing a team approach across so many things we do. And when we hire new faculty, we look for the best candidates in their respective fields who also embrace that team approach and have different perspectives. As a result, our research funding has grown more than 30 percent (since) 2013.

How have you improved student learning opportunities?

We’ve been putting more and more of our students in learning communities, where students with like interests live and learn together. A good example is the (historic) Thompson House (at Cass and Hancock Street), which was the home of our School of Social Work. We’re renovating the Thompson House into 60-some apartments for students (the apartments are scheduled to be completed in time for the fall semester) who are in the performing arts. They will all be together, they will study together, and they will be part of an overall learning community. It’s the same for students in medical, engineering, and our other programs. This means students will work together and not be by themselves. That’s why we’ve had such success by having students living on campus. We’re 98-99 percent full, and we’ve been renting places like the (nearby) St. Regis Hotel and other apartment buildings so our students can be together in their chosen disciplines. We like to encourage as much campus life as possible; we live in a nice neighborhood, and it’s safe. Soon (we will) start work on 800 new apartments along Anthony Wayne Drive.

What other areas of the campus are you working on?

The area around TechTown, in the north part of our campus, is really expanding. We had to do something with our (former) Criminal Justice building, which was an old Cadillac showroom. It was a very difficult building in terms of renovation prospects, but it’s beautiful — it was designed by Albert Kahn and built in 1920. It had been vacant for many years, and was pretty decrepit. We had to solve the parking problem, especially with TechTown nearby, and we were looking for a place to house our art collection, much of which is in storage. Peter Cumming (a developer) expressed interest, and we worked on a plan to build a parking deck (across Cass) so it will be part of a larger development that includes housing and retail, both in the historic building and the parking deck. It’s going to be a magnificent project at the north boundary of our campus. At Cass and Canfield Street, next to our University Towers, we’ve leased that land to Broder and Sachse Real Estate Services to bring in new housing, retail, a West Elms hotel, and parking. Now we’re going to take a little break and conduct a detailed master planning process so we’re not doing things as (they) come to us.

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