It has been nearly 25 years since William E. Mayer left the University of Maryland with an MBA.
Now, after an investment banking career that ended with a stint as chief executive of one of Wall Street's biggest firms, Mr. Mayer is back, this time as dean of the College of Business and Management at College Park, the university announced yesterday.
"When I came here, I was stone broke and Maryland was very good to me," Mr. Mayer said. "After being an investment banker for 25 years, everybody harbors dreams of doing something different or giving something back."
The 52-year-old dean, who left the helm of First Boston Corp. in 1990, takes over as College Park knocks on the door to the club of the nation's top business schools without really being a member.
In a survey released yesterday by Business Week magazine, Maryland was missing from the nation's Top 20 business schools, falling onto a list of 20 mostly state schools that the magazine said were "second-tier but not second-rate" and "offer consumers the most bang for their bucks."
The new dean's task as he replaces recently retired Dean Rudolph A. Lamone is to help Maryland's business school take aim at the top. With Maryland already 24th in a 1991 U.S. News and World Report survey before slipping to 27th this year -- the goal would not seem to be out of reach.
"Mayer is probably a good person to do it because of his Wall Street connections," said Business Week senior writer John Byrne, who wrote the magazine's report. "Wall Street still hires MBAs by the bucketful. . . . I think he can deliver some recruiters who are top people. It's not easy -- there's a lot of wining and dining and pulling of strings -- but if he can do it, he can deliver the top students."
Part of getting there, Mr. Mayer said, will be helping to lead the task business schools face in "reinventing the MBA" to produce graduates equipped to help businesses compete in a more global, competitive economy.
"I think it would be fun to be part of the process of what it [an MBA] means," Mr. Mayer said in an interview Wednesday. "We always assumed on Wall Street that people had technical skills. The question was, 'What do you have beyond that to make you an effective manager?' . . . You've got to have some roundness to your education."
The curriculum will have to include more ways to teach leadership skills, he said. The current master of business administration graduate will have to know more about the global economy and about business and customs in other countries. Managers will need more interpersonal skills and more teamwork ability.
Maryland has already shaken up its curriculum, with changes effective this year designed to stress teamwork and teach students how to approach problems from all business disciplines instead of focusing on finance in one class and on marketing in another, said William D. Bradford, chairman of the college's executive committee.
Still, Business Week's Mr. Byrne suggests that what separates Maryland from the top schools is less the curriculum than connections -- more precisely, a paucity of them.
"Maryland's biggest problem is that it's a regional school and an under-recognized one at that," he said, pointing out that 65 percent of new College Park MBAs take jobs in Maryland or Virginia. "To make a top 20 list, you have to have a national or even international constituency, both in terms of students and -- the companies that recruit there."
Mr. Bradford agreed, saying, "My first impression is positive. I think he'll be able to make his former compatriots see the value of what we have here."
Providing corporate clout was a critical reason that Mr. Mayer was hired for his last job, dean of the Sloan School of Management at the University of Rochester. He left this year after the president of the university wouldn't fund some of his plans for the school.
Mr. Mayer said his focus will be mostly on the MBA program, which has about 400 students, rather than on the 1,000-student undergraduate program or the 100-student Ph.D. program at College Park.
"It's partly a function of where I've been, but it's also a function of what corporations are talking about," he said. "It's the MBA program that gets the visibility, and that's the reason for [focusing on] it."