Ashok Rao appointed Saunders College of Business dean

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A. Sue Weisler

The Max Lowenthal Building, home of the E. Philip Saunders College of Business.

Ashok Rao was pleasantly surprised when he first visited the RIT campus. He was amazed at the appearance—the greenery, the wide-open spaces, the Sentinel, and the recent facelift to the Max Lowenthal Building.

But what really sealed his decision to accept the position as dean of the E. Philip Saunders College of Business was meeting RIT President Albert Simone, faculty and administrators.

“One of the nice things during my visit to RIT was meeting all the deans, and there were a number who were quite friendly and quite open to working with the business school, which I found very exciting,” says Rao, who begins in his new post on Feb. 1.

“I think probably Dr. Simone has a lot to do with this,” says Rao, who is currently professor of technology operations and information management at Babson College of Business in Wellesley, Mass.

“And I was really impressed with Dr. Simone by the way he took time out during my campus interview to show me the field house. He started playing basketball with the girls’ basketball team but didn’t throw the ball in my direction. He quickly figured out that I didn’t know how to play basketball—and he was right.”

But Rao does know how to score points in the business and academic worlds. He has worked as an engineer at Leeds & Northrup, research operations manager at Canada Packers Ltd., and director of business systems at Northern Telecom, Canada. He intermingled his business acumen with higher education posts at Northeastern University and Babson and teaching seminars and classes at Harvard University.

“Throughout his career, Ashok has maintained strong ties to business and industry,” says RIT Provost Stan McKenzie. “His academic colleagues describe him as a smart, thoughtful leader with a quiet demeanor who is nonetheless very effective. As nice and personable as he is, Ashok can also be ‘quite tough—although never ruthless.’ This strikes me as a terrific set of personality traits for the dean of the Saunders College of Business.”

Rao was selected from more than 100 applicants in a national search that started last October, just a few months after Thomas Hopkins left the post to resume teaching. Wayne Morse has been serving as interim dean since that time.

One of Rao’s noteworthy concepts has been his study on cross-border integration—which is a form of entrepreneurship that draws upon skills which are hired in different parts of the world.

“Take Motorola for instance, a large company with many divisions,” Rao explains. “For cell phones, they can do the concept design in Japan, the aesthetics in Italy, the software in India, the phone’s ‘clamshell’ hinges are made in South Korea, and the manufacturing in China. Then Motorola brings the phones to the U.S. and sells them all over the world.”

Rao, who received degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharaghpur, India, and post graduate degrees from the University of Iowa, will be leaving Babson later this month to take a group of students to India for a study tour.

“Although college rankings are very important for undergraduates, it’s really just a number, sometimes initiated just to get hype,” Rao says. “My most important goal as dean is to improve the educational experience of the RIT students and make them really attractive to corporate recruiters. Once you have better placements and better programs, the rankings will follow.”

Rao is currently house hunting in the Rochester area with his wife, Janis Gogan, who teaches at Bentley College. He has four children and two grandchildren, and in his spare time, he enjoys playing Bridge and Scrabble. Rao and his wife also are hikers and recently completed 49 hikes featured in a book, 50 Hikes of Massachusetts.

“We saved the best for last and it’s eight miles long,” Rao explains with a laugh. “But in the meantime Janis is trying to push me into biking and cross-country skiing—which I did a lot of the past couple of years. I’m very good at falling and getting up.”