Dr. Pamela Lewis can predict the future. Or at least craft and implement a plan to make it happen. Armed with a Ph.D. in strategic planning, she has fashioned tactics for dozens of organizations in diverse industries including health care, engineering, entertainment and education. The newly named Dean of the McColl School of Business at Queens College, she is charged with strategic leadership and operational effectiveness. A proven leader and scholar, Lewis is excited by the challenge. "The McColl School has only tapped into a small part of its potential," she says. "It has a very strong foundation to leverage its competitive advantages."
Until recently, Lewis flexed her leadership might as Dean of the Lebow School of Business at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa. "Drexel University is an engineering school that grew a business school," Lewis explains. The Lebow School serves approximately 3,000 students in undergraduate, masters, Ph.D. and executive education programs with 87 full-time faculty.
As the university's first woman dean, Lewis faced the daunting task of rebuilding a school beset by declining enrollment and student quality, low faculty morale and stagnant programs. As she interviewed for the top position, Lewis found hope despite the business school's deterioration. "There were tons of problems," she admits. "It was a tough situation, but I was excited at the prospect of what the school could be."
Lewis rolled up her sleeves and went to work. She spearheaded a number of new initiatives: the Center for Electronic Commerce Management, enterprise resource planning (ERP) education and research, as well as an online MBA program. She worked in tandem with the University's marketing efforts to improve the school's brand image. She aggressively pursued corporate and alumni gifts and threw her support behind faculty research and endowed chairs. And, in addition to her administrative responsibilities, Lewis taught a new venture strategy course at the graduate level.
Three years later, Lewis had achieved the seemingly impossible. The Lebow School of Business is now nationally recognized as a leader in ERP education. The college offers an MBA concentration in e-commerce and boasts influential corporate partners including SAP and Hewlett Packard. The school hired 20 new faculty, added two new chaired professorships and strengthened ties with the local and national business community. During her tenure, fundraising soared to a whopping $14 million+ from $800,000 just three years earlier. The college has invested over $2 million in technology and facilities improvement, with an additional $7 million devoted to expansion. Today, prospective students face more stringent entrance requirements; admitted student test scores and GPAs are on the rise.
How did she do it? Lewis understands that success is more than just strategy. "It's not just casting a vision, but putting legs on it," she emphasizes. "I am very much aware of the importance of implementation."
Making a specialty of competitive and new venture strategy, Lewis has studied, written about and facilitated strategy for eighteen years. Despite her flair for the process, Lewis is aware that strategic planning strikes fear at the heart of most organizations. "Strategic planning carries negative connotations because of the failure in execution," she says. "In some organizations, it's an annual process. But the information is never actually used, so strategic planning gets a bad name."
Lewis faced significant hurdles to convince skeptical Drexel colleagues that planning could yield exponential results. "People were very jaded," she recalls. "It took a lot of hard work for them to re-commit, buy into the process and participate."
When the McColl School lured Lewis southward earlier this year, her Drexel associates were surprised by her affinity for the Queen City college. But Lewis had few doubts. "I had basically accomplished in large part what I had set out to do at Drexel and have always sought out new challenges. The McColl School reflects Queens College's liberal arts tradition. You see much more critical thinking, debate and dialogue. It's a much better fit for who I am personally."
While she admits that leaving Drexel was a painful decision, she found the McColl School simply irresistible. "The McColl School has so much support from the Charlotte community. It has an excellent faculty. It has all the pieces of the puzzle and I accept the responsibility of putting the pieces together and executing the plan taking the McColl School to the next level."
Unlike large, comprehensive institutions, smaller business schools must develop and capitalize on core competencies to raise their stature. As she explores Charlotte's business community and the Queens College constituency, the concept of leadership has become central to her emerging vision for the McColl School. "Not everybody will be a CEO," she offers, "but we can develop people into leaders wherever they are."
"Charlotte is the most civic-minded community I have ever seen," she observes. "It's really about leadership-from the broadest perspective. We have outstanding role models who have created this very distinctive culture in this city." Those role models include Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, Jr.; McGuire Woods partner John Fennebresque; Queens College President Bill Wireman; and Bank of America executive William Vandiver - all members of Queens College's Board of Trustees.
Lewis is dedicated to integrating leadership and mentoring opportunities throughout the school's coursework to strengthen the leadership emphasis. The focus on leadership does not, however, circumvent technology initiatives. While Drexel University's engineering history fostered a more scientific, technology-oriented business school, Lewis looks to establish a greater technology presence at the liberal arts McColl School. "Technology has impacted both the content and the delivery of business education across the board," she says. "In order to teach our students about how technology is affecting business, we have to use technology to deliver education more effectively."
Lewis sees the globalization of markets as a significant force affecting the delivery of business education. "Of course we teach students about global markets and how to conduct business in an international marketplace," she explains. "But our classrooms are also more diverse, and it's critical to teach students how to work with others from different backgrounds."
Another major trend impacting business education is technology. While Lewis cannot overstate the importance of e-commerce, she also sees technology from a broader perspective. "Technology has not only changed the way people work, but how they think," she says. "Today's workforce has very different expectations about their work and students have to learn a more participatory management style."
As the McColl School prepares students to manage, Lewis discusses other key developments in business education. "Business schools have to be sensitive to entrepreneurship and new venture development...particularly with e-commerce." She adds, "But even before e-commerce, entrepreneurship has been the foundation of what we're all about - capitalism."
Pamela Lewis was always on the fast track to success. Born and raised in Columbia, Missouri, her business acumen was apparent at an early age. Her father owned several businesses, including a small grocery store. By age 13, Lewis was running the store. "My dad said I came out of the womb understanding financials," she quips. "I always knew I wanted to be a business person."
After receiving a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida , Lewis spent a few years in the corporate world before pursuing an MBA. A newlywed, she entered the Ph.D. program at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville , but gave birth to her daughter, Ashley, ten months later. "No one expected me to finish the program," she says, but Lewis returned to class within a few days. Her son, Patrick, was born during her third year in the doctoral program. "Raising a family in graduate school was a lot easier than in the corporate environment," Lewis insists. She names her husband, Terry, an IT consultant, her staunchest supporter.
Lewis launched her professorship at the University of Central Florida. While chair of the management department, Lewis assumed another role: author. As the lead writer of Management: Challenges in the 21st Century, she highlighted major shifts in the field of management. This college textbook proposed a new management model for the 1990s and beyond. Now in its third edition, the text has become a mainstay for undergraduate management courses across the nation and as far away as China.
Despite her academic focus, Lewis understands the value of real-world business experience. "The McColl School doesn't hire professors without real world experience. Our professors have to understand real life and we encourage them to consult and stay engaged. That's why I continue to do strategic planning work. I come back much richer, intellectually."
At 43, she is surprisingly young to have amassed such credentials. "I've had the opportunity to move along pretty quickly," she concedes, "but I'm not too young to be a dean!"