Engineering a Business School

By Arthur Menke

This summer marks the arrival of a new dean for the Stuart Graduate School of Business, when Tim Preheim adds a chapter to a career that until now was primarily spent building entrepreneurial ventures.

After a brief foray into corporate life in the mid-to-late seventies, Preheim started Professional Training Centers, Inc., in 1983 in Hinsdale, Ill., and in 1990 co-founded Productivity Point International (PPI), the franchising operation of the combined enterprise. PPI taught corporate America how to more effectively use Microsoft, Lotus, Novell and other industry-standard PC software. Preheim served as CEO and chairman of the board until its purchase by Knowledge Universe in 1997, and over fourteen years the combined enterprise grew to more than $100 million in annual revenue. He served as a member of the Office of the President during PPI’s transition to Knowledge Universe in 2000. On June 1, 2002, Preheim replaced Zia Hassan as the seventh dean of IIT’s business school. Hassan stepped down as dean and was designated dean emeritus. He will be staying on as a member of the faculty and playing an important role in Dean Preheim's management team.

Preheim’s early goal is to define the mission of the business school in this time of transition. His vision going forward calls for Stuart to focus on the three concepts of quality, responsiveness and innovation.

First, quality and a philosophy of continuous improvement will be even more of a standard practice at Stuart, with a major focus on being able to bridge the gap between the theoretical constructs taught by Stuart’s full-time faculty, and the real-world business experience of the practicing part-time faculty.

As to responsiveness, Stuart’s academic calendar and curriculum will be even more adaptable to meet the needs of today’s students in the marketplace more quickly (referred to traditionally as “cycle time”).

Finally, innovation is key because of the need for Stuart to find an appropriately differentiated niche among business schools. Preheim expects that Stuart’s faculty and management team will iron out this new direction for the school and implement the new vision quickly.

So why would someone with a career based on launching technology-based startups now find himself at the helm of an academic institution, rather than starting another new business? The answer is found in Preheim’s lifelong interest in education, including long-term board memberships at two schools (he recently retired as chairman emeritus of the LaLumiere School in LaPorte, Indiana., and has continuing involvement with the Providence-St. Mel School in Chicago.) Preheim believes his particular experience within the field of business is uniquely suited to the type of school that Stuart can become.

M. Ellen Mitchell, chair of the search committee that selected Preheim, commented, “Stuart Graduate School of Business is poised for growth. The growing interest in entrepreneurship is something that fits with Tim’s strengths and experience. The search committee agreed that the Stuart School could benefit greatly from Tim’s leadership skills and his entrepreneurial background to help move the institution to the next level of excellence.”

“I’m going to borrow very heavily from my business experience,” Preheim says. “A sense of community and teamwork are very exceptionally key in what we need to do to create a unique Stuart experience. We need to embrace what already differentiates us in the market and take advantage of the whole technological capability that exists within IIT.”

As a business school within a university having “technology” as its last name, Stuart is in a fortuitous position to forge new partnerships, Preheim adds. For instance, a conceivable program could integrate the creative design, architectural skills and engineering skills of IIT’s Institute of Design, College of Architecture and Armour College of Engineering with a real estate-development concentration or focus within the Stuart MBA. This would create a joint program located in a city that is known internationally as a hub for real estate. Preheim is also quick to mention that although there are already stellar programs like Stuart’s environmental management program that enjoy both national attention and ranking, Stuart shouldn’t be in a rush to compete in a head-to-head fashion with business schools like University of Chicago (his business school alma mater).

“We’re different from them, and we should be. Schools like University of Chicago have more than four times our enrollment. But smaller size gives us certain advantages. When you’re small, you’re nimble. We can do things quickly that others can’t. Another competitive advantage is we have more international students than any of the major institutions in Chicago in both percentage and real numbers. We need to take advantage of this fact in our overall program development at Stuart.”

Stuart’s new ethos will thus be an orientation toward entrepreneurial and “real-life” business experience, with a passion for the highest quality education. “I’ve had the opportunity to gain personal experience at two top-five institutions,” Preheim says, having studied at Carleton College as an undergraduate before going on to U of C. “And I don’t subscribe to the idea that business and education need to have totally different personalities. In business, I took the things that I did and didn’t like about corporate America, and I built a company based on that. I talk regularly with alums from those businesses, and we all love what we built, because we understood the mission, and we had a tremendous amount of fun and mutual success. That’s a real key to any environment with designs on institutional success!”