DEZSÖ HORVÁTH: The Insider Interview

Published in The Insider.


The Insider’s Miriam Amdur recently interviewed Dezsö J. Horváth, the dean of the Schulich School of Business. Here, some of the many milestones from his career are highlighted, and the value of a Schulich education is explored.

Sitting in a conference room outside his office, Dean Dezsö Horváth is eloquent when he speaks about many of the ordinary and extraordinary parts of his life. His enthusiasm for global business, innovation, and management education are made clear through the success of the Schulich of School of Business, where he has served as dean for nearly 30 years now.

He is quick to admit that he never planned to be an academic, originally studying electrical engineering and then pursuing a career in research and development at the Swedish multinational ASEA (now ABB). He explains that “ABB and I agreed that I needed to go back to school and learn more about management,” which eventually led him to writing his MBA thesis on a major project for the company. A number of opportunities in academia soon followed: “When I was close to finishing [the MBA], the dean asked me to stay to teach. First undergraduate, then increasingly higher up.” During this time, he worked towards his management degrees in Sweden, at the Licentiate and PhD level.

Upon finishing his PhD, “a field started emerging that wasn’t around before—strategy,” says Horváth. This led to him going back to ABB to write one of the first theses on strategy, and the academic advances continued, “so I became an academic,” he says. It was a good friend at York University whom Horváth had helped with his thesis, who brought him to York’s business school, then known as the Faculty of Administrative Studies. One of the most important reasons for his arrival was to expand on the existing strategy education. “I arrived in late January and was given an undergraduate and graduate class…I told them I’m going to change the course outline.” Due to personal reasons, he returned to Sweden, only to be visited by the associate dean in 1976, who convinced him to officially join York’s business school faculty.

Horváth says helping to develop a strategy curriculum was one of his earliest and most important contributions to the business school. “It was a new and very important field…and I taught many of our graduates from the late 1970s and early 1980s, who now have senior positions.” Some of those graduates include Janice Fukakusa, former CFO of Royal Bank and now Chair of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, and Ron Mock, CEO of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

In 1988, when Horváth became dean, he adopted a strategy of globalization and program innovation for Schulich. He explains the development of his unique strategic approach to management education through an analogy with famed Russian chess player Garry Kasparov: “We had to play any other game with Kasparov but chess. If we wanted to compete with Harvard and Wharton, we couldn’t play on their terms.”

The international make-up of Toronto, which Horváth found to be very attractive, was ideally suited for the global orientation he implemented at Schulich. “I liked Toronto when I arrived, it was perfect for my background, having many cultures and languages behind me,” he reveals. His research background in multinational corporations and globalization also proved crucial. “We emerged in the early ‘90s as the global leaders [in international business] … well before the Americans and the Europeans.” According to Horváth, the school adopted a three-pronged strategy that focused on being global, innovative, and diverse. “This innovative stance creates all major programs for us. Some of the new Master degrees and MBA specializations we launched are one of the only ones in the world.” That early focus on international business helped make the School much more global in outlook and composition. “We increasingly have a much more diverse faculty and student body…70-80 nationalities, speaking over a hundred languages. We train you for an environment you have to live with…one requiring more judgment capability.” Horváth remembers Schulich’s founding dean, Dr. James Gillies, once stating, “I founded the School, but you took the School global.”

Horváth’s ability to position Schulich ahead of the curve has allowed the School to create programs that capitalize on new developments in business and new market opportunities. “We were one of the first schools to develop a program in business analytics…and this year we just launched a new degree in infrastructure,” says Horváth. However, it is the School’s commitment to responsible business education that many find admirable. That commitment was initially made possible through the Erivan K. Haub Program in Business and Sustainability, established in 1992 after a $1.5 million donation from Erivan and Helga Haub. The program has developed and delivered Schulich graduate sustainability courses for the MBA specialization in Business & Sustainability, and elective courses for both graduate and undergraduate students. Since then, the School has added specializations and courses in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and corporate governance. The more recent establishment of Schulich’s Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business has also sparked interest in sustainability research from students and faculty alike.

Schulich has always been known to have a student body appreciative of various fields both within and outside the business world. Horváth details the story of MBA graduate Hana Zalzal, who received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering: “She thought why not capitalize on my interest in chemistry and my interest in cosmetics… she started her own business [Cargo Cosmetics], which became the firm globally for movie stars.” Zalzal went on to sell her business and has since engaged in other exciting opportunities in the movie industry. Just as unique is the story of IMBA grad Amanda Martinez, who chose to pursue a music career, receiving praise for her songs from Grammy-winning producers. Horváth says Amanda also guest stars at various Schulich events, including the School’s 50th Anniversary Gala last year, making it apparent that applying one’s passions is always a possibility.

In a big way, it is the community at Schulich that opens the minds of students and allows them to explore different opportunities in business. Horváth says, “It’s not enough to have good grades… all our most successful graduates are well-rounded people, not too narrow in their orientation, people-people.” He encourages students to simply learn as much as they can by staying on top of their studies and participating in extra-curricular activities. He also holds that Schulich’s undergraduate students are among the “top echelon” in the world, as evidenced by the success of the School’s undergraduate teams in various global case competitions.

The graduate and undergraduate programs at Schulich require students to balance many aspects of their lives, but this is something that Horváth believes will help students in their careers once they graduate. “You never have enough time to do everything. It’s about how you create trade-offs and prioritize.” He assures that “it’s not so obvious now, but when you do your undergraduate degree, these are probably the best four years of your life… so live, and I really mean live!” In fact, he admits that he would have probably participated in the IMBA or iBBA programs had he been a student now because of the opportunity to work in other parts of the world and to develop a more global outlook.

Horváth emphasizes Schulich’s forward-looking programs, created in response to this rapidly transforming world, and recommends that students “look for jobs that don’t exist today, in new and emerging areas and industries.” Further, he makes it clear that students should not pursue certain areas of business solely because of the financial rewards associated with them, arguing instead that they should remain curious to find out what truly fascinates them. “If you are passionate, you will succeed,” he says.

In a sense, it is his passion for education that has allowed him to bring the School to the top, ranking #1 in Canada in a number of recent global MBA surveys, including Forbes and CNN Expansion, and among the top five EMBA programs in the world in the most recent Economist ranking. Horváth explains the philosophy the School has developed: “If we have great students and great faculty, this is a guarantee for success.” What’s more, his best advice to students is to never give up on education. “Education is the solution to a great future. Think beyond… don’t stop learning, even if it be through self-learning.”

Horváth maintains that because of his passion for the work he does, he believes that he has never had to work a day in his life. “I feel young with all the young students… the students don’t let us get old.” Every year at Schulich’s convocations, the School graduates more than 1000 students, changing their lives through education. This, he says, makes him most proud to work at Schulich.