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New Neeley School dean looks forward: A conversation with Daniel Pullin

🕐 9 min read

When Daniel Pullin was named as the replacement for longtime Neeley School of Business leader O. Homer Erekson, the school knew it had someone with a broad range of experience in the business world as well as the realm of academia.

Aside from being dean of the Michael F. Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma since 2014, he previously had worked for global consultancy McKinsey & Co. and the private equity firm Hicks Muse Tate & Furst and its portfolio companies.

“The Neeley School of Business is continuously recognized for its outstanding educational programs and high-quality graduates, and Daniel’s proven track record, leadership style and financial aptitude are the perfect complements,” said Teresa Abi-Nader Dahlberg, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at Texas Christian University, who announced the appointment of Pullin as the John V. Roach Dean and Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the Neeley School of Business in April.

Pullin earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma and MBA from Harvard Business School before returning to Oklahoma to earn a Juris Doctor.

Among his many successes, he is credited with growing the college’s graduate program enrollment by 50 percent in five years and delivering high impact and cross-disciplinary degree options.

As dean, Pullin’s primary responsibilities will encompass enhancing the profile of undergraduate and graduate programs to maintain the school’s upward trajectory, according to a TCU news release. Erekson is remaining at the school to teach some classes.

FWBP Editor Robert Francis spoke with Pullin a few weeks into the fall semester.

What got you interested in leading the Neeley School of Business?

We’re [Daniel and his wife, Tamara] both from Texas, so it helps that we have a sense for the culture. I grew up in Plano and she grew up out in East Texas. And Tamera’s parents have lived in Fort Worth for the last 15 years.

And so, we know the town a bit and it made the adjustment for our two boys [10 and 6] straightforward because they had been coming down here to see their grandparents for the whole lives.

I think people would say that the school has been, for a while, and still is, sort of on its way up. I think that’d be a common sentiment.

That’s what attracted us. I’ve been a dean at another business school that is in the direct competitive set of Neeley Business School. I was fighting for the top faculty and the top graduate students, and I know how strong a place this was outside looking in.

If you just start with the marketplace, the economic miracle that is Fort Worth and the broader Fort Worth-Dallas metro area is really the envy of many schools of business. If you think about the number of headquarters for Fortune 500 companies if you tapped into what I think is a growing spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in and around Fort Worth and the Dallas area.

If you do what I do, which is to run business schools, in many ways you’re a kid in a candy store. You’ve got great companies, you’ve got a growing population, positive demographic trends that are going to provide aspirational students for your school for decades to come.

We want to provide experiential learning opportunities for them to go beyond the classroom, to not just learn about the theory of business, but to practice business for themselves and be battle-tested by the time they graduate, so they can add value immediately to the great companies – the ones that exist here today, or the ones that need to exist, that our students have the chance to start.

From a marketplace perspective, I couldn’t imagine a better place to be a dean of a business school, particularly as to be successful, to stay relevant, you have to operate at the intersection of the academy and industry.

And TCU and Fort Worth make that a very straight forward proposition. As long as we hold up our end of the bargain, and we connect, and we listen, and we are responsive and position this business school to move at the pace of business, then I think we’ll do something very, very powerful for the community, and the students, and our graduates.

And so, that’s a real big draw for sure.

And certainly, the rapport that I’ve built with my peers across other schools and colleges here at TCU, the great leadership and continuity of leadership from the chancellor’s office.

I’d challenge you to find another comprehensive institution of higher education that’s come as far and as fast over the last 15 years or so as TCU. It’s been really a golden age in the history of this place.

When you see that level of ascendance, when you map that against the energy, and enthusiasm, and commitment of any stakeholder that is surrounding this place, it becomes one of the, I think, most attractive universities in the country to work for.

What are some of your ideas for the school going forward?

I believe that the most dynamic organizations are the ones that don’t just focus on the day-to-day activities, the what they do, but they’re really the ones that take the time to ask what is their promise that they’re making to their stakeholders? Why do they exist to begin with?

I need to be able to answer and anybody, any faculty member or staff member here in the Neeley School needs to be able to answer the question, why do you exist?

Why does a student choose the Neeley School of Business to earn her degree over any brand X institution in a competitive marketplace?

Why would a family put their balance sheet on the line to send their young person to school?

Why would an employer offer up its precious few starting jobs to graduates of this institution versus another one?

Why would an alumnus feel so strong about the transformative experience she had as a student that she would direct her philanthropy through scholarships and giving to keep higher education affordable and accessible to learners of all backgrounds?

You really have to have a good answer for that.

And for us, it’s really encapsulated in not some long or unwieldy mission statement that nobody knows or can remember, but really in a beautiful, inspiring promise. A promise that we make to everyone that that chooses to affiliate with Neeley, including the surrounding business community.

And it’s just this, it’s one sentence and it’s simple. It is that the Neeley School of Business unleashes human potential with leadership at the core and innovation in our spirit.

That’s not something I wrote. That’s something that a committee of Neeley stakeholders put together a few years ago and it’s a very aspirational promise. But it’s one that lends itself to supporting. …

If that’s the why we exist, we need to then make that real and actionable as to how we’re going to fulfill that promise. And what we’re going to do every day to make sure that it’s true, because ultimately that’s our brand.

If we say we unleash human potential then we have to do all we can to recruit, and retain, and propel talent wherever we find it.

Whether that’s student talent, regardless of what starting point, whether that’s the best and brightest faculty, who we motivate to invest the next chapter of their careers here. Whether that is to partner with the private sector to provide great graduates to build their workforce, to meet their growth objectives. Whether that is to continuously educate the existing workforce through lifelong learning programs, that make sure that the personnel at the companies and organizations in this community are relevant, and sharp, and ready to add value in a dynamic economy, a changing economy.

So, a relentless focus on how we unleash human potential makes a great deal of sense for a business school.

But we do it with leadership at the core. And that’s exciting to me because when you start thinking about our stakeholders as not the students that we trade tuition and fees for credit hours and diplomas. I mean functionally that happens. That’s the what.

But why we do that is to prepare them as leaders, who have the courage to challenge the status quo, who aren’t afraid to tackle the biggest business issues of our time, who will think critically and move society forward. Thinking of business as a lever to move society forward.

Business can be inherently good. Sometimes it gets a bad rap, but the fact that the creation and delivery of products and services that can benefit humanity while providing financial sustainability to support jobs and the families, those jobs allow for, in the communities that are comprised of those jobs and families.

And it’s an important thing to focus on.

It’s not just how many students we graduate or whatever metric of historic performance, it’s the broader impact we can make. And so, by keeping leadership at our core, I think we position ourselves to prepare the whole individual for a lifetime of impact in the communities they serve.

And then the last bucket is the notion of keeping innovation in our spirit.

Jobs today are changing dramatically. All members of our workforce, whether you’re fresh out of undergrad or you’re in the final chapters of your career, the marketplace is compelling different types of skills and outcomes, and at a pace that hasn’t ever really before been seen.

And so, we have to think about not just our students, but our faculty and our staff, and what we do to serve our alums and business partners, as the innovators who by virtue of their association with the Neeley School, develop the career agility to adjust and react and maintain their relevance in a complex changing world.

It compels us to think a little differently, to listen a little more intently, to stay on the cutting edge of what business and society need. And if we do that, then I think we will address the needs and opportunities of our stakeholders. And if we deliver that value, then I think they will reinvest and co-invest in our progress and success.

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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