GBL Leadership Interview Series: Dean Brian Mitchell on His Tenure at GBS, His Work with the GBS Library, and His Favorite Business Book (Part 2)

In Spring 2020, the Goizueta Business Librarians sat down with Associate Dean Brian Mitchell of the Full-Time MBA Program as part of our GBS Leadership Interview series to learn more about his time in the corporate world and how that experience has transitioned into his leadership role at Goizueta. This is part 2 of the interview. Part 1 can also be found on the GBL blog.

What would you consider your biggest accomplishments so far during your tenure at GBS?

I think about this in a couple of ways. My dad used to always tell me that every business you are in is a people business, no matter your business title or business card. So one of the things I’m most proud of is my team – it has been very stable and has developed expansively in the years that I have been running this office. People have been promoted with expanded roles and I’ve been able to create a high-value culture where we’ve been able to retain people. I look around at Emory and even at Goizueta and notice that talent development and retention have not always been our strengths. So that is one thing I am actually very proud of – how my team has grown, not in size, but in scope of responsibilities. Most recently, for example, Corey Dortch has grown his scope of responsibility from being an associate director in my program to where he is now a program dean himself. I am very proud of that.

Another accomplishment I take a great deal of pride in is having built Goizueta Global Strategy and Initiatives. It had been a few years since we took a close look at global engagement at Goizueta even though other people were considering it at the university level under Philip Wainwright’s leadership. I think what has become Goizueta Global Strategy and Initiatives (GGSI) could become a model across the university for cooperating both unit-wide and university-wide on strategic initiatives. President Sterk, Dean James, and Michael Elliott from The College have all been champions of that work. I’m very thrilled with that.

 A few years ago, you started a reading series. Can you tell us why you started this and what the experience/impact has been?

This is actually another one of my accomplishments that I’m most proud of! I call it a Core Values Reading Series and it started with the understanding that our students are here to learn and what they learn isn’t limited to the classroom. Just because they are learning a lot in the classroom, they should not shut off their intentions to learn about other things as well. It’s not required, but it is very popular. Every time our students have a break from school, I give them the option to read a book that has something to do with where they are in their programs. These aren’t always specifically business books though. For example, for graduating students going into their Spring Break, we have them read a book called The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. It’s an examination of the things that really make you happy and we hope to use it as a reminder to students to make sure that those things will be in their life after Goizueta. I also want to give a shout-out to Rick Gilkey who taught a class called Life Works when I was a student, and this was very much his point of view. If you know Rick, he is a very thoughtful, whole human being and that has stuck with me and it’s one of the reasons why we do this particular book.

Over winter break, we offer up a book called On Race by Howard Zen. The reason we do it then is that when students return, they are going right into Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month. What I have found is that so many of our students come to us without having studied/thought about/learned about Black History and the Civil Rights Movement, but that they want to and to have an opportunity to discuss it with their classmates. This is always a fantastic discussion to facilitate and has turned out to be a fascinating series. We’re looking for ways to add more options, but I am very careful not to over-program on top of the academic year. Other programs are doing it too now because we’ve found that students have an appetite for it. It’s a very exciting opportunity – our little fancy book club.

Tell us a few things about yourself that most people would not know.

If you look closely in my office, you can see that I have a serious interest in cigars. I founded Highland Cigar Company in Atlanta in 2006 and sold it about a decade later. It is still my favorite place to go to have a cigar and watch the game – I was just there two nights ago. Most people don’t know, though, that I had my first cigar with my business school classmates and it was a terrible experience. I got so sick! It’s a miracle that I went back to it. It’s definitely an acquired hobby that I have found has ultimately brought me a lot of peace and stillness.

Also, Eastern philosophy is really present in how I live, and probably not something that most people know about. I have a little zen garden and zen companion book in my office and I sometimes have a bell or gong in here to bring peace and serenity. And I think cigars are related to that. Stillness and trying to be really present and thoughtful about slowing down when you have so much going on in life has been a really important aspect of my life, which I think is probably a really well-kept secret.

What is your favorite business book and why?

My favorite business book is Outliers, if you consider that a business book, which I do. I ask all of our Woodruff Scholars to read that book and when they arrive on campus it is our first discussion point. I love most of what Malcolm Gladwell writes. Outliers, importantly for me, discusses the 10,000 hours philosophy. I am a big proponent of mastering your craft. I have a lot of respect for people who know what they are talking about because they have studied it, experienced it – that they have actually mastered their craft. I try to do all those things. That’s why I went back to school. Trying to be great at what you do – you have to be deliberate about it. It doesn’t just come from wanting it. I don’t think a lot of people realize their potential because they play on the surface of things. For me, it is really important for us to be smart about what we are doing and for us to know what we are doing. That requires us to peel back layers and do research and cross-referencing – doing your homework! I think that’s an under-appreciated aspect of a lot of people’s success. It’s hard work! I think Outliers really gets at that core to success using a language that is very accessible. People who are the best in the world at what they do – it’s not an accident!

What does success look like for you when it comes to working with the business librarians?

In a phrase, success looks like total integration. I think we have made great progress with this toward integration, but I think we still have a ways to go toward total integration. What great would look like to me is if the faculty body here systematically shared all of our syllabi with the business librarians, and, without editing the syllabi, looked for ways to infuse opportunities for our students to really maximize the business librarians as a resource across the board. And, that our students as a whole student body would buy into this integration as a matter of practice. I think we have made some great progress in some of our courses toward this goal, but as a matter of practice, that would be a beautiful picture of total integration.

I’ve hired MBAs from Goizueta as well as from schools other than Goizueta, and I’ve had some of those employees and interns show up on day one and have no idea what questions to ask or what databases to use. They simply don’t know what they should know after coming out of a highly selective and highly regarded MBA program. I never want that to be our students. I think if we have this total integration between the school and the business library, our students would have a strong competitive advantage. 

What are three words that come to mind when you think of the value and contributions of the business library?

Rigor – That is a core value of ours and I do think that when students work closely with the business library and librarians, they bring a certain level of rigor to their work that they couldn’t otherwise do.

Magical – This is where the magic happens!

Quality – Everyone who I have interacted with on the business librarian team has brought quality to our work. I think our business library is world class and that is evident in the team and the array of personalities and strengths of the business librarians.