Zeger Degraeve is the Dean of Melbourne Business School, the graduate business school of the University of Melbourne. Over the past 60 years, the school has developed a global reputation as a high-quality provider of business education and research, ranked among the top one per cent of business schools in the world.
What was your first job out of University and how did it shape your future career path?
When I graduated with my doctorate in Business Administration from The University of Chicago in 1992, I went back to my home country, Belgium, and became a Professor of Management Science at the Business School of the University of Leuven. I stayed there for 7 years and was appointed as a Professor of Decision Sciences at London Business School in 1999.
Who has inspired you the most in your career?
My parents. They are hard-working, modest and dedicated people who always wanted the best for their two sons. They are not very educated and saw education as the only guaranteed road to personal success.
What is the most rewarding part of your current role?
Working with some of the world’s best faculty, students and alumni to develop and deliver business education programs that have a lasting impact for individuals and organisations. It is making a positive difference to the lives of people, and, by consequence, the organisations they work in. I still find time to teach on our degree and executive education programs, and I also find this incredibly rewarding.
What are your top tips for aspiring leaders? How can they break through to the executive ranks?
Do really well at what they are currently doing. Try to make a difference that’s remarkable, and always be kind to people. You will get noticed and invited to assume more and more responsibility.
What is your long term strategy for growth of the Melbourne Business School?
As Dean, I have focused on our mission to enable individuals and organisations to be global leaders through the creation, application and growth of business and economics knowledge. To achieve this, the School has focused on ensuring we attract the highest quality of students and faculty, and we have also been investing in research and facilities to back this. This strategy is about not necessarily being the largest business school in the country, but the best, because that will attract students and clients over the long-term.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
Every job has its challenging parts. For me, it would be managing our diverse group of stakeholders. Although Melbourne Business School is a small organisation, we have several important stakeholders including the business community, our donors, the University of Melbourne, our alumni, our faculty and our students. They all have somewhat different needs, so ensuring that the School can best serve them has been challenging at times.
How can leaders foster a culture of innovation within their organisation?
I believe leaders can foster a culture of innovation within their organisation by empowering and supporting their staff. One of the critical things to achieving that is the understanding of the difference between trying to do well and the results that follow. There can always be events outside of our control that can turn good work and intentions into unsuccessful outcomes.
It is essential, however, to ensure your organisation’s values are strong enough to guide this innovation – there is no point innovating in areas that won’t add value or move you from your mission. We are fortunate to have a very clear mission and values at Melbourne Business School, and I believe it has provided the guidelines our staff need to innovate.
How has the disruptive changes of technology to businesses impacted the education Melbourne Business School offers?
Every organisation encounters a potentially disruptive technology – it is the nature of the modern world. However, at Melbourne Business School we don’t view technology as a negative, we have embraced opportunities offered by new technologies that support us to better achieve our mission, better engage our students and participants in the learning process or better operate our business. That said, because our focus on being a high-quality provider of business education with a strong focus on sharing knowledge and skills among our students, technology has been more of a complement than a disruptor to our model of education.
What were the benefits of working with an executive recruiter to secure this opportunity?
First, an executive recruiter is very helpful in identifying opportunities that match your profile of knowledge and experience. They present you with suitable opportunities and therefore avoid wasting your time. Second, a good executive recruiter serves very much as a coach during the recruitment process. They inform you about the hopes, dreams, expectations and aspirations of their client and help you in exploring and discussing strategy with the client during the interviews.