Five Qs: Robert Forsythe, New Dean of Wayne State Business School

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Robert Forsythe, a professor of finance and former dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Business, spoke with DBusiness Daily News about the goals he has for his new role starting in mid-July as dean of Wayne State University’s School of Business Administration.

1. DDN: What interested you about coming to Wayne State?

RF: There are a number of things. One is the location. I think that Detroit is making a great comeback and Wayne State, being where it is, is well suited to participate in the turnaround and economic development that’s going on here. I hope to lead the school of business right into the middle of that. The second thing is we have a great faculty and staff to work with. I’m looking forward to working with them, and I think there are some good opportunities to build programs that further enhance the success of students at Wayne State.

2. DDN: What programs will you build?

RF: One of the things I’ve learned to do is when you start (a job) someplace new, start with things you’ve had success with in the past. One of the things we’ve have had enormous success with at the University of South Florida is what we call our corporate mentor program, which pairs first generation college students with young mentors from the corporate community to meet at least once a month, preferably off campus. Because these students who are first in their families to attend college and are business majors generally don’t have a good understanding of what it is they’re about to get themselves into. With these mentors, they can have a better grasp on that. It’s been a program that we’ve been running at USF for about seven years and it is fairly heavily supported by a number of companies in the Tampa Bay area. I hope to get similar support here.

3. DDN: How do you plan to strengthen the university’s relationship with Detroit?

RF: I think it’s important for the business school to get involved with local area companies and help them in any way we can. So, for example, after I get to know the local business leaders, I’ll ask them if we can take one of the dozen ideas floating in the back of (their) head and shape it so that it fits into the context of one of our courses. And if we can do that, I’ll talk to the faculty member who’s teaching that course about overseeing a team of four or five students to try to (develop) some answers to the project they’d like to work on. And if they agree to do this, their obligation would be to come to class at the end of the semester and both listen to and critique the students’ recommendations. That’s win-win for everybody. Because the business community gets something out of it, and the students get some real world experience.
We also hope to develop a strong — or stronger — entrepreneurship program and spend a lot of time working with the small to medium size startups in and around the Detroit area, helping them to grow and thrive. That’s another reason why I’m here. The business opportunities are immense.

4. DDN: How can you help Wayne State increase its graduation rate?

RF: Over a five-year period, the University of South Florida increased its six-year graduation rate from 48 percent to 63 percent. To increase 15 percent in five years is huge. These numbers are university wide, although I believe our college had a bit of an impact on it. A lot of it had to do with paying more attention to students, (such as) having the requirement that students outside of a 40-mile radius of campus had to live on campus as freshmen. That really got them indoctrinated into the fiber of the campus community. Even if they moved off campus after that, they still knew what they could be doing when they were on campus. And we put together a lot of special programs — the corporate mentor program is just one example.

5. DDN: What are you doing to prepare for the transition?

RF: My wife and I came to Michigan (last) week for house hunting, but I’m not the decision maker. (Laughs). So I spent one day looking at houses with my wife, and she’s been doing the rest. And for (the rest of the week), I was (at WSU) every day, having one half-hour to an hour meetings with one person after another. Counting these eight- and nine-person dinners, I’ve probably met with about 35 people or so. It’s like drinking out of the proverbial fire hose, but it’s a way to get me up to speed very quickly. So when I start on (July) 21, I’m not gong to guarantee that I’ll hit the ground running, but at least I’ll be in a trot.

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