Caryn L. Beck-Dudley: First woman president of AACSB

“I am passionate about the power of higher education to transform lives and change the world for the better”; says Caryn L. Beck-Dudley, president of AACSB International.

What does it mean to you to be the first woman in the AACSB executive presidency?  

It is always interesting to be the “first.” It seems like that has been the case my whole career. I was the first woman on tenure track in my university department, the first woman to have a baby on tenure track at Utah State University (USU), the first woman business dean at USU, Florida State University, and Santa Clara University, and now the first as President and CEO at AACSB. I hope I bring a slightly different perspective because of my life experiences and I also understand that my leadership style may be different from my predecessors. I do not underestimate the value of being a role model for others, especially young women entering the business world. The number of women business deans has increased since the 1990s, with one-quarter of business schools now reporting women deans, but there is still much work to be done for our female colleagues and students. Hopefully, my path inspires others to explore their own leadership journey. 

What does it mean to take on this great challenge? 

Caryn L. Beck-Dudley, president of AACSB International

I have led organizations through several crises, but this is, of course, incredibly challenging since it is both a pandemic and a serious financial obstacle. AACSB is laser-focused on providing essential connections for the business education community to continue to lead and innovate through this unprecedented time, ensuring that they not only survive, but thrive.  The current obstacles present business schools with opportunities to serve the future needs of society by creating new programs and shifting others—it’s a time of disruption…and opportunity for those schools willing to adapt to market conditions and change models. Business schools worldwide are being called upon to lead their universities, providing experience and knowledge in financial analysis, crisis management, supply chain management, and more. They are also serving as mentors and leaders in online learning, as many schools already had established online and remote programs. Each region and school is experiencing the impacts of COVID-19 in various ways, but all are responding remarkably.  

You have been involved in management education for more than 30 years. What are you most passionate about in this job? 

I am passionate about the power of higher education to transform lives and change the world for the better. In fact, it is AACSB’s vision to transform business education for global prosperity. Preparing the next generation of great leaders is an imperative and at AACSB we embrace our role as a convener, ensuring that our global members engage, innovate, and provide real impact. Our recently announced 2020 business accreditation standards explicitly emphasize positive contributions to society, and we look forward to amplifying the powerful impact of business education.  

You have received numerous honors: The 100 Most Influential Women in Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley Business Journal (2018), National Alpha Chi Omega Council Achievement Award, Senior Distinguished Faculty Award, Academy of Legal Studies in Business, 25 Women You need to know, Tallahassee Democrat, Visionaries 30 Women to Watch, Utah Business, and the Kay Duffy Memorial Award, Academy of Legal Studies in Business. In this context I ask you, why are there few female deans in business schools in the world? 

Most business deans come from the faculty ranks and historically there have been fewer women faculty members, so the pool is just smaller. For example, in 1985 I was the first female faculty member on tenure track in a department of 25 people.  There were only two other female faculty in the college. This is no longer the case in most b-schools, so we should expect to see more women business deans and other administrators moving forward.  Another issue that continues to limit the pool for university administrators is that many academics, men and women, join because they love teaching and research. For many, they prefer those duties over management and leadership, and there is no clear “training” model for administrators, such as department heads and deans. This is a real issue across higher education which has become more pronounced as the jobs and decisions that need to be made become more complex. AACSB is proud to provide support for new administrators, through our Learning and Development opportunities, like our New Deans Seminar.  

You have worked in institutions very close to the Latino community (you were dean of the College of Business at Florida State University), what approach do you think you have with the academic institutions of Latin America? 

In my previous leadership positions, I have always taken care to build close relationships with the local communities, including the local business communities. In my new role, I look forward to developing relationships with leaders in Latin America, both within both business school and the business community.  As soon as international travel resumes, I hope to spend quite a bit of time in Latin America visiting campuses, meeting these individuals personally, and of course enjoying the local cultural sites and cuisine.  There is no better way to strengthen relationships than by spending time together. Until then, I will continue to connect with leaders virtually in the region. 

What does Latin America mean for the AACSB? 

Since 2018, we have seen growth in our Latin American membership and, most importantly, engagement from Latin American schools in AACSB events, online platforms, and even the accreditation process. In 2020, the number of AACSB-accredited schools increased from 21 to 23, so growth, and a substantive interest from Latin American schools in quality, is tangible. We know many schools in the region share our commitment to positive societal impact and AACSB sees Latin America as an opportunity to expand our commitment to quality assurance even further. 

The AACSB accreditation standards were recently approved, what are the main changes in this process? 

The standards are now principles-based, not rule-based, supporting schools as they deliver on their unique mission. They continue to be rigorous and require peer evaluation, while emphasizing outcomes in learning and research, and demonstrated positive societal impact.  Aligning with a trend throughout higher education, we also transitioned the focus from “students” to “learners,” recognizing that lifelong learning is essential to personal and organizational success. AACSB-accredited schools endorsed these new standards enthusiastically and we are excited for this transition.  

For several years, AACSB went from being a North American organization to an organization with a global presence, in that sense I ask you this daring question: Is there the possibility of organizing ICAM in a Latin American country? 

Before than pandemic, we’ve held events across all the regions we serve. There are so many great locations to choose from and I will encourage our learning and development team to explore opportunities in Latin America in the future. For now, we invite our colleagues in Latin America to join us at our virtual conferences where we have attendees from around the world connecting and collaborating. 

As AACSB President, what message can you give to representatives of business schools in Latin America? 

AACSB is a connector and convener. We welcome all business schools in Latin America to become members. They will join leaders from the best business schools around the world and their participation will enrich AACSB’s diversity, enhancing opportunities for all. Access to AACSB, our members, and our resources will provide invaluable outlets to collaborate and grow within a culture of global quality education.