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Leavey School of Business Santa Clara University
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A person in a suit smiling in front of a modern building.

A person in a suit smiling in front of a modern building.

An Interview with Dean Ed Grier

Amanda Williams, an accounting student who works in the Dean’s office, recently had a sit-down interview with Dear Grier. She asked Dean Grier questions about his previous experience, most memorable experience so far as the Dean, plans for the school, and advice for prospective students.

Dean Grier joined the Leavey School of Business in Summer 2021. He served as the Dean of the School of Business at Virginia Commonwealth University. Before that, he had a successful 29-year career with Walt Disney Company, where he served in a variety of roles around the globe, including president of the $2 billion, 20,000-employee Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif. At SCU, Dean Grier will lead the Business School with more than 170 faculty and 50 staff members, and over 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students. Dean Grier earned his B.A. in accounting from Duquesne University, becoming a certified public accountant while at Ernst & Ernst (now known as Ernst & Young) for four years before joining Disney. Dean Grier and his wife Valerie rejoin their three sons and their families, who all reside in California.

Amanda Williams, an accounting student who works in the Dean’s office, recently had a sit-down interview with Dean Grier. She asked Dean Grier questions about his previous experience, most memorable experience so far as the Dean, plans for the school, and advice for prospective students. The full interview can be found below.

An Interview with Dean Ed Grier

Amanda: “Can you tell me about your previous career experiences? How do they compare with your new role as Dean of the Leavey School of Business?”

Ed: “As you probably know, I spent a lot more time in the corporate sector than working in higher education, so there’s a big difference. I was in public accounting and then I went to the Disney company after that and worked there for 30 years. I worked all over the globe and spent lots of time internationally. But, for me, I just wanted to go to higher education. I know the importance of it being first-generation myself, and I was highly involved with my children’s education as well.

Some things are transferable between the two; I think leadership skills are highly transferable. I was fortunate enough to lead large organizations at Disney, my last one having 20,000 employees and generating $2 billion in revenue at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. So although I feel the leadership skills do translate, the difference is how you lead people. Shared governance is a big deal in higher education, which is something I knew going in. This makes the process much different and it usually takes a little longer, you know, I can’t just send a memo out and things happen. You’re leading a group of really smart people, but they’re largely individual contributors. So because they’re individual contributors by nature of what they do, to get them all moving in the same direction can take a little bit more time and effort. You have to be very adept on how you communicate, on how you get to know them, on understanding what’s important to them. You have to do that in any corporation, too, but it’s much more of a shared relationship than before.

The time it takes to make decisions is elongated in the university setting, also. You can miss a cycle very easily. Because you’re in the academic year, if you miss a cycle, you have to wait until the next year to start it, which is a big difference. In the corporate world, most times if you need to make a change you can just go ahead and make it without any consideration to the calendar.”  

Amanda: “I know from working in the Dean’s office that you’ve been making a big effort to meet with everyone who does work here. What can you say about the current faculty in the accounting department specifically?”

Ed: “I will say that the faculty in accounting are very focused on the students, on the relationships they have with the community, specifically the people who will hire our students, and they’re very focused on how the industry is changing. You know, when I was back in the dark ages of public accounting, it wasn’t the same thing whether you look at it from a forensic standpoint or an analytic standpoint, or just how things are done on the audit side. So, I think they are doing a really good job at molding the educational experience through curriculum and job experience for our students so they will be ready for the marketplace. They are very in-tune to it. I think they use their advisory board extremely well to help them make their decisions on how things are changing. I’m very impressed with them.” 

Amanda: “I am as well. I’ve had a great experience being an accounting student at Santa Clara. Overall, being quite new to Santa Clara, what has been your favorite or most memorable experience?”

