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November 2005
Belk College Boosts Business Base
By Ellison Clary

     Dr. Claude C. Lilly III believes that listening to executives and selfless leadership build a successful business school. Starting his eighth year as dean of the Belk College of Business at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Lilly says experience bears out his assessment.

“You’re dealing with Charlotte business leaders who are very bright; they have a tremendous amount of experience and talent, and a dean can learn by listening to them,” Lilly says. “You need to find out how you can help them and support them.”

Complimenting that is a specific leadership style, Lilly adds. “I never confuse being dean of a college of business with who I am individually. I’m here to serve the chancellor, the citizens and the business community, and I strive to be a servant leader.”

As the Belk College of Business celebrates its 35th anniversary this fall, Lilly’s formula has it thriving. With 3,200 students enrolled, including 550 graduate students, the business school’s growth is steady. Its undergraduate population places it among the state’s largest.

In late October, the school celebrated its anniversary with a gala celebration, where Lilly unveiled a portrait of Belk Stores scion John Belk with his late brother Tom Belk. The portrait now hangs in a conference room opposite a painting of their father, Belk founder William Henry Belk.

The Belk family long has supported UNC Charlotte, and the business college adopted the Belk name shortly after Chancellor emeritus Jim Woodward started his tenure in 1989.

Another way in which the business college is celebrating its Jade anniversary is by expanding its program offerings. Approval of a business doctorate in finance is expected by year end; meanwhile, existing programs are expanding to other countries. In 2006, the college plans to offer Mathematical Finance courses in Denmark.

The Math Finance master’s program teaches sophisticated mathematical models that help identify, measure and manage risk, Lilly says, but it does more.

“It illustrates the value of listening,” Lilly explains in his soft Georgia drawl. “The banks came to us and said, ‘We need people with expertise in these models. We want you to develop Math and Finance studies for us.’ So we did that.”

“Our role is not to tell business how to do their jobs,” he adds. “They have executives who make those tough decisions. But if we listen to what they need and how we can help them, we will be a successful business school.”

David Hauser, who earned his MBA in three years of night classes at the Belk College of Business, is Duke Energy Corporation’s group vice president and chief financial officer. The chair of the college’s advisory council, Hauser calls Lilly’s performance in tying the school to the corporate community “excellent.”

“I’ve seen Claude routinely interacting with business leaders,” Hauser says. “He’s very good at pointing the business school where it needs to go based on their suggestions.”


Rising to the Occasion

The 59-year-old Lilly smiles about coming here from Florida State University, where he was a professor of risk management and insurance and director of the Center for Risk Management and Insurance Research.

 “People asked me why I would want to leave Florida State,” he says. “I could not think of a better place to lead a business school than Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s the country’s second largest financial center, it’s got a dynamic business community, it’s a great region to place your students and the whole town is supportive of the business environment. It’s also a city that welcomes newcomers who want to get involved.”

Aided by the guidance of Charlotte-based businesses with international concerns – Bank of America, Wachovia, Duke Energy, Belk and Lowe’s roll off the tongue – Lilly feels a strong commitment to preparing students for the worldwide marketplace. With a doctorate from Georgia State University in risk management and insurance, and a minor in international finance, a world view comes naturally for Lilly.

The Belk College of Business has developed programs in which Charlotte students work with scholars in other countries on joint projects. They communicate with each other in video conference rooms. Then, near semester end, the Charlotte students visit the foreign universities to complete projects with their counterparts.

“This process teaches students to work with other cultures,” Lilly says. “It helps them understand how the rest of the world thinks. We think that is critically important.”

Concurrently, the business college has established international MBA programs such as one with Monterrey Tec, which Lilly calls the “Harvard Business School of Mexico.” An executive MBA program is operating in Taiwan, China.

Those programs allow UNC Charlotte professors to collaborate with faculty from foreign universities and observe how and what they are teaching, Lilly says, and to incorporate best practices when they return to the campus.

“It’s a mistake to assume that if we go somewhere else to teach, we share what we know and we don’t gain anything in return,” Lilly smiles. “I believe the reverse is true. I think we can learn what our counterparts are thinking and use this information to make our students more competitive.”

