Saying Goodbye to Dean Susan Phillips

School of Business dean retires after 12-year tenure.

Susan M. Phillips
April 29, 2010

By Jennifer Price

When a search committee from GW’s School of Business first approached Susan Phillips in 1998, she saw a challenge.

“While it was a good business school, it had the potential to be a whole lot better,” she says.

Twelve years later, under Dean Phillips’ leadership it has done just that.

The school has a new building, top-notch faculty and a revamped curriculum. In January, it was ranked No. 5 worldwide by The Financial Times for its international programs.

As Dean Phillips prepares to retire in June, she says she’s proud of her accomplishments.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” she says.

Dean Phillips had quite an impressive resume before coming to GW.

In 1978, she was the only woman in the U.S. to receive a Ph.D. in finance. She became a finance professor and later an associate vice president of finance at the University of Iowa before President Ronald Reagan appointed her to serve on the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission in 1981.

Two years later, she became the chairman of the commission and the first woman to ever head a federal financial regulatory agency. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, making Dean Phillips the third woman to serve on the board.

When her term on the Federal Reserve Board ended in 1998, she looked to GW.

“I viewed my government work as public service work, but I always wanted to return to a university,” says Dean Phillips. “For me this was an opportunity to get back to my academic roots.”

Upon arriving at GW, her primary focus was fundraising for a new building.

“The business school was in desperate need of a new facility,” she says. “The faculty was spread out across eight different buildings. Students sat on the floor in the hallways to do their projects. There was no big meeting space. It was difficult to have a community.”

Dean Phillips helped raise the $56 million to construct Duques Hall, which opened in 2006. Students now have ample study space. The career center has undergone a massive expansion. And the faculty is all housed together.

“Moving into this building was a major thing for us,” she says.

Dean Phillips has also improved the school’s curriculum, adapting to the changes in the business world.

After the dot-com crash and corporate scandals like Enron, business schools across the country saw a decline in their enrollments, forcing schools to focus more on ethics. GW’s business school launched the Institute for Corporate Responsibility and several courses centered on ethics. And now with the financial crisis, business schools have had to take a really hard look at their curriculum, Dean Phillips says.

“We’ve added courses on looking at financial reform and regulation,” she says.

During her time at GW Dean Phillips has helped create several research centers and institutes including the Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence and the Institute for Integrating Statistics in Decision Sciences.

After retiring on June 30, Dean Phillips plans to return to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., the community in which she grew up. She will continue to serve on the boards of directors of Kroger and State Farm. Agnes Scott College, where she received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics, has asked her to serve as a trustee.

Her advice for this year’s graduates is to think more broadly about career paths and identify sustainable long-term industries like energy, world food and health care.

“Globalization has happened. The world is really more connected than we thought,” she says. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself. There’s not one straightforward path.”

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