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Getting to Know You: AACSB's Incoming CEO, Tom Robinson

February 2015

Featuring:

Tom Robinson, Incoming President and CEO, AACSB International
> Read Robinson's bio


Facilitated by: Lee Davidson, Senior Associate, Copywriter/Editor, AACSB International

What drew you to the president and CEO position with AACSB?

Robinson: As a former academic I have long-admired the work and mission of AACSB International, having been associated with three AACSB-accredited universities. Further, in our University Partners program at CFA Institute we have a strong shared relationship with many of the same universities served by AACSB International. When I saw the position announcement I noticed the interest in strengthening ties with business and saw the position as an opportunity to have an impact in this area.

I started my career in public accounting in Columbus, Ohio, with a plan to work in what was then called small business services. I rotated through audit services and then tax services, where I ended up staying for a few years working with families and their closely held businesses. While there I had an opportunity to teach some sessions on tax aspects of starting and running a business for the Small Business Administration, which I really enjoyed. This got me interested in teaching, and I considered doing more of it. Before committing to a doctorate, I started teaching as an adjunct at The Ohio State University and decided I did really like it. So I went back to school to get my doctorate.

While in the doctoral program, I worked on a project for the AICPA Special Committee on Financial Reporting in which we analyzed reports to assess the needs of financial analysts for financial reporting information. CFA Institute assisted us in obtaining our data. After I graduated, I joined the University of Miami, where my teaching and research focused on the use of accounting information in investment decisions. I became very active with CFA Institute, particularly with their “Practice Analysis” process in which current investment practice was analyzed periodically in order to create a body of knowledge and curriculum for the profession. The AACSB position seemed like a natural extension of the work I was doing connecting investment practice and investment management education, but instead applied to business and management education as a whole.

What is your previous experience in higher ed?

Robinson: Prior to and concurrent with my doctoral studies I had the opportunity to teach at The Ohio State University (undergraduate accounting and tax classes) and Case Western Reserve University (undergraduate and MBA accounting classes). While a doctoral student, I was selected to lead and create a new MBA accounting course as part of a new lock-step MBA program, where I coordinated my class closely with management classes the students were taking concurrently. Interestingly, my dean at the time (and a former professor of mine) was Scott Cowen, who recently received AACSB’s Distinguished Leadership Award.

After being awarded my doctorate, I joined the University of Miami. There I became a tenured faculty member in the department of accounting, served as director of the Master of Professional Accounting Program and several specialty programs within the MBA and graduate accounting programs, served for a time as a representative to the faculty senate and as acting chair of the accounting department while our chair was on sabbatical at the Securities and Exchange Commission. After joining CFA Institute, I was fortunate to be able to guest-lecture at universities around the world in places such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Canada, Argentina, and close to home at the Darden School at the University of Virginia.

What compelled you to leave a tenured faculty position at the University of Miami?

Robinson: I had become very active with CFA Institute, having worked with them on their practice analysis, curriculum development, and examination development. After trying a few times to get me to join them full time, they finally convinced me I could continue to contribute to education through CFA Institute. While I loved my work at the University of Miami, the CFA Institute gave me an opportunity to reach and have an impact on literally hundreds of thousands of students around the world versus the hundreds I could have an impact on each year at the university. Additionally, I could still occasionally teach without having to grade papers!

What is one aspect of your leadership position at CFA that you plan to carry over to AACSB?

Robinson: While I had held leadership positions in public accounting and academe, CFA Institute gave me an opportunity to lead much larger teams, which were global in nature. This helped me develop my current leadership style, which is quite different than the one I came to CFA Institute with. In my early days, I was quick to provide a solution to a problem in team meetings but learned the importance of developing team members and of asking more questions than provide solutions. Key elements of my style are empowering team members both to make decisions and to make mistakes; facilitating communication up, down, and sideways throughout the organization; encouraging collaboration; and clearly setting and monitoring mutual expectations (what the team expects of me—not just what I expect of them).

What is most challenging about working in a global organization?

Robinson: The most challenging aspect of a global organization is managing across time zones and making certain that team members in regional offices are engaged and do not feel distant from the organization. This requires continuous work and frequent travel.

What is one of your favorite pastimes?

Robinson: If I can only chose one it would have to be fishing. I grew up in South Florida and as a kid used to ride my bike out in the Everglades to fish. After spending my education and early career outside of Florida, I returned to South Florida and decided I wanted to take up fly-fishing, as one of my doctoral advisors was an avid fly-fisherman. I found a local shop that was offering fly-fishing lessons, but they conflicted with a University of Miami class I was teaching, so I asked my wife to go to the class and then teach me. She had done some fishing with me on vacations, and her father had taken her fishing a few times while growing up in Cleveland. After that, we began salt-water fishing primarily in Everglades National Park, and my wife outpaced me, winning some fly-fishing tournaments.

More recently my wife took early retirement and has taken up fresh-water fishing for bass and most weekends this time of year is fishing in a local or state tournament somewhere in Florida. I also continue enjoy to fish, although my preference is still salt water, and I purely do it for recreation when we are on vacation and some weekends—no fishing tournaments for me.

If you could start over and choose any educational/career path, would you choose the same one? Why or why not?

Robinson: I would not change a thing. My path has not been a straight one, but I have enjoyed my three previous careers (public accounting, academe, and personal certification/membership) and am looking forward to my fourth career working with the board and staff of AACSB International to continue to enhance its global footprint, increase the value it provides, and work with business schools to foster their engagement, innovation, and impact.