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Dean Energizes Columbia University Business School

THE logo of the Columbia University Business School is the sign of the Greek god Hermes. It stands for trade, commerce, and travel. For Meyer Feldberg, the school's dean, another symbol is more directly related to his plans for the school - the dollar sign.

Dean Feldberg, a Columbia MBA graduate himself, is seeking to revitalize the school. He is widely admired as an expert on reorganizing and improving institutions - and on raising money to do the job. Since joining Columbia just three and a half years ago, Feldberg has brought in $40 million in pledges as part of a fund drive for $100 million.

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How did he do it? Colleagues say he knows that money talks and that he has a powerful command of its language, especially here in the world's money capital.

The dean noted in an interview that the school's activities downtown and midtown are adjuncts to the curriculum to provide real-life learning for almost every job in business and finance. Business superstars regularly give lectures at the school.

Wall Street is not the only place where the dean wields influence. He will go wherever he can tell his school's story and stand a chance of getting gifts, grants, and bequests in return.

One of his early challenges at Columbia was to improve the school's image.

Feldberg came on the scene at the height of the worst crisis in Columbia Business School history, one of the school's professor says.

It ranked last or low in top-10 and top-12 business-school ratings; it ran substantial deficits for years; alumni were not making gifts; the business school and Columbia's central administration were at odds; Uris Hall was becoming run down; student and faculty morale was low; and enrollment had to be limited for lack of space.

In the words of a prominent alumnus, Columbia had become "the Alexander's of business schools," though, like the cut-rate chain store, it continued to turn out a good product.

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"Dean Feldberg has energized the whole school," student Richard Fair says. "He is a terrific dean and person. But he should do something about the school being too small for the number of students."

When asked about whether Columbia can meet business-school competition in this tri-state area, Feldberg says: "The sizzle is not enough. The steak's got to be there. And we've got the beef."

`Just say he's got a ton of chutzpah," a young instructor says. "Plus superb experience and successes," he adds. Chutzpah is New York's way of saying audacity and drive, necessities in this town.

Feldberg took over the dean's office when student morale was low. "My response was to begin improving the quality of school life for them. I gave them money to solve the problems.... I said, `You don't need permission from me or the administration to use the money as you see fit.' Morale shot up."

Next was the curriculum, which had not been overhauled in 30 years. "Over the past two years, we revamped the entire curriculum, and a new one will be introduced in September," the dean says. The emphasis will be on "globalization."

"One thing I found when I got on the job was substantial deficits over a dozen years," Feldberg says. In his first year, he not only balanced the budget but achieved a surplus.

Two "quality of life" objectives are construction of a $10 million residence hall and $2 million plant renovations.

To "internationalize" the school, a 58-member board of overseers, including 43 Americans and 15 Europeans, was established. "The current new energy and momentum here are, in large part, due to this group of able men and women," Feldberg says.

"It is important for Americans to understand that, whether they live in New York, Kentucky, or Iowa, they are competing globally," he says.

"Even if they are running a mid-sized business in rural Vermont, they are still competing with Japan and Europe. That is why we are teaching global perspectives about business and finance," Feldberg says.

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