Pamplin dean charts a new course for the college
When Robert Sumichrast returned to Virginia Tech to interview for the dean’s position in the Pamplin College of Business in December 2012 after a decade-long absence, he was struck by how much physical change had occurred on campus — and how little of it had taken place in Pamplin Hall.
It was evident to him then that Pamplin needed more resources to be, he says, a “21st century business school.” A cultural shift, he soon realized, was also in order.
Since taking the helm in July 2013, Sumichrast has embarked on a torrid pace of change.
“I like a fast pace,” he says. But his moves also reflect his desire to make the most of the momentum he currently has, including the keen interest and enthusiastic response he has received from Pamplin faculty and staff, students, and alumni.
“In formal meetings and informal chats, I have gotten great ideas on how to move forward. You can’t apply every good idea, of course, but people will stop giving you their ideas if they don’t see any action.”
At Pamplin for almost 20 years before leaving in 2003 to lead Louisiana State University’s E.J. Ourso College of Business and later the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, Sumichrast says among the things he learned on the job at LSU and UGA is “the need to develop a mission for your business school that is distinctive and that defines a space where you can be one of the very best.”
It is imperative, he says, “to understand the environment and make plans that fit and that take advantage of your institution’s strengths.” It is also essential, he adds, “not to delay when you need to make and implement a difficult decision.”
Thus, his first steps included suspending admissions to the full-time MBA — to focus resources on part-time MBA formats and the highly ranked master of information technology — and investigating the market for an executive doctorate program.
“I felt that Pamplin needed to become more focused,” Sumichrast says. “The college has a wide range of programs. Some were very high quality and in great demand. Others were costly but did not fit our strengths or have strong reputations.
“We have made changes so that we can invest in those programs that can become among the best in the country while eliminating or suspending those that currently did not have that potential.”
Read more about Sumichrast, including faculty recollections of the impression he made at his first job interview at Virginia Tech, his thoughts on cooking, and a guide to saying his often mispronounced last name in “Meet the new dean” in Pamplin’s spring 2014 magazine, Virginia Tech Business.