Getting Down to Business
By Teya Vitu
Photo: Len Jessup, Dean of Eller College, University of Arizona
Photo by: Carter Allen
Keep an eye on the Eller College of Management.
The University of Arizona already has one of the best business schools in the country – but don’t think it is business as usual under the leadership of Len Jessup, who just finished his first year as Eller’s dean.
“Part of the conversation of my coming here was how do we continue to grow the college and continue getting better? How do we do that without state funding?” said Jessup, who became dean in May 2011.
Eller is ranked the No. 14 public business school in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report and No. 24 if you mix in the private universities. Eller’s management information system program is No. 1, entrepreneurship is No.3 and management is No. 9. Jessup wants to see all of Eller’s programs and the college itself in the Top 10.
What does it take to make a No. 14 business school a Top 10 business school in Jessup’s mind? For one, wean Eller off state funding as much as possible. Eller already is 75 percent selfsustaining.
“The Top 10 public business schools are in the single digits,” he said, with less than 10 percent public funding. Jessup also wants Eller to take a lead in helping the entire university become more self-sustaining. “We can’t be a great business school unless this is a great university. We know we need to help.” He returned to UA as dean 23 years after earning his doctorate in MIS and organizational behavior at Eller College.
Jessup wants to double the enrollment of the much-vaunted McGuire Entrepreneurship Program, which has capacity for only 100 budding entrepreneurs at any one time.
That’s where a new building comes in. Eller is just finishing the pre-design phase for a new 100,000-square-foot building across the street from Eller’s 250,000-square-foot McClelland Hall. Jessup estimates a cost of $35 million to $50 million. Serious fundraising starts now. He envisions having this new home for the entrepreneurship, MBA and executive education programs ready in the next two or three years.
“The big home run for us is to build a new building next door and push the entrepreneurship and the MBA programs out (of McClelland Hall) so they can grow.”
Eller already has close relationships with the colleges of science and engineering. And Jessup’s own research focuses on commercializing university research, that is, technology transfer. His research, in collaboration with Monte Shaffer and Robert Lusch, is on predicting the potential success of technology patents. This would help determine the viability of an innovation early on in the patent filing process.
Jessup is not the first to notice that UA is a Top 20 research institution bringing in more than $600 million in federal research grants, while generating only $981,000 in licensing revenue in 2011 from companies that were spun off from UA research. Top 20 universities with revenue from licensing research on average bring in more than $17 million a year.
“Our spin-off level is not where it should be,” said Jessup, adding that UA should fall anywhere between University of California, Berkeley’s $6.8 million and University of Utah’s $38 million.
Right now, Jessup has faculty looking around the country for ideas to add a new element to the MBA program to write business plans around university intellectual property. The course will launch this fall.
In his first year Jessup has traveled widely, visiting prominent business schools and technology transfer offices. One trip involved three universities that he says “fire on all pistons” in regards to self-sufficiency, spin-off companies and licensing revenue – University of California, San Diego, University of Colorado and University of Texas.
“I came back from those really charged,” said Jessup, who spent 11 years at Washington State University before coming to Tucson. “We have better pre-conditions than those communities have. We could be Austin times 10.”
Jessup grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, descending from Italian immigrants on both his mother’s and father’s side. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at California State University, Chico.
He originally cane to Tucson in 1985 to study for his doctorate at Eller. “The experience here was not only pivotal for me, but I fell in love with Tucson,” Jessup said. “I went back to California (in 1989), but I knew I would come back.”
Jessup spent the early part of his career in the 1990s at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.
Jessup rose in stature during his 11 years at fellow Pac-12 school Washington State University from 2000 to 2011, first as head of its MIS Department. He rose to dean of the College of Business, then VP of university development, then president of the Washington State University Foundation, where Jessup doubled the foundation’s fundraising totals and achieved a record number of donors.