USC picks Wharton dean to lead business school following controversy

Geoffrey Garrett is the current dean of the University of Pennsylvania's business school. (USC)

USC announced Tuesday that it had named Geoffrey Garrett, a scholar of global commerce and politics and the current dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s renowned Wharton School, as the next leader of the Marshall School of Business.

The outgoing provost of USC, Michael Quick, said Garrett would officially start as dean on July 1, 2020.

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Garrett has led the top-ranked Wharton School since 2014, after brief stints serving as dean at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales business schools.

Before then, the Australian native lived for nearly a decade in Southern California, with appointments at UCLA and a tenured faculty position at USC’s School of International Relations. He also served as the president of an L.A.-based think tank, the Pacific Council on International Policy.

“We are adopted Angelenos — and in a personal sense, it’s a homecoming for me,” Garrett said in an interview. “Professionally, the obvious thing to say about Marshall is they’ve been on an incredible upward ascent for a couple of decades, and I want to be a part of that.”

He’ll succeed James Ellis, who led the school since 2007 but whose term was cut short last year over his response to sexual harassment and discrimination claims against faculty and staff. The decision to oust Ellis by USC’s interim president, Wanda Austin, stoked protest among a cadre of top donors, divided faculty and students, and even prompted one trustee to retain a lawyer to advocate on the dean’s behalf.

Austin’s decision to change leaders at the business school was ultimately backed by a significant majority of USC’s trustees.

“I wasn’t involved in any of that, and I don’t have insight into it,” Garrett said. “I respect Jim Ellis immensely, and it’s clear from a distance that he did some wonderful things in his time as dean.”

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Carol L. Folt, who takes over as president of USC on July 1, said she had spoken with Garrett for “several hours” during the selection process and admired his “student-centered” focus.

“What stands out the most is that Geoff has a view that the business school is part of the university. … He sees the business school as pivotal in the way the university operates,” Folt said in a telephone interview. She also singled out Garrett’s commitment to deepening ties around the world, particularly in Asia, as well as across campus with other colleges at USC.

“I love that cross-school, big vision that brings people together to do things we couldn’t,” Folt said.

Garrett said he was part of a team that visited the Marshall School this spring for its re-accreditation, and he came away impressed by faculty, the commitment of its alumni and the student body.

“It struck me as a really good school,” he added.

Asked about the search and interview process for the job, Garrett was more circumspect. He said what he had learned about the Marshall school as part of the re-accreditation team “piqued my interest and curiosity.” He said he’s excited to work with Folt, describing her as “first-rate.”

After Ellis steps down on June 30 and before Garrett takes over next year, the Marshall school will be led on an interim basis by Gareth James, a tenured professor in business administration and data science.

Garrett earned his doctorate at Duke University as a Fulbright scholar and was a professor at Oxford, Stanford and Yale universities.

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During his tenure at Wharton, the school received its largest single donation — a $50-million gift from alumnus Marc Rowan and his wife, Carolyn — and for the first time in March, it was named the nation’s best full-time MBA program by U.S. News & World Report.

Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, praised Garrett for an “absolutely superb job in leading Wharton” and raising the faculty’s “breadth, depth, diversity and eminence.”

The decision to leave the Philadelphia university, Garrett said, was due in part to family reasons — his wife hails from Northern California — as well as the opportunity to take advantage of the “diversity and dynamism of the L.A. economy and its place on the Pacific Rim.”

Garrett sees parallels between Wharton and USC’s business school: Both are “very central to the whole university,” with a large portion of undergraduates in its programs. He praised USC’s leaders for pioneering a variety of academic offerings, with online degrees as well as specialized master’s programs in analytics, entrepreneurship and finance. And he said the school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion was the “right way” to do business.

“One thing that’s attractive to me about Marshall is they do a lot of stuff,” Garrett said. He sees further opportunities in lifelong learning and continuing-education programs, especially programs delivered online. “The world of business education is broad and dynamic, and Marshall has its fingers in lots of pies and has been very innovative.”

Garrett said he and his family still owned a home in West L.A. and that he was excited to commute to campus by way of the Metro’s Expo Line.

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