The challenges of attracting top academic talent to a young business school

An interview with Catalina Stefanescu-Cuntze

The challenges of attracting top academic talent to a young business school

Catalina Stefanescu-Cuntze joined ESMT in November 2009 and is an associate professor of management science, the Deutsche Post DHL Chair, and dean of faculty. Catalina's research focuses on the design, analysis, and application of statistical models and methods for managerial decision making. As dean of faculty she has a strategic role in academic planning, the recruiting of academic faculty and staff, and the development and counselling of existing faculty. She is also responsible for fostering a research culture within the school and strengthening the links between teaching and research.

What attracted you to ESMT?

I was attracted for a number of reasons. Firstly, its research focus appealed to me, but also I found its international outlook and entrepreneurial spirit to be real draw factors. Most research-oriented business schools are relatively large and long-established institutions, and in these kinds of institutions change rarely happens. Or it’s incredibly slow. It was exciting to join a school in the early stages of building a world-class academic institution where research is firmly rooted in its DNA.

How important are chairs in terms of attracting and retaining top academic talent?

Competition is fierce in the international business school market which means that chairs are crucial for attracting and holding on to talent. All of our main competitors are offering chairs to their key academics as a way of incentivizing research productivity. For a small institution like ESMT, it is essential to offer chairs to top academics if you want to establish a research reputation. It helps us to compete on the international market and overcome some of the challenges that a small institution faces.

What are the main challenges in recruiting leading academics to a relatively young business school like ESMT?

Like I mentioned earlier, one of the main challenges is the lack of a long-established research reputation. Then of course there is the small scale of both the faculty and the student body. This implies much reduced efficiency in teaching, as faculty does not have the option of teaching the same course to multiple student streams. It also means that without the critical mass of faculty, postdocs, research assistants, and PhD students, it is more difficult to establish meaningful research interactions.

What are the main benefits for both parties involved in a chair?

The main benefits are the sharing of knowledge and mutual access to information, for both the individual and the company that sponsors the chair. The company benefits by having direct access to the expertise of the faculty, who are leading academics in their fields, and of course by having its brand associated with world-class research. For example, much of our research is published in the top academic and practitioner journals. That is fantastic marketing for a company. And of course the faculty benefits by gaining insights into practical knowledge and problems, which can often act as a source of inspiration for research. But mostly, faculty members benefit by the additional research resources that a chair brings. This can mean increased research budgets or, in some cases, allowing the faculty member to reduce their teaching hours to focus on their research.

Of all the faculty developments at ESMT in recent years, what are you most proud of?

I am really proud of the renewed accreditation for ten years and also winning the right to grant PhDs, which was given to us by the Wissenschaftsrat in 2013. Our faculty was a driving factor in this process, as the PhD granting right relies heavily on the school’s research output and its international recognition. For me, this was a fantastic endorsement and an important marker of how far we’ve come in just a few short years.

Women continue to be underrepresented in senior corporate positions, particularly on boards. As a woman in a leadership position teaching young future business leaders, what can business schools do to change this?

Business schools are educating the managers of tomorrow, and I think in this way they can raise awareness of those factors that have an impact on gender composition in top management. What I mean by these factors are recruitment packages that reflect flexibility needs, attentiveness to cultural and gender specific differences in negotiation styles, inclusion of women in the recruitment process, as well as awareness of subtle biases in the assessment processes. We teach this in our programs, and through the public events that we organize, we provide a forum for future leaders to engage further with current leaders on this topic.