Forging links new dean's key goal

UBC's new dean of Commerce and Business Administration has made fostering strong ties between the business world and his faculty a top priority.

"We have to take the steps to communicate what we are about to the community and the business world," says Daniel Muzyka. "We need to do more with industry in general -- work with them to develop learning programs here at UBC. The dialogue between academia and the business community has to be strong and direct."

The Harvard-educated Muzyka comes to UBC with extensive private sector and academic experience. Most recently, he served as the director of INSEAD's research centre for entrepreneurship, 3i Venturelab, and as the associate dean of the MBA program at the leading business school in France. To him, the best business ideas often come from the interaction between academic thinkers and business people.

"We need to be a major node for developing new ideas but we also need to be open to new ideas and challenges from the business world," he says.

Vital links can be forged with the business world, Muzyka says, through the faculty's participation in conferences, partnerships with industry, roundtables with business and academic participants, and producing quality students for the workplace.

Muzyka, who has worked as a strategy analyst for General Electric Co., says that with ever- increasing global competition, the "half-life of knowledge is shorter than ever" as business managers continually seek out ideas to improve their operations. That makes what researchers in the faculty are doing even more valuable to the business community.

One example is the work of Prof. Peter Frost and Assoc. Prof. Sandra Robinson. The pair's research recently brought to light the role of the corporate "toxic handler" -- someone in a company to whom others turn when they need to vent or who voluntarily shoulders the heat from upper management on behalf of other workers.

Frost became interested in the topic because of his own experiences as a human cushion in managerial positions and after talking to executives about the issue. Together with Robinson, he talked to executives -- 70 in all -- in Canada, the United States, Europe and Australia who have either first-hand experience as toxic handlers or have managed those who did. Their results were published in this year's July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Frost and Robinson's research into toxic handlers has direct implications for today's organizations, where employees face constant change and pressures to perform. They not only identify the vital importance of toxic handlers in today's organizations, but also reveal key ways in which they can be supported in the organization, maintain their effectiveness, and avoid bringing harm to themselves in the process of managing others' pain.

It's an example of the point that Muzyka is making.

"The Commerce faculty's ideas and research should be impacting the way managers think," he says. "And the business world also needs new theories and concepts as well as applied research."

Business and community leaders had an opportunity to meet with the dean at a recent reception hosted by UBC President Martha Piper and Robert Stewart, chair of the faculty's advisory council.

The event was attended by more than 150 people, including business leaders such as Peter Bentley, chair of Canfor Corp., Ronald Cliff, chair of B.C. Gas Inc. and Larry Berg, president and CEO of Vancouver International Airport Authority.

Muzyka is so keen on the idea of partnerships and communication between his faculty and the business world that a position has been created in the faculty to handle just that. An associate dean of applied research and outreach has been added to the faculty's roster with Prof. Martin Puterman in the role.

Muzyka also wants to expand the faculty.

"There is a fierce competition for the best and the brightest," he admits as he sits in an office surrounded by yet unpacked boxes. But he plans to keep UBC among the top contenders for prime academic talent.

Part of that strategy stems from the location of the campus itself. Muzyka himself was attracted to UBC in part because of what he terms its "strategic position on the Pacific" and Canada's tradition of strong relations with Europe.

"I see UBC as a crossroads -- a transportation point," he says. To him, that gives UBC a distinct advantage in recruiting both top-notch professors and students.

But while focused on his drive to establish a brisk dialogue between his faculty and the business community, Muzyka is also paying attention to internal communications as well. He has scheduled a retreat in November to develop strategy with all faculty members.

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