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Santa Clara Leavey — The Other B-School In The Heart Of Silicon Valley

·9 min read

Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business

It was a good day at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. The U.S. News rankings had just been released, and the Leavey School had placed well in a pair of key categories.

Better than well — great. Leavey ranked No. 13 in executive education and, in its highest-ever placement, No. 19 for part-time MBA programs. Its online MBA, at No. 62, remains in the top 20% of all ranked programs.

In the administrative offices of Lucas Hall, the achievements were hailed with a vertical banner and balloons in the school’s maroon hue, and smiles and good cheer all round. On the heels of Leavey placing third overall in Poets&Quantsranking of online MBA programs — its highest-ever placement in that ranking, as well — there was an air of satisfaction and accomplishment on the sunny campus in the South San Francisco Bay.

“Many people call us a hidden gem,” says Nydia MacGregor, interim senior assistant dean for graduate business programs. “And I’d like to take the word ‘hidden’ away from that. I’d like us just to be the gem.”

PREPARING ‘LEADERS FOR FIRMS IN THE FUTURE’

Santa Clara Leavey Dean Ed Grier

There are lots of good days at Santa Clara Leavey lately, and recognition for the school’s efforts across several programs is only part of the reason. Another is its location — not only in the warm sun of the South Bay, itself almost reason enough to attend, but also as a not-so-hidden gem residing smack in the middle of Silicon Valley, one of only three major business schools that can make that claim.

The others: Stanford Graduate School of Business and UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, Nos. 1 and 9, respectively, in the Poets&Quants 2022 ranking of top MBA programs.

“We are preparing people to be leaders for firms in the future,” says MacGregor, who leads the school’s graduate business programs, including oversight of admissions, program development, career management, and student services. In 2021, Leavey was second only to the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington in Seattle for alumni employed in the tech industry. “It happens that here in the Valley, we have a lot of tech, and we have a lot of firms that are cutting-edge in the way they approach their business model. That’s the dynamism that we’re preparing them for.

“We have some things that you literally can’t replicate anyplace else in the world. I tell students, ‘You’ve heard of the ivory tower, but we have a porous tower.’ There’s this porosity that occurs between the folks here in the Valley and what happens here in the building, a back-and-forth. And it’s because we have our part-time program and our students live and work here and they’re part of the community here.”

That sense of community was a big reason Leavey’s dean, Ed Grier, joined the school last year. A long-time Disney executive, Grier was dean at the School of Business at Virginia Commonwealth University when he paid a visit to campus in 2020 — and quickly fell in love.

“I was happy at VCU — we were doing great work, including the launch of the school’s online MBA,” he says. “But this opportunity came up and it worked out great. It’s a great university, great business school, and a great opportunity for me personally.”

THE GREATER GOOD

The Leavey School doesn’t have a full-time MBA program. It isn’t going to compete for talent or recognition with its juggernaut neighbors that dominate the major rankings, which focus heavily on the MBA to the exclusion of other programs. But it doesn’t have to. It has a unique set of offerings, whether inside its robust undergraduate program — which has a student population of around 500, nearly half of whom are women and in which two dozen countries are represented — or its growing online MBA or popular part-time MBA or slate of innovative, industry-leading executive offerings.

And Leavey has another key point of difference: As a Jesuit school, it is guided in all things by a mission to make positive change. In other words, it has long resided in the space graduate business education now refers to alternately as ESG, CSR, sustainability, or social impact — and which business education, and business writ large, are in the process of wholly embracing.

“Those values are starting to really take hold in business,” Dean Grier says. “They may not say ‘Jesuit,’ but ESG, CSR, sustainability, all those things tie into that. They tie into the whole person, the greater good. For me, it’s a reminder of what we should be teaching our students. That it’s important: It’s not just about ethics, but the greater good. It is a wonderful platform to say, ‘This is us.’ It’s always been us and now businesses are embracing it.”

Santa Clara University. Photo by Joanne H. Lee/Santa Clara

Santa Clara University launched the Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in May 2019 with a mission to "expand the entrepreneurial mindset" of its students while embraces an inclusive approach that engages responsible innovation to address pressing human needs and create long-term value within our communities.. The interdisciplinary center has around 150 graduate and undergraduate students, 60% to 70% of them with non-business majors. It offers university-wide programs and events, support for business ventures, and academic and experiential learning support and programming.

Chris Norris

Chris Norris is executive director of the Ciocca Center. A former CEO and entrepreneur with nearly four decades' experience in the tech industry, Norris earned his master’s in computer engineering from Santa Clara as a part-time student while working for Intel. He says Santa Clara's and Leavey's Jesuit foundation sets it apart from — and in many ways above — the other B-schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, in ways that have only deepened over time.

"There's three main schools in the Valley, and we're unique in that it's a Jesuit school and has such a liberal arts aspect to it that I think is certainly unusual compared to the other two schools," Norris says. "I spent almost 40 years working in the industry, with Intel for 20 years, and then startups of different kinds. Was CEO for another decade or so — so I've been immersed in all things traditional Silicon Valley.

"And even though I have a master's degree from here, I've just been shocked when I come back — in a good way — when I see how different the students are here than most of the people I've run into in my career. I'm just so tired of hearing about, 'I'm trying to figure out how much money I can make,' just really tired of that. I'm tired of it in podcasts. I'm tired of it on videos. I'm tired of it in the newspaper. One of the great things here is there's just such a social awareness, and it's partly, I think, the students who interact, just by nature of the university, but it's also the liberal arts core that permeates all the programs, and it's really refreshing."

For Santa Clara students in general and Leavey students in particular, it's not lip service to say that working to make the world better is a primary goal.

"You just don't run into a student around here that doesn't care about what's happening to society, doesn't care about what's happening to our environment, who's only driven to figure out, 'How big's my check going to be at the end?'" Norris says. "I just don't run into them anyway, and I would, I think. If I was going to run into them, I'd probably run into them, 'cause we run most of the programs."

PUSHING FORWARD

Nydia MacGregor

What sets Leavey apart? Whether undergraduates, part-time MBAs, online MBAs, or executive MBAs, it's a question of mindset, says Nydia MacGregor, who in addition to being senior assistant dean for graduate business programs is also a senior lecturer in management.

"It's the kind of mindset where the job is never finished," she says. "Everything is a minimum viable product. And you just kind of keep going.

"And what does that mean? There's that part which is kind of operational and how you approach your business, but then there's the other piece which is related to how do you think about the questions —in what manner can you analyze a question, if it's a question that's never been posed before? This is kind of understanding how our students are prepared from an ethical perspective, in this intersection between ethics and tech.

"We have a lot of tech here in the Valley, a lot of firms that are changing the rules constantly in the way they approach their business model. That's the dynamism that we're preparing them for. There are firms in the Valley that are producing products and services that I can't conceive of right now. I can't use those as examples in the classroom — but what I can do is prepare them: 'Okay, then how do you approach this?' But then there's also the questions of how do we understand who it affects, and how do we understand what the ripples are that lead out from there, and then make our decisions. So it's not really about being in tech so much as about understanding the dynamism that is here, and those kinds of industries that are growing and moving and pushing forward."

ONWARD & UPWARD 

Silicon Valley, and the world of business overall, is coming around to the Leavey way of doing things, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic recedes and a new sense of working for positive change pervades graduate business education.

The Leavey School has been there all along, and now is poised to lead. And that is the story of the school, MacGregor says: upward trajectory.

"As opposed to coming out of Covid and feeling like you're in a fog, I feel that we have momentum," she says. "And that's what we want to continue to build on."

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