Bear and Bear Cub stepped into the hallowed halls of Steinberg-Dietrich hall to interview Wharton’s newly minted Dean “call me Geoff” Garrett. Hailing from Australia, Geoff opened up our chat with his secret for beating jetlag.
BnBC: So Dean Geoff, what do you miss most about Australia?
Dean Geoff: In my opinion, Sydney is the most beautiful city in the world. When I fly back to Sydney, I often land there very early in the morning, 6 am or so. From the airport, I head straight to Bondi beach for a picturesque run and a swim in the Pacific. Hands down, the best way to beat jet lag.
BnBC: We’d love to hear a little bit about what you do in your spare time, and what some of your hobbies are.
Dean Geoff: Well, the unfortunate reality of being a new Dean means that for the past four months I have had very little to no spare time. I have been meeting as many people as I possibly can, and have really jumped in with both feet. So I’m actually thinking now is a bit of a pivot point, as I’ve started to get a sense of the lay of the land. I feel like now is actually a good time for me to step back and come up for some air, to start processing all of this.
So while I haven’t had as much spare time as I would like, these days I take solace in very simple pleasures…. I love walking; not only as a form of exercise, but for my mental health. We have a Golden Retriever I try to walk in the morning and at night; I walked to campus this morning and will probably walk back home tonight. I walk to find good food and drink, especially coffee. You know, we Australians are coffee snobs.
[After pointing to Jimi Hendrix book on coffee table] You’re sitting in front of my Jimi Hendrix classic rock book. When I think about my interests, I think that I was born about 10 years too late. I would have liked to be 21 in 1969. Why? Because rock music from about ‘66 to ‘69 was just extraordinary, and movies from ‘70 to ‘73 were fantastic and I would have loved to have been a young adult at that point. In a lot of ways I’m stuck in the past, but those are the things I like.
BnBC: Is Jimi Hendrix your favorite artist?
Dean Geoff: Jimi Hendrix is probably my favorite. Interestingly Jimi Hendrix was a guy who turned the guitar upside down and played it left-handed, completely self-taught. I’m personally a left-handed person, and I just notice all these lefties — Hendrix, Obama, and others — having strong impact in society.
And what’s more interesting is that while most lefties are ambidextrous, I am totally not. I am so left sided I can only do certain things on the left side of my body, my facial expressions are more evident on the left side of my face, and even my musculature is even stronger on the left side. It’s very weird to me!
BnBC: What’s surprised you about your experience at Wharton?
Dean Geoff: First, the combination of quality of people of all sorts and entrepreneurialism is incredible. Unbelievably talented people all of whom are unsatisfied with the status quo. The other thing that struck me is how big my job is. It’s big because I have a lot of constituencies – our alumni, our stakeholders, and students – that I have to get to know. I want to get to know as many students as I can — not only is it the right thing to do from a job standpoint, but it’s just so interesting because the people here are fascinating. Finding the time to do that is hard, but it’s incredibly important to me.
BnBC: Sounds like you’ve been meeting with students quite a bit! Is that something you plan to continue doing?
Dean Geoff: Absolutely! And as I said, the jump in both feet first is the natural way to start anything; it’s what we all do. But as I start to come up for air and regroup, I don’t want to sacrifice the connectivity I’ve started creating with students, alums, the University outside Wharton. The stakeholder community is enormous, highly talented, and entrepreneurial, and having touch and feel with all of that is so important. Again, not only from a job standpoint is that important, but it’s just so enjoyable.
But I know it’s a very long game here, and I don’t want to burn out…On the one hand you want to do more, but on the other, there are finite limits to what we can do sustainably. It’s a continuous balancing act.
BnBC: Yes totally agree! The Journal plays a big part in that continuous balancing act for us. Now that you’ve been in this role a couple months, what is your view on the strategy for the MBA program?
Dean Geoff: First off, our metrics are great and we need to maintain that. The Wharton MBA program is highly ranked, our students are fantastic, our job placement is fantastic, our incoming student metrics are fantastic. We all understand that these are really strong measures for our school.
But I understand that the opportunity costs for an MBA are so much higher than 20 years ago. The reason you as students invest in that 24-hour a day MBA circuit is because you know the opportunity cost is so high. We’ve got to know that too and we need to deliver value to students above and beyond that cost:
We’ve gotta be really good at helping you find the best internships and jobs.
We’ve got to be really good at providing meaningful international experiences that don’t cut into your time, but expand your horizons.
We’ve got to be really good about integrating you vertically with the alumni community. I believe that your horizontal integration across your class is very strong, and the bonds that you develop with your classmates will last a lifetime, which is great. But there’s a vertical integration with the alumni community 5, 10, 25 years out that we need to help facilitate for you. Part of the value proposition from us has to be connecting you guys.
BnBC: How do you plan to reposition Wharton?
Dean Geoff: When I walk into my office every day I am greeted by a sign outside that says, “The Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.”
I think there are two obvious things to focus on. First, there has to be some combination of entrepreneurship and innovation. A lot of MBAs in particular want to be more entrepreneurial and we have to be really good at enabling that.
The second thing is “the leadership move” and what that looks like for MBA programs. We have the leadership program and we have the communications program, and those are fantastic. But in the Big Data world, leaders are going to make better decisions. Better decisions are better-informed decisions. Better informed decisions have a basis in really good analysis of complex data.
So if you think about Wharton — what Wharton is in finance, is what it is everywhere. It’s a rigorous, analytic, data- based institution.
BnBC: What’s your view on Wharton’s global expansion opportunities?
Dean Geoff: This is such an interesting question. I’m naturally a global-thinking person. I spent fifteen year in the US studying Europe, and over the last ten years I studied Asia. When I was in Australia, I spent my time explaining the US to Australians and to Asians. So “global” is where I live.
I think about “global” in the context of Wharton, in concentric circles. At the core, we think about international on campus, within the student body. We aim to have diversity of the student body, both in the domestic and global sense. I think we do a pretty good job of that.
Second, we want to make sure that you as students have meaningful international experiences that don’t disrupt your experience but add to it, and I think GMCs have been a great opportunity to do that.
But, you can think more expansively. We have an SF campus, but we’ll be opening up a center in Beijing in March. In the first instance, we’ll be creating professional development executive education for Chinese business and government officials. The cost of sending US students out there is incredibly high though.
So, having a global mindset — absolutely. Global operations are a much trickier thing though. We should always be open to expanding globally, but are very careful of how we do so. Corporations find themselves expanding beyond their physical capacity all the time.