Business Matters

New School of Business dean a quick study

Maury Peiperl admits he still is in “learning mode.” The dean of George Mason University’s School of Business has been on the job only since August. Even so, his strategies to move the institution forward are rapidly transforming from potential to kinetic.

“Some things are very clear already,” he said. “One is we’re going to raise our game in understanding who we are as a school within a great university. What is the message we can take to our markets and stakeholders about who we are?”

Peiperl, 56, grew up in Silver Spring, Md., and was previously the director of the Cranfield School of Management and pro-vice-chancellor of Cranfield University in England. He is an expert in global leadership and is expected to strengthen the School of Business’ reputation for driving innovation and forging strategic partnerships.

He wants the school to engage in more interdisciplinary initiatives, promote more lifelong learning and broaden its engagement with working professionals and government partners. He also is deeply involved in the planning for the construction of the school’s own building on the Fairfax Campus, which he expects will happen in the next few years.

Read the announcement of his hiring.

“As a school, we have perhaps punched a little bit below our weight,” Peiperl said. “We do a lot of great things, we have a lot of great people, and maybe the world doesn’t quite know it yet. Part of my job is to celebrate and build those things around particular initiatives, stories and people, not just names and brands but actual results. So there’s a lot of fertile ground for me to engage in.”

Peiperl spoke recently in his office in Enterprise Hall on the Fairfax Campus.

Why is George Mason the right place for you?

Primarily, it is about the opportunity to do things for Mason that I’m well-positioned to do, such as helping it make better connections with the business and local communities. But it’s also the excitement of engaging in much more interdisciplinary work, because that’s been a theme with me for years. And it’s the excitement of being able to connect with some great scholars, not only in my area but other areas and in other schools that care about the same issues.

What are some of those issues?

I would say how people learn in the longer term. One of the opportunities in undergraduate business education is to establish offerings that broaden people’s thinking. It’s about giving people a chance to develop in a way that isn’t just for a qualification, but to sustain them over a lifelong career, one of which is increasingly not predictable.

Doesn’t that necessitate interdisciplinary initiatives?

The biggest problems in the world, business or otherwise, are not particularly discipline specific. So if we admit that, and the evidence is all around us, why don’t we act that way as an institute of higher learning? I think Mason does. I think there’s a strong impetus here to have programs across schools.

I started life as a child of scientists whose father had a very successful second career as a visual artist. I studied engineering before going for an MBA and doing a PhD in organizational behavior. So it’s quite a mix. I’ve enjoyed being able to integrate across all these things.

How do you expand government partnerships?

With specific projects. This is something we have started to do with our government contract initiative, but we can do more, particularly around areas where the university is strong. Cyber is a big one, engineering, generally, information systems, operations management, for sure. I’m also looking for those nuggets, the things we haven’t celebrated enough. We need to show that we’re having an impact, not just with numbers or money but specific results in the world; things like the Center for Real Estate, anywhere you can point to something that has a unique character or imprint. These are things we should grow.

What is your take on connecting with working professionals?

For the last 20, 25 years, I’ve focused on working with mid-career professionals and managers, and designing and delivering programs—whether they be degree or certificate programs or nondegree short courses—on topics that are most of use to them at this point in their careers. You bring people together at points in their careers and work on the key challenges facing them. We do a little bit of it, but we could do a lot more, particularly given all the great business connections we have.

What do you want the identity of the School of Business to be?   

I think the identity is practical, connected and interdisciplinary—the thought leadership and research interests of its faculty aligned with the needs, present and future, of its markets or its regions and the world. I want this to be a place to light a fire in people’s minds, to think broadly about bigger issues. I’m looking forward to helping the school and students and faculty celebrate and grow.

With a bricks-and-mortar initiative, too, correct?

There is definitely a need and a strong desire to assert some of that identity with an iconic new building, to be funded through private donations, to give the school a better competitive position and clearer identity. We are absolutely working toward getting a building project going. It is part of my fundamental mission in coming here.