Dean and Ourso Distinguished Professor
By Rob Anderson, LSU University Relations
Like a politician stumping on the campaign trail
or a new football coach drumming up ticket sales,
Robert Sumichrast has been making the rounds on
the "rubber chicken circuit."
He's attended countless catered ceremonies, events
and dinners. And meetings. Lots of meetings.
If there's even a hint of exhaustion in him,
though, his ever-present smile hides it completely.
Excitement will do that.
Since he took over as dean of LSU's Ourso College
of Business Administration on July 1, Sumichrast
-- previously the associate dean for graduate
and international programs at Virginia Tech's
Pamplin College of Business -- has been living
on adrenaline. He's become a perpetual motion
machine, getting to know his new school and new
home town. In the process, he has enjoyed plenty
of "quality time" with the faculty,
staff and alumni of the college, and he likes
what he's seen.
"There are a lot of smart, motivated people
here," he says. "I want to tap into
Building on strengths and building ties
Stealing a quiet moment in yet another whirlwind
day, Sumichrast sits at a small table in his still-sparsely
decorated office. The silence is broken only by
a chime from his computer notifying him of the
arrival of new e-mail.
He says that he and his wife, Carol Ann, are
adjusting well to life in Baton Rouge, though
it is a major change after almost two decades
in the mountains of Blacksburg, Va. He also admits
that he has been "very busy" since he
officially accepted the position the week after
Virginia Tech's May 10 commencement.
"I arrived in Baton Rouge on a Thursday
night, spent the night in a hotel and was on campus
in the morning so I could attend a meeting,"
Though his living conditions have changed since
that day, his schedule has remained just as full.
He's spent equal amounts of time soaking in information
about the school, and doling out information about
himself and his vision.
Indeed, earlier in the day, the Indiana native
took time to get to know a local television crew
filming in the school's new Securities Markets
Analysis Research and Trading Laboratory, a high-tech
trading room facility that opened last fall. Now
he's prepping for yet another public appearance,
a reception to honor recent graduates of the school's
Executive Master of Business Administration program.
It's all a part of his management methodology.
He says he doesn't believe that preconceived notions
will do him much good in determining the college's
ultimate course. Reinventing the wheel is not
his style. Instead, in order to form a workable
vision, he wants to find out more about the school's
people and programs.
"I want to find out what our strengths and
weaknesses are and what the immediate challenges
may be," he says. "Then we can tackle
things with what we have in place."
Fortunately for him, Sumichrast says, what he
has found in place at the Ourso College are programs
-- such as internal auditing -- with national
and international reputations for excellence.
He was equally pleased to hear about Entrepreneur
Magazine's recent ranking of the Ourso College's
Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and Family
Business Education as one of the top tier entrepreneurial
programs in the country, in the company of programs
at universities such as Harvard and M.I.T. These
are the sort of things, he says, on which the
school can build additional success.
Sumichrast says he believes it is important for
a school to find its individual specialty or niche,
and that this niche is often influenced by the
environment or community in which it is based.
In the case of the Ourso College, he says, entrepreneurship
could be a niche.
"Almost all of the alumni and employers
that I've met have been entrepreneurs," he
says. "That says that this should probably
be a priority."
Before such long-range decisions are made, however,
Sumichrast says he wants to make sure that everyone
at the school is working from the same script
and that they are ready to make their presence
felt in the community and on campus.
"My focus for the time being is on bringing
the college together to work as a team,"
he explains. "I want to make the college
a more active part of the university."
Sumichrast says that the college can play an
important role in economic development for the
city and the state, in part by forming partnerships
between the college and area businesses seeking
expertise. This, he says, may involve forming
partnerships with other colleges at LSU, such
as engineering, and continuing to bring members
of the business community into the classrooms
to speak to students.
"In order to have better impact on long-term
economic development, we need to have a better
understanding of business needs. This requires
good scholarship and good research," he explains.
"The goal is to produce top quality research
that can ultimately have an impact on other researchers
and, in turn, business practitioners."
Spreading the word
Though he's pleased that the school's entrepreneurship
and internal auditing programs have been publicly
lauded and that other departments -- such as finance
and marketing -- have been recognized for their
research, Sumichrast does have one concern. He
thinks it's time for the master of business administration
program to have its time in the spotlight.
"There has been tremendous progress with
our MBA program over the past few years,"
Sumichrast says he believes this progress eventually
will lead to the program's recognition as one
of the top 50 in the country. He says that his
chief concern is that the program isn't fully
appreciated by those who haven't experienced it
"We need to find a way to tell people about
the quality of our program," he says. "We
need to tell our story better."
One way Sumichrast wants to tell that story is
by engaging the alumni of the program to spread
the word about its quality and career benefits.
However, he says, the importance of alumni spreads
beyond the MBA program to the entire school.
"Alumni are critical in several ways,"
he says. "They are important for networking,
recruiting and funding."
By "networking," Sumichrast explains,
he means that alumni can serve as "cheerleaders"
within companies and organizations for LSU graduates
and that, in turn, is a boon for new graduates
entering the job market. In addition, he says,
successful alumni can be very helpful in the school's
efforts to attract new students to the program.
Perhaps most important, however, is that alumni
can aid the school in fund-raising efforts, particularly
in its quest for improved facilities and, eventually,
a new building to house the college.
Physics and football
Taking care of all the "business" that
comes with being the dean of a major business
school doesn't seem to bother Sumichrast. This
isn't surprising, considering that it is a fulfillment
of childhood dreams. Sort of.
Sumichrast says he knew he wanted to be a professor
and researcher when he was a youngster. In high
school he became fascinated with physics and went
on to earn a bachelor's degree in the subject
at Purdue University. In his final year as an
undergraduate, he began to reconsider his course,
deciding he wasn't really suited for a career
as a physics professor. Instead, he sought out
a subject in which he could put his knowledge
and skills to use for more practical purposes:
He went on to earn his doctorate in management
science from Clemson University in South Carolina,
where, he says, he was able to apply mathematical
modeling to real situations. He was even able
to help a local plant improve its efficiency with
some of the work he did on his dissertation.
He went to work for Virginia Tech the year he
received his doctorate and it was there - during
the fall of last year - that LSU really came to
"I had heard of LSU, but didn't really know
much about the place," he explains. "All
that changed last fall when Virginia Tech and
LSU played football for the first time."
Sumichrast says that the game was an eye-opening
experience for the people of Blacksburg.
"They (the people of Blacksburg) remember
LSU and its fans, not the score," he says.
"We had never seen anything like that in
Blacksburg before ... I came to work a few days
before the game and found a couple of parking
lots filled with RVs. We didn't know what to think."
Thus -- despite the fact that LSU wasn't on his
career radar at the time -- Sumichrast was already
being subtly wooed.
"I decided if LSU fans are that fanatical
about their school, then they must have something
good down in Baton Rouge," he says. "Since
coming to LSU, I haven't been disappointed."
To arrange an interview with Sumichrast or for
more information on the E.J. Ourso College of
Business Administration, contact Wendy Osborn
Luedtke, director of alumni relations and programs,
Press Release ]
Release 5/27/2003 ]