For Robinson College of Business Dean Richard Phillips, glimpses of the future can be seen from as close as the smartphone on the table in front of him or as far away as the horizon seen from a medieval tower.
First, the smartphone:
“We can now produce, collect, analyze and send information on almost everyone in the world in real time, and this information can also be collected and analyzed from any number of machines and devices,” says Dr. Phillips. “We do not yet know the limits of how all of this will change society, how we will organize our cities in the next 20 years, or how we will live and interact with one another. It is quite possible the world will look very different from now, just like it did from 1920 to 1960 or from 1710 to 1810. I think the implications are that big.”
As for the medieval tower, think of a king looking out from his perch on top of the tower during the beginning of the 18th century who sees the first smokestack of the industrial revolution being built on the horizon. “Well, he should have said, ‘The jig is up!’ because in 100 years his whole way of life was over.”
“The mercantilists came along, created massive amounts of wealth, and England took over most of the known world. And the feudal system that existed for 1,000 years ended … And it all happened because of the invention of steam power and the canals.”
Another example he cited was how new technology can diffuse through the economy and completely change society, which happened at the end of the 19th century in the United States when steam power gave way to the internal combustion engine and Henry Ford invented the manufacturing assembly line which lowered the cost of producing goods.
Without belaboring the point, Dr. Phillips was explaining what he considers the basis for preparing students at the Robinson College, the business school at Georgia State University, to excel in the 21st century. With all the disruption in the offing, he doesn’t think that the business school of the future is apt to be only “incrementally” different either, and he and his colleagues are preparing it for more profound changes.
The college’s strategic plan (Advancing Vision 2020), calls for a diverse student body to emerge “prepared to deliver value in business, government and non-profit organizations.” The plan is built around the college’s core values of openness, rigor and relevance, collaboration and a recognition of the power of markets as profound catalysts of change to create long-term well-being for all.
Dr. Phillips told Global Atlanta during an interview in his soon-to-be relocated office in the university building on Broad Street that he anticipates widespread disruption of ingrained practices in any number of established businesses to be unleashed by a “digital revolution” for which the school needs to prepare its students, placing a premium on innovation and entrepreneurship.
“This is the foundation upon which our strategy is built,” he said. “Our students need to be exposed to disciplines in a wide range of fields including analytics, predictive modeling, machine learning techniques and computer programming, among others, and to learn how to harness the power of these technologies to create the business models of the future.”
The launching pad for this new ambitious business school was secured when Georgia State bought the 19-story 55 Park Place building in 2013 for $33.5 million for its administrative offices.
Even though Georgia State has become the largest university in Georgia, it didn’t need all those floors for administration. A $2 million gift from the Delta Air Lines Foundation to the Robinson College in 2016 resolved that issue, enabling it to create the Delta Student Success Center, a space that will help students develop business communication skills, gain experiential learning opportunities and connect with businesses for internships, applied research opportunities, and jobs.
The Robinson College has taken over eight of the building’s 19 floors, floors 11 through 19. The 12th floor houses the Delta Student Success Center.
The Success Center houses the college’s Career Advancement Center, the Office of Undergraduate Advising, and the Office of Signature Programs (OSP). Opened in March, the center brings together Robinson students, alumni, advisers, faculty and members of the business community in the college’s new home, and the Office of Signature Programs with the mission to “turbocharge the immersive educational experiences we provide students by leveraging our already extensive network of business partnerships,” Dr. Phillips said.
The programs currently offered by OSP include the Panther Accelerated Consulting Experience (PACE) course, where students engage with client firms as if they are full-fledged consultants; the award winning WomenLead Program; the Robinson Honors Program; and the Panther City Immersion Programs, including Panthers on Wall Street, Panthers in Valley, and Panthers in D.C. The Panther City Immersion Programs are professional development experiences that culminate in exposing students to the financial practices on Wall Street, the entrepreneurial and technological initiatives in Silicon Valley, and the ways in which business and government engage with one another in the nation’s capital.
The 11th floor will be a classroom floor and the 13th floor will house two new recently launched institutes — the Institute for Insight and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation institute.
“Those are the first two new academic units at the business school in the last 25 years,” Dr. Phillips said. “They are the foundation of the new strategic plan. These pillars are designed to reposition the business school to be profoundly relevant in an era of digital revolution. The Institute for Insight is essentially an applied computer science department that brings computer engineering and an engineering mindset into the business school.”
The mission of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute is to provide students across the entire university campus with the skills necessary to make sustainable businesses out of start-ups and to help established firms learn to disrupt their marketplace.
“We want to prepare students to be engaged in businesses that recognize a problem and solve the problem in a viable and sustainable way,” he said.
Dr. Phillips added that the impact of the two institutes is to suffuse the entire business school with a digital and innovation mindset.
One way the Institute for Insight is spreading its influence throughout Robinson is by offering dual degrees linking the master’s of science in analytics with degrees such as the master’s of business administration, master’s of science in finance, and the master’s of science in marketing.
He seemed especially enthusiastic about the new dual law and analytics degree that will be offered for the first time in the upcoming academic year through a newly formed partnership with GSU’s College of Law. “One of the few in the country,” he added.
“Analytics — data science — is the underpinning of a lot of what is happening to drive change in many industries and many professions.”
At this point in the interview, Dr. Phillips shifted his perspective from the Robinson College to all of Georgia State’s offerings, citing the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute’s responsibility for developing programming and instilling an entrepreneurial mindset campus wide.
This was the point when he began to speak about Lego bricks. For instance, undergraduate majors in as far-flung majors from poetry, biology and business could start creating dual programs that could be attached to entrepreneurial initiatives, much as Lego elements can be assembled.
As an example, he cited the successful linking of digital media with the university’s Creative Media Industries Institute. “We created a bachelor’s degree in media entrepreneurship, which now has almost 180 majors who are studying digital film, digital games, and music and learning how to create businesses in these areas.”
With the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, also a college at Georgia State, Robinson has linked its entrepreneurial initiative to social entrepreneurship.
Robinson’s traditional academic departments, including accounting, marketing, finance, and others, will be housed on the 14th-18th floors. On the 19th floor will be dean’s office and administrative offices.
Even within the confines of his existing office in the rather traditional-looking Citizens and Southern National Bank Building, Dr. Phillips sees himself as an innovator pushing what some may view as radical ideas. As an example, he cites a recent new hire with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
“Unlike other professors who are hired to teach and advance their field of expertise with research, we did not engage this gentleman to teach or to advance electrical engineering,” he said. “Instead, his job is to come into the business school and to adapt what he knows from his background and education to teach data science and artificial intelligence to the next generation of business leaders.”
“In the research realm his job is to take his skill set and the way he was trained and thinks to advance the future of business by working on interesting problems with other faculty members or business partners.” he added, “We want them to ask ‘What can we learn about the future together?’ “
Dr. Phillips added that he considers this a way Robinson can fulfill another of its ambitious goals of working more closely with local companies that also want to anticipate tomorrow’s challenges.
Dr. Phillips may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org