Q&A: New dean of Mason business school looks to future

Ajay Vinzé, the new dean of George Mason University’s School of Business, has a motto with wide-reaching implications: “Everything is business.”

While serving in his previous job as dean of the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business, Vinzé toured the state, asked a farmer what he did and received a typical, laconic Midwestern response: “I’m a farmer.”

Vinzé told the man he actually was a businessman.

“Do you do budgets? Do you do payroll? Do you do marketing?” Vinzé asked him. “You’re a business person. It just so happens that you’re in the agriculture sector.”

A Fulbright Senior Specialist who has visited or lived or worked in more than 70 countries, Vinzé previously was a professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Vinzé officially started his new job July 1, but has been conferring with Mason faculty and staff to acclimatize himself to the university.

The Sun Gazette asked Vinzé about his plans for the School of Business and edited the conversation for brevity.

What are your goals for the school?

“The ‘no-brainer’ goals are to increase and enhance our student experiences over here at George Mason and our School of Business and also to make sure our students are career-ready, with jobs in hand or at least a clear sense of what their goals and focus are once they get done over here.

We need to make sure we have a strong sense of retention of our students, to make sure people who join stay on and complete their degrees and so on in a timely way. We also need to maintain a strong trajectory on leading-edge research that comes out of the business school that actually impacts practice and the broader society.

We need to do things that are intentional and distinguish us as a business school locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. We have to do things that are high-value adds, that address the need of the times. We also need to be intentional about global partnerships and pathways for international institutions to connect with us, and not just with student and faculty exchanges.”

What are the strengths of Mason’s School of Business?

“We have an outstanding faculty over here, which is diversified in its academic and professional skills, and we have a wonderfully diverse student body. Those are natural advantages that we have, but another advantage is we sit on the edge of one of the most dynamic cities in the world, with a whole group of organizations and businesses that drive our economy.”

What would you like to do differently at Mason?

“In many ways, we are competing against institutions with a long history and long traditions, both in the region and nationally. Mason is a younger school – we just celebrated our 50th anniversary – and that certainly is an advantage of sorts. It gives us the nimbleness and flexibility to do things [while] sometimes institutions with longer traditions have a harder time changing.

We need to engage more intensively with local businesses, many of which have a national and international presence. As a business school, we need to make sure we’re relevant to them because we do provide them the workforce of the future and we need to be aware of what they’re looking for.”

How is student learning changing?

“It’s more than just online. It’s really a broader spectrum of understanding of how you consume education – experientially or in a gamified fashion [using game-playing elements to encourage engagement] or in a modular way. So it’s not going to be the same-old, same-old. We have to look at what the expectations of the students are and what the expectations are of the consumer community, which are the business enterprises.”

Where do you see the business world heading?

“Globalization certainly had its heyday through the ’90s and early 2000s, and while it’s certainly on the ropes in some ways right now, globalization is not something that we can shy away from. It will continue to have a significant impact, be it through supply chains or other forms of collaboration.

What is needed is a more intense understanding of the fragility of a highly tied international set-up and ‘just-in-time’ methods. You have tremendous efficiencies, but there’s a level of fragility that goes with it also, which is what we are experiencing right now. A disruption in one part has huge ripple effects all over the place.

Broad-stroke dissing of globalization is not the thing to do. It causes heartaches and headaches. It is perhaps an overreaction to what we’re seeing right now.”

What elements of business education do you see enduring?

“We have to make sure our students are well-trained in the basics of business, including accounting, marketing, management, finance, technology, information systems, operations and so on. How we apply that in context starts to evolve. I think we have to make sure our students are well-versed and well-grounded in the fundamentals.

No. 2 is to understand businesses are conducting themselves differently these days. They are more real-time, more interconnected and cross-connected. Student understanding of that is going to become important.

‘Think globally and act locally’ continues to apply in a meaningful way. It’s on us to reach out and connect with other disciplines to make sure we are more relevant to them and they are to us.”

One of your interests is artificial intelligence. How can AI aid businesses and are there any risks involved?

“I’ve been an AI researcher since the 1980s and even then it was like, ‘The time for AI is coming. This is a golden age.’ The cycles that AI goes through are a function of the computing speed and data available and the algorithms. AI is definitely on the upswing right now and the impact of what AI is doing currently is second to none. It is really awe-inspiring, what is being done.

Like most new innovations, there is always a time where we as individuals or as a society need some time to get used to it and then translate what that does for us in our context. As we internalize it, we will adjust to AI and AI will adjust to us. Being a technologist by training, I’m not fearful of what AI can or will do, but I’m very excited about the possibilities of how we’re going to adopt and adapt to AI.”