Ed: “I think my favorite, you know any time you’re new, you get the opportunity to meet a lot of people. I think your vision is the clearest when you’re new. So, I’ve set out to meet as many folks as I can, to listen to them and understand what’s important to them. At all levels, from a level of when I’m speaking to another professional or on a personal level as well. I think we’re always concerned with the balancing act on your professional life and your personal life. They’re separate, but there’s always a crossover there. So I would say my favorite thing is getting to know the folks. I carved out a big chunk of my time just to meet with them, and I did it in 20 minute increments which wasn’t nearly enough time, so the 20 minutes usually turn into half an hour or 45 minutes. But, it’s been really rewarding to me to get to know them. They are all very honest, and I want and need that honesty because I think it will pay off in the long run. The people will tell me what’s on their mind, when things are going well and when they’re not, because if I don’t know the truth about the organization, about decisions I’m making, then they won’t be good decisions. My biggest role is to set the tone here and I want to create an atmosphere where people feel included moving forward. It’s been a great way for me to introduce myself to them and for them to introduce themselves to me, and it’s been paying off as I see that people come up to me now just to talk about things. It’s been a great investment of my time that’s been well worth it.

Amanda: “That’s really interesting to hear. Having gotten the perspective of many of the people who do work here, has their feedback in any way shaped your vision for the future of LSB? Or what changes do you plan to make that will make the school and its programs even better than they are now? 

Ed: “Certainly I think that the students are great, sitting across from one now. You guys do a wonderful job; I think the students are very focused on their work, I think they are very focused on who they are as individuals, and how they carry themselves is very important. But, I do think as I look through what we’re offering our students, the fundamentals are great in each discipline, but we could do a better job on preparing our students for the marketplace. What I mean by that is making sure we help our students with professional development, which is an ongoing process. I think we can up our game on career counseling just a little more. Not that we do a bad job currently, but as the workplace and the world is changing post-Covid, we need the ability to be able to flex a little more as things change in front of our eyes. We used to call them soft skills, but it’s not that anymore. These are essential skills for the workplace of the future; to work in diverse groups, to work in a team environment, to work in ambiguous and grey areas. So, although I know you have a job for after graduation along with many of our other students, we could do a better job at making sure all of our students are as prepared as possible for entering the workforce. 

Another thing is, we just don’t talk about ourselves enough. We have a really good brand, but you don’t hear about it much. People say we are a ‘hidden gem,’ but why should we be hidden? We should really expand upon that - and we will do a much better job at that. Not that we plan to be boastful, but we just plan to tell our story, to tell the truth, and the folks that tell the real truth are our students. Our students are our secret weapon; You all are authentic, you’re believable, and you’ll tell it like it is. If we do a good job at making sure your experience here is a good experience, we can use our students to tell our story in a really robust way. It’s a great asset that we have here that is currently not being used to its fullest potential. 

Our location is also wonderful in terms of the amazing community that surrounds us. I just had a meeting earlier with one of the folks on our advisory board - they want to help us. So, we have a tremendous asset just sitting around us full of people that have been here before, many of whom are previous graduates of the university themselves, but many of whom who are not. And they all want to help regardless of that because they are a part of our larger community. We should really use this great opportunity and advantage we are given to strengthen our school and it’s bond to the area. 

The last thing I would say is our network of alumni at the Leavey School is gigantic, but we need to lock it in a little more. So many folks want to help, but we need to communicate to them on a consistent basis. Most importantly, we need to make sure that the engagement that we have with our alumni is meaningful, which will take some work on our part. No one is complaining about the current state, but I don’t want to squander the asset that is our alumni.”

Amanda: “We do have a lot of really great alumni. I mean, you can tell from just walking around campus that we have many incredible alumni in all fields. For our last question, do you have any advice for students who are deciding if Leavey School of Business is the right school for them?”

Ed: “Whenever students come here, I tell parents and students that they should go look at some other place, too. I say that out of a sense of confidence that I think we have a wonderful school here, a wonderful environment, great faculty and staff, an amazing campus from a facilities standpoint. But I want students to feel like this is their home, and I want them to make the right decision for themselves. Certainly there’s a lot of competition out there, and some may be confused at why I might say that to potential students, but I say that because I want it to be true. The worst thing we could do is tell you all these great things and somehow not be honest and truthful to them, and it ends up being the wrong decision for the student. It’s a beautiful place with great students and a great environment, but it’s got to be right for them. And I think that makes it much more meaningful when those students go on to study at Santa Clara.”

(Written by Amanda Williams, Accounting, Class of 2022)