USC appoints Wharton School dean as Marshall’s new leader

Geoffrey Garrett worked at USC in the early 200s, before serving as dean at various schools, including top-ranked Wharton School at UPenn. Photo from USC News.

The Marshall School of Business has a new leader.

The University announced Tuesday that Geoffrey Garrett, dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, will become Marshall’s next dean. Garrett replaces Jim Ellis, whose termination was protested by multiple Marshall donors. A petition against Ellis’ removal garnered over 4,100 signatures.

Following the deanship announcement, Garrett spoke to reporters about his plans to emphasize experiential and lifelong learning during his time at USC. Garrett will begin his term in July 2020.

“The centrality of both business schools to the broader universities is something I really cherish,” Garrett said, describing the similarities between Wharton and Marshall. “While all institutions are unique, and I want to spend a lot of time listening to people at Marshall and learning from them, I think I have — at least at a structural level — a pretty good understanding of where a school like Marshall fits because that’s where Wharton is in the educational landscape.”

Garrett is returning to USC after spending seven years at the helm of Wharton, the top-ranked business school in the country. He previously worked as a USC professor from 2001 to 2005 and served as dean at two business schools in Australia, where he was born, before heading to UPenn.

Though Wharton is ranked No. 1 and Marshall comes in at No. 17 in business school standings, according to U.S. News and World Report, rankings are not a part of Garrett’s concerns.

“If you do a good job, if the school is doing a good job, then the rankings will take care of themselves,” he said. “I don’t have an enormous focus on rankings.”

The new dean announcement comes on the heels of a slew of changes in USC’s administration. Provost Michael Quick, Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry and Rossier School of Education Dean Karen Gallagher have all announced their departures from the University. Garrett is the first dean to be hired as President-elect Carol Folt transitions into her new role and Interim President Wanda Austin transitions out of it.

In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Folt said she was highly involved in the hiring of the new dean, and she appreciates his approach to leadership, considering the changes at the University.

“He’s going to talk to people,” she said. “He wants to know how the community feels. We have to reestablish trust. We have to build back to a point where people are all feeling that they’re part of the decisions being made. I think that’s something he’s very mindful of, and it’s what I have to do, coming in as a president at this time.”

Transparency and “plain-speaking” communication are both key aspects to his leadership style, Garrett said. He explained that he sees deans as leaders of teams where everyone is involved in decision-making.

“If you involve more people in decisions and if they feel very free to speak their minds, to share their best ideas, I think that increases collective intelligence and improves the quality of decision-making,” he told reporters. “So, on the input side, I think you make better decisions if you involve more people, and I certainly want to practice that … The more [that] people feel like they were involved in decisions, the more likely they are to roll up their sleeves with you and [help with] implementation.”

Folt commended his forward-thinking approach regarding business education.

“There’s a lot of changes happening just in business education, and we’re in a moment when we get to look at the next phase,” she said. “What do we want to be in the next ten years? How do we see ourselves doing that?”

Garrett’s appointment comes after a four-month search, following Ellis’ announced ousting in December 2018. His term was cut short due to his alleged inadequate responses to sexual harassment and discrimination claims. However, his removal was met with much criticism from the Marshall community. 

Lloyd Greif, the benefactor of the USC Marshall Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, spoke out against the administration’s decision back in December and continues to oppose the administration’s decision to remove Ellis.

“I think that the end doesn’t justify the means,” Greif said, following the announcement of Garrett’s appointment. “Regardless of whether Garrett is the best man for the job or not, Ellis should still be there for the next three years … The fact that they’re now replacing him in twelve months, and he’s leaving in two weeks, is a disconnect.”

Greif explained that Garrett and the new USC administration will have to rebuild much of the trust that was lost after Ellis’ termination.

“Emotions are running pretty high here at the Marshall School,” he said. “There’s going to be some serious fence-mending that needs to be done to repair the damage done by Wanda Austin and Michael Quick. That’s not going to happen overnight, and that’s not going to be easy.”

Folt explained that at this point, she is just looking ahead.

“I think what we need to do is recognize the strengths of the people who got us here, and Dean Ellis certainly played a big role,” she said. “We look at where we are, we look at the strengths we have, and we build going forward. That’s what a new president can do. That’s what the new dean can do.”

As Marshall enters its centennial year, Gareth James will temporarily take the reins of the school as interim dean. James is currently a professor at the school and directs the Institute for Outlier Research in Business. He has worked at the University for 20 years, including four years when he served as vice dean for faculty and academic affairs at Marshall.

“I think the raw material and the momentum at Marshall and USC are just fantastic,” Garrett said. “I look forward to being a part of that.”