At his core, Dean Mac Banks is a competitor. His competitive spirit took root as a young man, when he found success on the track, the football field and the basketball court. During his college search, he received invitations from coaches to play more than one sport at the collegiate level. He chose track at Virginia Tech, ultimately being named to the school’s Hall of Fame. Then he competed for the University of Chicago track club, one of the best track clubs in the world at the time.
What does this have to do with his role as dean of the Bryan School of Business and Economics? It is about his commitment, his vision, his end game.
“When I walk out the door, I want us to be the best business school among regional public universities,” Banks says with the resolve of that dedicated athlete from his past.
When he began his post as dean in 2011, Banks seized the opportunity to take the Bryan School from very good to great.
“Everyone here was on the same page and ready to move the school forward. That excited me.”
He’d done it before, consistently leaving schools and organizations in stronger, better positions.
When Banks left the Worcester Polytechnic Institute School of Business (WPI), where he served as professor of entrepreneurship and strategy and as head of the Department of Management (WPI’s equivalent of the traditional business school), the school had the top MBA program in the country. Banks had founded the Collaborative for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and WPI had established student consulting centers on Wall Street and in London and Shanghai. Faculty publications, research grants, fundraising, enrollment and student quality all had increased.
At Mississippi State University, he had helped launch the Agribusiness Institute and create new programs targeting the upholstered furniture industry.
At Radford University, he established the Small Business Institute and the Management Center for training and development.
Outside of academia, Banks had founded two small businesses, helped build a fledgling business, and helped turn around a Chicago-based business that had undergone tremendous upheaval.
Even in his athletic endeavors, Banks had led successfully. In his first year as coach of the women’s fledgling track and cross-country team at Virginia Tech, two athletes qualified for nationals in track and one became the first woman All-America athlete ever at the school. In his second year, he led the cross-country team to a 17th place finish in the nation and another All-America selection in track. In year three, the cross-country team finished 5th at nationals and more of his runners earned All-America selections. Not bad for a doctoral candidate.
“I like working together to make things better in significant ways,” Banks says. “That’s what we’re doing here. Being part of a successful team is important to me.”
Banks credits the success of the Bryan School to its faculty and students. “I have the vision, but this is a team effort.”
It was, in fact, the faculty and students who impressed Banks in his interviews five years ago. “I witnessed an incredible amount of mutual respect between faculty and students. Bryan School faculty members believe in their students; this was overwhelmingly clear. When I met with students, it was obvious that they, too, had a great deal of admiration for their faculty.”
Teams, after all, are important to Banks. “This kind of relationship between students and faculty is rare in large, public universities, and it is largely what makes the Bryan School so strong. It told me that the Bryan School was a special place to be.”