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Advisory Council works to improve Robins School of Business

Published: September 27, 2012, 2:29 am ET
Collegian Reporter

When Nancy Bagranoff was hired as dean of the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business in 2010, she said she had made it a goal to learn more about the business community around the city of Richmond.

In order to fulfill her goal, she sought guidance from the ambassadors for the business school on the Executive Advisory Council.

“I went out to their places of business in Richmond,” Bagranoff said. “I was able get a feel for the community and also understand our alumni base.”

Since then, Bagranoff has tried to use the council’s roles in networking, general advice and curricular activity enhancement, in the best way possible, said Mark Cross, vice chairman for the council.

The council is made up of University of Richmond alumni and business practitioners in the Richmond community. Some members work at the university, and others work at companies like Deloitte & Touche LLP or Barclays Capital.

“We understand a mixture between the two brings in a rich diversity of thought,” Bagranoff said. “Most of them are pretty active with the school. We ask them to support us financially if they can and definitely hire Spiders.”

Cross is the senior vice president for MeadWestvaco Packaging, a global company based out of Richmond. He said he had made a conscious effort to make the resources of his company available to business school students and faculty.

“We have supported the business school and have hired business school graduates,” Cross said. “Our CEO [John A. Luke, Jr.] is even presenting there as part of the C-Suite Conversations series.”

The council members meet twice a year, and at every meeting they discuss a different topic, which is preemptively chosen by Bagranoff and council chairman Robert Reynolds. Recent meetings have been about career development and undergraduate curriculum.

Cross said that it was important for the business school to evaluate courses with low participation rates that didn’t offer skills businesses were looking for in potential employees.

“We are trying to make sure we’re not over-investing in yesterday’s courses and under-investing in tomorrow’s courses,” Cross said. “We want courses with case studies involved and critical thinking, not just memorization.”

Bagranoff said the council members advice had propelled the undergraduate program to recently add a business analytics course and the Masters of Business Administration program to begin the process of adding a communications course.

“The council members have stressed communication as one of the most important things in the business world,” Bagranoff said. “They talked about analytical skills and personal relationships.”

As well as the negatives, the council members also highlight implementations that seem to be working, Cross said.

“I’m amazed by students here and how prepared they are to make presentations,” Cross said. “I tell the school, ‘Whatever you’re doing, do more of it,’ because honestly, it’s an unbelievable differentiator.”

The council has also begun a student mentoring program. Interested business school students apply in order to work with council members, who give guidance throughout the respective student’s four years at the university.

Reynolds and Cross both said the program had been enriching for them, as well as for the students involved.

The council members also participate as speakers at Q-camp, which is a weekend for a select group of business school sophomores to learn about social and professional networking in a non-class environment. It’s held annually at The Westin Hotel in Richmond.

Cross said Q-camp was one of the ways the business school got students to believe they could win and play at the highest level.

In recent years, the business school has scored highly in prestigious academic rankings, such as Princeton Review. In April, BusinessWeek ranked the Robins School of Business No. 15 among American undergraduate business programs.

“We definitely look at those stats, and we talk about it,” Cross said. “We’re proud of the progress.”

While the council has been proud of these rankings, the real reason for the success of the school had been the dean and the faculty, Reynolds said.

“They’re the ones who are doing it day in and day out,” Reynolds said. “We’re just there to fine tune a thing that’s already great.

Contact staff writer Scott Himelein at

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