College of Business Get Ready to Stretch

'World-Class' Dean Christopher Puto rolls up his sleeves

• Nearly 40 percent of St. Thomas’ 5,400 undergraduates choose a major offered by one of its departments: accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, legal studies in business, management and marketing.

• About half of the university’s almost 6,000 graduate students are College of Business students in nine master’s degree programs, making the college among the largest graduate schools of business in the United States. In addition, its 13 professional development centers and institutes serve more than 18,000 participants annually.

A little more than a year later, the College of Business has its first dean, Dr. Christopher Puto, former dean of the Robert Emmett McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. The voluminous college is now poised, under Puto’s leadership, for some serious toning.

The Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, described Puto’s appointment as a coup for the university. “Dr. Puto is world-class dean,” Dease said. “He has superb leadership skills and high standards; he also sets ‘stretch’ goals that will help our business school to become the best among business schools at Catholic universities.”

One of those “stretch” goals is obtaining accreditation for the College of Business – a three- to seven-year process – and national recognition for the quality of its programs, faculty and students. Puto has experience with both efforts, having served three years on the Accreditation Committee of the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), where he was a member of accreditation review teams for the University of Chicago and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, among others.

“The purpose of accreditation is to assure the business education consumer – students, prospective students and future employers – that our curriculum and educational experience here meets well-defined standards of quality,” Puto said. “It is obviously possible that St. Thomas has already accomplished that without accreditation. But its purpose is essentially certification of that quality.

“For example, both St. Cloud State University and the Harvard Business School are both AACSB-accredited. I would argue that it is imperative for St. Thomas’ programs to be similarly affirmed. Accreditation enables you to compete on an even footing with a greater range of schools. As business enterprises continue to grow in the state and in the Twin Cities, external recognition becomes even more important in the region. AACSB International accreditation is a next logical step in our development.”

Affirming the quality of the College of Business could have some far-reaching consequences.

Since 1998, when Puto’s deanship at Georgetown began, its business school’s MBA program moved into Business Week’s top tier, rose from No. 30 to No. 22 in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings and saw a 50 percent increase in applications. Its International Executive MBA program was ranked No. 9 by Business Week, and its undergraduate business rankings moved up as well.In just three years, the school also raised nearly half of its $150 million capital campaign goal.

“People might assume that St. Thomas’ business school is about the same size as Georgetown’s,” Puto said. “In fact, we’re two and a half times larger than Georgetown. The challenge here is to impart the personalized nature and quality of a St. Thomas education to such a large number of students.

“My goals for the College of Business are, internally, to be seen as a respected part of the academic community here, and externally, as a source of pride for the Twin Cities and nationally recognized for its role in educating highly principled business leaders for all levels of society.”

What about the common perception that because of its size, the College of Business has the potential to dominate university resources and smaller programs?

“We have a responsibility to create the best business education experience possible for all of our students through intellectual rigor and careful attention to business practice,” Puto said. “If we do that, we ought to be able to generate enough revenue to appropriately compensate our faculty and at the same time support many non-business activities at St. Thomas. The opportunity to help the university is far more present than the ability to hinder.”

Puto, who also was named to the university’s Opus Distin-guished Chair for the Dean of the College of Business, has held a variety of management positions in academia as well as the private sector. Previously he was associate dean and director of the MBA program at the University of Arizona’s Karl Eller Graduate School of Management and was assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan. His decade of corporate experience included a vice presidency of Marathon Auto Supply Co., national account management for the Ross Corp. of Miami, Fla., and allied sales management for the Burger King Corp. He also has consulted for the Bank of America, Eastman Kodak and General Electric, among others.

In 1985, Puto was the first person to receive a Ph.D. in business administration from Duke University. He received an M.B.A. from the University of Miami (Fla.) in 1966 and a B.S. in economics from Spring Hill College, a small, Jesuit school in Mobile, Ala., in 1964.

Puto’s academic specialties are marketing strategy, consumer and managerial decision making, and advertising – all of which should be valuable as he seeks to strengthen the College of Business’ reputation.

His research has been published in a variety of academic journals, and he has won several research and teaching awards, including the Enterprising Educators Award from the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepre-neurship.

“In St. Thomas, I see a university that has benefited from visionary leadership and made tremendous strides in Catholic education, and I wanted to be part of that,” Puto said. “My entire life’s goals are to make a positive difference wherever I am. I hope that people will view the University of St. Thomas as even better than it already is.”

Puto’s clicking through his contacts on a PDA and has rolled up his sleeves. He’s excited, as fall classes are almost ready to begin. “That’s the best day of the year!” he exclaims. He’s busy setting up not one office but two – one on the Minneapolis campus, where he can interact with graduate students and faculty, and one on the St. Paul campus, where undergraduate business programs are housed.

Maybe it’s destiny that the new dean was born in the “Motor City,” Detroit, and raised in Marathon (a tiny community in the Florida Keys). He has a job where industriousness, stamina and patience are definite assets.

Puto’s wife, Dr. Susan Heckler, an Anoka native, University of Minnesota graduate and nationally recognized marketing scholar, will begin teaching in St. Thomas’ Management Department this winter.