SA graduate lands pole position in US

Andrew Ainslie, Dean of the Simon Business School

Some 25 years ago Andrew Ainslie was urged to pursue an academic career by UCT’s Graduate School of Business. He did… and this month he was named Dean of a top New York business school.

When the position of Dean of the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester opened up after a decade, the university launched an extensive nation-wide search across the campuses of the United States.

And the person they have appointed is Andrew Ainslie, a double alumnus of the University of Cape Town (UCT), who followed a BSc in Electrical Engineering and decade-long stint in the South African corporate world, with an MBA at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB).

It was this postgraduate degree that he credits for sparking a passion for a data-driven approach to business and launching a 20-year academic career in the US which has culminated in the position of Dean.

“The Simon School has a great history. It was one of the founding schools to introduce the rigorous use of economics and statistics in business. It has an economic approach to business which aligns exactly with my training and background,” said Ainslie.

Situated in the River Campus of this top-tier research university in the northern reaches of New York state, the Simon School was recently rated among the top 10 in the world for finance and accounting by the Financial Times. Its MBA programme is ranked 29th in the US and 55th globally by the Financial Times.

One of Ainslie’s challenges is to bump up the school’s ranking. “Our first challenge is to reengage the business community and to get recognition of the MBA programme’s value. We need to connect the school to the shift in business towards statistics and remind the community that the Simon School has always been about analytics."

Ainslie will be leaving his post as associate dean on the full-time MBA programme at UCLA Anderson, a school which has increased its admissions by more than 60%, its placements by more than 20% and reengineered its MBA programme during a four year tenure that Ainslie describes as “wonderful”. “We boosted the image people had around the programme.”

Prior to that Ainslie had served a ten-year stint as assistant and then associate professor of marketing at UCLA, and four years as assistant professor of marketing at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, one of New York’s ivy league campuses. This followed a PhD in marketing and statistics from Chicago Booth in 1998.

And it all began with a paper at the UCT GSB in 1990 in direct marketing, which looked at statistics around the retention of members of an insurance firm, and a faculty member by the name of Leyland Pitt (now professor of marketing at the Beedie School of Business in Vancouver) who urged Ainslie to pursue an academic career.

It’s an acknowledgement that Ainslie made in his acceptance speech. On holiday in Mexico when he heard of his appointment, Ainslie flew via Los Angeles on the west coast to collect a suit before jetting to the east coast to accept his position, which he did with vigorous nods to Pitt and the “role he has played as mentor up until this day.”

UCT’s GSB’s MBA programme rose to 59th on the Financial Times Top 100 rankings for 2014 in its tenth financial year to make this prestigious listing. It is the only business school in Africa to do so.

“I studied my MBA part time, as I was at Hewlett Packard at the time, and I remember the strong messaging of business being entirely about leadership, and being able to apply what I’d learned in the evening by critiquing the leadership around me in the day.”

Ainslie’s ten-year stint in the SA business arena had included electrical engineering for AECI, sales and marketing for Hewlett Packard, corporate finance with Standard Bank Merchant Bank and marketing and development for Compustat.

Ainslie describes the faculty members of the GSB as “incredible,” and makes special mention of Pitt, the late Kate Jowell (who would became director of the GSB, the first woman to hold such office in SA) and Mike Page, Provost at Bentley University, Massachusetts. “If it weren’t for such personal relationships during and after my time at GSB, I wouldn’t be here. The GSB is a place where students and faculty genuinely make friends.”

He looks forward to linking with the GSB and urges students to remember its global level of contact and the international network it taps into.

But for now his focus is on using data to drive admissions, career placement and strategy as he takes the helm at Simon School this July.

Ashley Sims


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