Cornell University Johnson at Cornell University

Alumni Profiles

Robert S. Sullivan, MBA '68

Robert S. Sullivan, MBA '68:
The Business School Startup

Innovation has long been the touchstone of Robert Sullivan's illustrious career. As dean of the Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Carnegie Mellon, he completely re-engineered the school's educational programs to incorporate advanced technology; at the University of Texas, Austin, he directed the IC2 Institute, a nontraditional international center for research and education on innovation; as dean of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, he spearheaded a weekend executive MBA program ranked fifth in the world.

So when the University of California Board of Regents approached Sullivan in 2003 about becoming founding dean of the brand-new Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, he felt it was a challenge he couldn't pass up.

"The exciting part was to create a school with no legacy effect, to not worry about what happened historically, and to focus on the future."

The very beginning was rocky, to say the least. Due to the dot-com bubble bursting, many businesses that had verbally promised tens of millions of dollars reneged, leaving the program with little more than the $5 million in seed money provided by the state. The school also did not have a permanent home.

In the first year, it was housed in two offices in a campus building; the next year they had to set up shop in the WWII Army barracks that still remained on campus from the forties.?"We were nomads," Sullivan says.

But despite the less-than-glamorous digs, the school was able to hire top-flight academics away from places like MIT and Yale, as well as attract talented students, many of whom already holding professional degrees, who were excited by the school's focus on life sciences and technology and forward-thinking vision.

In June 2007, the Rady School finally moved into a brand-new, 84,000 square foot facility, four stories high, overlooking Torrey Pines Golf Course and the Pacific Ocean. Also, in just four years, its revenue has increased 500 percent, and Sullivan has helped secure more than $90 million in private donations.

"I'm confident we'll be considered one of the best in the world," he says. "It's only a matter of time."

– Mark Rader, MFA '02