This text and image are from a story published in Gulfshore Business magazine, March 2011.
A Visionary Departs
Dick Pegnetter looks back at growing FGCU’s College of Business.
Author: Lori Johnston
Photographer: Erik Kellar
Dick Pegnetter didn’t make things
easy for himself when he left
Colorado State University 15 years
ago to become the first dean of the
College of Business at Florida Gulf
Coast University. The school didn’t
have a campus, nor would it offer
professors tenure and the security
that comes with it.
But the affable Pegnetter had a
clear vision for the business school,
which allowed him to handpick Ph.D.s from around the country, set accreditation
records and build the Lutgert College of Business into one of the top 300 business
schools in the country, according to the Princeton Review.
“The thing about Dick that was both exciting and inspiring was the fact that he had
a real entrepreneurial vision for what became the Lutgert College of Business,”
says J. Howard Finch, Alico Chair in Financial Management and Planning at
FGCU. At the same time, he assists with economic development efforts on a
Pegnetter, who recently retired as dean, looks back on the modest beginnings of
What made you want to come to FGCU?
It’s a rare opportunity to build something from a blank piece of paper. I had lots of
freedom to develop a direction for the college and verify that when I started
getting faculty in place. I put together some initial thinking about some program
activities and tried, in my first year, to identify opportunities that would do things
better than some business schools had been doing.
How did you approach showing others the non-existent campus?
Deans [would] be on these buses that would bring people through the woods to
show them where the campus was. I was on one of those, saying, “Our campus
begins here.” Then a little stream came out of where our land was going to be.
There was a dirt road. As we went up over the hump, I said, “Well, the eagle
[FGCU’s mascot] has landed.”
What was a key component of your vision for the College of Business?
I felt that as a professional school, a business school should strike a balance between applied knowledge and analytic or theoretical tools. You owe it to the companies that hire these graduates that they can come in and make some initial contribution. On the other hand, if that’s all you give them, they might as well go to a community college and walk away after two years. They would get a [larger] emphasis on application because the faculty doesn’t frequently have Ph.D.s. I wanted to hire faculty who had great academic scholarship and research tools, but also who either had been involved or appreciated the application of those tools in the real world.
Was it difficult to attract faculty to an unknown new school, with no tenure?
To make faculty feel that they were not going to be bounced around and roughed up in the process of getting evaluated and promoted, it was important to have a clear set of standards and expectations in terms of what was expected for annual review and for promotion. We had the faculty create those standards. The faculty was pushier with their colleagues not meeting those standards than the dean could have ever been.
I got asked to do a presentation in front of the national business school organization. My topic was hiring faculty without tenure. I thought, geez, this is really a forward-thinking topic for them to put on the agenda. I went up there and I found out the other people had used something to fill in gaps—to hire adjunct professors; faculty without any research expectations. So, when I presented, I not only told them what I was doing and how I was going about it. But I said, here are the results. Here are the places where the faculty I hired got their Ph.D.s. Their mouths dropped.
How did you shape the program to meet local business needs?
We conducted a survey of focus groups with our business community and asked what kinds of programs would make sense here and what kind of skills a business graduate needs. We did ask one question where the answer was something we didn’t do. They said that international or global awareness was not a very important skill. We not only made that an emphasis point, but we started a program called the “second circle model.” The idea is we are going to use our international effort as well as our domestic effort [from an economic development perspective] to build relationships with a circle outside our university. Now, I think if you did that same little review among the business community here, there would be no question that they would put it high on their list.
How did you want Lutgert Hall (a 62,000-square-foot building that opened in 2008) to reflect the business school?
I wanted it to make a statement that would reflect the emphasis we have on instruction. It would be a building that would be very much on the leading edge of the way buildings could help the educational experience for students and for faculty. We borrowed a little bit from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Their classrooms are built like two of ours—as study rooms, with a tight horseshoe design. It is important for faculty to feel close to students. We kind of cranked that up a notch with the sound proofing, or acoustics. It was easier for everybody to hear people as they were talking. Once SchenkelShultz Architecture recognized the strength of the business school and where that building was going to be placed, they worked to make it a statement for their company. They had, I think, a dramatic look to it that shows off the whole campus. That sets an impression.
How has the local business community assisted you?
Almost all of what we’ve gotten in terms of significant buildings or chaired professorships have come from people who have no alumni presence with us. That’s being facilitated by the Executive MBA program (its graduates include executives with major companies in the area). I have eight chaired professors out of about 55 faculty. That would be a strong number if you had been in existence for 50 years and have alumni from 30 years back. To do that with essentially no alumni, with that kind of immediate financial capacity, is impressive.
What are you going to do now?
For about 40 years, I have been an arbitrator in labor management disputes. I anticipate I’ll do a little more of that. I will do some work for AACSB. I have been doing a lot of international stuff with them [in France, the United Arab Emirates, Germany and India] … chairing review teams that determine whether or not they get accredited.
Are you glad you came to Southwest Florida?
I’ve worked really hard, but feel that I have had an impact and what I’ve done has added to what’s going on. And that’s a great feeling, particularly for a region that’s so rich with intellectual talent, given its population size. It’s an incredible jewel.
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