The Belk College’s students themselves are increasingly female, particularly at the undergraduate level, where 60 percent are women. The gender balance is more even in the MBA program, where 80 percent of students are professionals with six or more years in the workforce who are returning to school to advance their careers. They blend nicely with the 20 percent who enter master’s studies straight out of undergraduate school.

The cost of an MBA at the Belk School of Business is about $8,500 per year, Lilly says. Lilly points out, “That makes us an incredible value for an AACSB-accredited program.” A person with a business undergraduate degree can complete an MBA in two years.

But most MBA aspirants are not full-time students; they take a class or two a week, often at UNC Charlotte’s center city campus in the Mint Museum of Craft + Design. Since opening that presence a decade ago, demand has been tremendous. “Every class we offer in downtown fills up completely,” Lilly says.


At the Center of Business

Currently the University has plans to build a stand-alone classroom building at the corner of East Ninth and North Brevard streets in uptown’s First Ward area. The primary focus of the four-floor, 100,000-square-foot structure will be graduate education. Lilly hopes to move his graduate business faculty to that edifice when it opens in about three years.

“If you were to draw a one-mile circle around the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets,” Lilly says of The Square, Charlotte’s epicenter, “you would include the offices of 80 percent of our student population in the business graduate programs.” The new classrooms will be within blocks of The Square.

Speaking of faculty brings Lilly to a challenge he and other business school deans see looming. There’s a shortage of business professors that is growing in severity.

Many universities, facing tight budgets, have eliminated doctoral programs, including those in business. Yet the business professors who entered the discipline when it was hot in the early 1970s are about to retire. Lilly hopes the proposed business doctoral program will alleviate the shortage and also meet demand in the private sector for business Ph.D.s.

Lilly attributes the Belk College’s success to the deft leadership of UNC Charlotte’s chancellors and administrators. He praises the recently retired Woodward for his hands-off management of the business school in his 16 years as chancellor.

Lilly goes back some years with new chancellor Phillip L. Dubois, who returned to UNC Charlotte this summer from the presidency of the University of Wyoming. While he was provost, senior administrative officer, at UNC Charlotte, Dubois hired Lilly as an endowed professor.

Lilly chuckles about being asked at a fall orientation for MBA students what he thought of his friend Dubois. “I said I thought Phil was insightful, brilliant, talented and charming,” Lilly recalls. “The reason,” he added, “is that right before he left to go to Wyoming, he hired me.”

Dubois returned Lilly’s observation with equally dry humor by noting, “Let me point out that I hired him to fill an endowed chair, not to be dean.”


The Ambassador Makes His Rounds

Remembering the exchange amuses Dubois, but he quickly sings Lilly’s praises as a well-known ambassador of the campus that enrolled more than 20,000 students this fall.

“I’ve been all over town, in a lot of settings, and one of the first names people bring up is Claude Lilly,” Dubois says. He makes sure he mentions Lilly’s efforts in fund-raising, and lauds him for effectively placing business school graduates in area companies.

Lilly happily clicks off Belk College of Business graduates who have made good, including Manuel Zapata, founder of Zapata Engineering, and Joe Price, executive vice president and risk management executive for Bank of America. Then there’s Lowe’s, the Mooresville-based home improvement retailer with three UNC Charlotte business alumni in top positions. They include chairman and chief executive Robert Niblock, chief financial officer Robert Hull and Bill McCanless, general counsel and secretary.

Lilly acknowledges that he’s out most evenings as an invited guest at community events, often joined by his wife Frances, who is vice president of Human Resources at Central Piedmont Community College.

“She’s a real people person,” Lilly says of Frances. “We do go to a lot of functions. She mixes well and people love her.”

The couple has four children, and their grandchildren soon will number seven. Besides family, Lilly enjoys “chasing a golf ball,” and reading. He finds most new books on business shallow and prefers historical novels.

His business hero is Teddy Roosevelt. “He had a love for business, but he also had a love for the environment and nature,” Lilly says of the 26th president. “He actually saw business, the environment and the country as a unit.”

But the most fun for Lilly is job related. “I enjoy seeing our young faculty get involved in projects with the business community,” he says. “It’s nice when a business comes to us and says, “We need help developing a business plan. Do you have an MBA class that can work with us? Do you have a faculty member who can help us?”

The answer is yes, Lilly grins.

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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