5 Questions: Saul Klein reflects on 11 years as dean of UVic’s Gustavson School of Business

Klein is stepping down as dean, but he will remain a UVic professor and continue to drive the Victoria forum, a free annual thought leadership conference.

1. You have shaped the University of Victoria as dean of its business school for the past 11 years. How has the school changed during your time there? 

First of all, it’s grown. We have almost twice as many faculty and staff as we had when I joined. But we’ve also sharpened the positioning and approach of the school quite significantly, really leaning in on issues around organizational purpose and the role of business in society and reflecting what the world needs from businesses and business schools as a consequence. 

So if you think about the big problems facing the world, climate change, growing inequality, rise of populism, xenophobia, all of them have implications for the role of business in society. And at the Gustavson school, we’ve taken a very strong stance that business needs to be part of the solution to these problems. And one of the things we want all of our graduates to do is take that on as a personal responsibility. 

2. What changes have you noticed in leaders and entrepreneurs?

If we think about the push towards more responsible leaders, it’s really been driven from at least three different directions. One is changing expectations from consumers. And we’ve done a lot of work in that area, looking at trust [through the annual Gustavson Brand Trust Index]. Increasingly, consumers are telling businesses that, If you want to enjoy our patronage, we expect you to be playing a more positive role. We see the same kind of sentiment is coming from employees, and particularly at a time when attracting and retaining talent is difficult…And thirdly, we’re seeing investors changing their behaviour and saying, Well, we want to see positive benefit at a societal level, not just increased returns from us individually when we make investment decisions.

3. We’re currently in an economic downturn. What do you think brands can do to resonate with consumers during these times?  

Right now it’s all about value. Are you really delivering value to consumers? With a high-inflation environment, people are worried about being able to afford the necessities of life. So strong attention to cost control and a real focus on consumer value is particularly important at times like this. 

4. Are there any new or existing programs that you’re particularly proud of?  

Yeah, so we’ve got a new variant of our MBA that’s focusing on advancing reconciliation. I don’t think there’s anything quite like that in the country. It has been developed as a custom program for the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, around contextualizing an MBA for reconciliation…How do we bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses and social service organizations together? How do we come up with new ways of thinking and seeing the challenges and opportunities around it? 

5. That’s good to hear. Moving forward, what’s next for the school? Who is taking over as the new dean? 

Her name is Anita Bhappu. She’s coming to UVic from the University of California, Merced. And we’ve been having lots of conversations—I think it’s time for a change. I mean, any time a leader has been in a role for a decade or more, I think fresh ideas and insights are useful. And I think Anita also gets what we do as a school, and she’s been quite open about articulating that that’s why she wanted to be dean of the school—because of the unique character and range of things that we’re doing. And I’m sure she’ll also bring in her own ideas, different perspectives and approaches. 

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.