Dr. Gregory Prastacos recently began his tenure as dean of the Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens.
A renowned management leader and internationally-recognized scholar in the field of operations research, Prastacos came to Stevens from the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB), where he served as rector and professor of Management Science. During his tenure, he founded AUEB’s MBA International Program, which is ranked among the top MBA programs worldwide, the AUEB’s Management Sciences Laboratory, which is considered a leading European research center, the Athens Business Confucius Institute, which is an important cultural link with China, and the International Entrepreneurship Chair, which is only one of the 60 Chairs funded worldwide by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations to promote relations with India.
Previously, Prastacos taught at Columbia University and the Wharton School. He also launched a market leading management consulting company that later merged with Deloitte & Touche Consulting (Greece), where he served as Chairman of the Board.
This Q&A shares Prastacos’ own words about his past experiences in academia and industry, the trends he is seeing in business education, and his vision for the Howe School.
What aspects of your past teaching, research and industry experience will most benefit the Howe School?
In today’s global, fast changing, and technologically driven world, a successful dean of a business school should combine three key characteristics. First, he should have a very strong academic background. Ideally, he/she should have experience in research, publications in top quality journals, experience in driving research projects, and understand and believe in academic quality. Second he/she should have international experience. Education today cannot be local. Our students, when they graduate, will have international customers, international suppliers, will work in international markets and in international cultures. Therefore, when we develop our students to become the managers of tomorrow, we must realize that they need to be competitive in an international environment. And finally, a business school dean needs to be entrepreneurial and should have corporate experience. A business school needs to be in the market, interact with managers and leaders, develop programs for the market, and therefore, the dean needs to lead this effort for the benefit of his/her school.
I believe the Howe School would benefit from my experience in all of these three areas: a) a good understanding of a high quality academic environment, from top schools like Columbia, Wharton and others; b) extensive international experience coming from Europe and having been active in networking in Asia, especially China and India; and c) some corporate experience, having developed spin off companies and having sat on the board of Deloitte & Touche and other companies. In addition, I have a strong Engineering background, and this can be of great help in developing further links with the other schools of Stevens.
What are the primary trends you see today in MBA programs and business education?
The number one trend is the growth of programs that emphasize analytical thinking and technology awareness, such as decision making under risk, decision making in a data intensive environment, etc. There is a lot of uncertainty and also plenty of data available that can help decision makers make better decisions. As a result, new methods and tools have been developed, and business schools have been incorporating them in their programs, to help students develop better solutions and strategies.
The second trend is internationalization. Today, a lot of schools across the globe are building very good MBA programs and there are many international business schools that are flourishing. The competition today is not only within the US.
The third trend is the need to equip students with skills, tools, experiences and knowledge, so that they can be ready to apply what they have learned, and to be productive in the corporate environment immediately upon graduation. As markets get tougher, organizations are looking for immediate results. An important trend is the development of programs on entrepreneurship. That does not mean only setting up new companies, but developing entrepreneurial minds and an entrepreneurial culture, even within big organizations, and recognizing that you can improve processes, products, systems and customer relationships continuously.
And the last mega trend is a strong trend towards corporate social responsibility and ethics, which is not only a cultural issue, but involves a lot of changes in the legal system as well as operations. I would also say that, together with this trend, one can see an emphasis towards more critical thinking and a more holistic approach in management education; there are a number of programs where students go through workshops and seminars to develop this awareness and these skills.
What is the Howe School doing in anticipation of these trends?
I think the Howe School, being part of Stevens, is already way ahead of the curve in analytical thinking, in part through its Quantitative Finance (QF) and Business Intelligence & Analytics (BI&A) programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In addition, the market demand for business professionals with technology skills is increasing. Stevens plays a pivotal role in preparing students for the technology-centric corporate world of tomorrow. Business leaders are expected to possess broad knowledge across business and technology, and the Howe School is well-positioned in terms of its curriculum, programs, history, industry links, location and partnerships.
The Howe School is also doing good work in entrepreneurial training. This is an increasingly important area during the difficult economic times we live in, and we plan to enhance the training in this area even further for the Howe School, but also assist in developing such programs for the entire University. We also intend to look closely into how we can strategically advance in all of the other directions that I mentioned.
What do you consider the distinguishing characteristics of the Howe School?
There are a number of generic aspects of the Howe School that stand out. I think it’s very good that the school is small and agile, that it is technology-centric, that is has excellent industry contacts and that it is close to New York City. These are excellent advantage points.
From a program aspect, the QF and BI&A are top of the line and unique. In addition, our flagship programs at the undergraduate level, Business & Technology, and the graduate level, Technology Management, are also well-known and have been around for years. We will be revising all of those programs so that they can get even better, and we will be developing new ones. Stay tuned...
What is the biggest difference you’ve noticed between business education in the U.S. and Greece?
There are a number of things that are different, with respect to Greece and Europe. In the US there is a continuous monitoring of performance, in all aspects of the educational system. Faculty evaluations take place on a routine basis, both in terms of teaching quality as well as research output. In the US particular attention is given to the student, through tutoring, advising and student services. Quality and output are monitored to make sure that the learning objectives are met.
Business education here is more applied, whereas in Greece it is more theoretical. Theory is good, but you need to supplement it with many examples, cases, group work, as well as opportunities for internships, company contacts, etc. that will make the student understand the way business works and the way decisions are made.
In the US there is significant involvement of the university stakeholders in the way things shape up. As an example, currently, there is a strategic planning process going on at Stevens, with significant participation of the entire academic community; I would have a hard time imagining such a thing happening in Europe.
In addition, the faculty dedicates a significant amount of their time for service to the University, in order to achieve the goals of Stevens and its four schools. Research funding in the US is at a significantly higher level that in Europe, and this results in a significantly higher level of quantity and quality of research. This is a tremendous point of attraction for young researchers.
Social responsibility and “giving back” to society through fund raising is at a much higher level here than in Europe, where most universities depend almost exclusively on public funding. You realize that this mentality in hard economic times like today’s is very limiting.
Finally, one thing that is different is how organized things are here, and this leads someone to go “by the book.” This is good in one way, because business flows quickly, but it might eliminate a little bit of innovation and creativity. Our students have to compete in a world that is not so structured. There are many changes happening, so students must also learn how to think “out of the box,” see things under another perspective. These are only some of the differences.
What is your first major goal for the Howe School, and what will you do to accomplish it?
I have only been here a few weeks; my goal for the moment is to listen to my faculty, my students and all of my stakeholders – to find out the expectations, problems, strengths, weaknesses, etc. so that we can develop a vision, a mission and a strategy. These are important, and the result of this process will have an impact at various levels, including the branding of the school, the portfolio of programs that we offer both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, the student bodies that we address ourselves, the areas where we focus our research to become world leaders, the accreditation process that is so much needed, etc.
Where do you see the Howe School in 10 years?
I see the Howe School being a leading business school internationally, “sitting” at the intersection between business, technology and innovation. Being in the technology-centric environment of Stevens, I believe that this will come naturally. I strongly believe that technology and innovation will make the biggest difference in business in the next 10 years, and we are in a great position to capitalize on this direction and make the Howe School a leader at the intersection of business, technology and innovation.
Personally, what has the experience been like for you as you moved overseas?
I have not brought my family over yet. My wife and kids will be joining me in the summer, after the kids finish their school year. We are all very much looking forward to that. So far it has been very busy here, just arranging things, finding a house, and getting settled. But I am thrilled to be joining Stevens, meet the students and the faculty, and cannot wait to recruit, prepare and inspire the next generation of business leaders!
Dr. Gregory Prastacos recently began his tenure as dean of the Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens.