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Ajay Menon and the College of Business: A look back and forward

February 3, 2014
By Kate Hawthorne Jeracki

Menon has announced his intention to step down as the Dean of the College effective June 2015, or as soon as a new dean can be recruited and on board.

The Colorado State University College of Business has made tremendous improvements over the past decade, under the steady guidance of Dean Ajay Menon. Now Menon has decided to step aside to allow the University to begin the process of recruiting a new leader.

Menon, who holds a Ph.D. in Marketing, announced his intention to leave the Dean’s office and return to teaching in an email to the College on Jan. 24.

“I have been in conversations with Provost Rick Miranda about our need to start thinking about the future Dean of the College,” Menon wrote. “I feel that the current stature of our university and the growing national visibility of our College will allow us to recruit outstanding Dean candidates. It is my belief that now is the time to begin the process to identify and recruit a new leader – new both in style and substance.”

In his email, Menon said that his resignation would take effect June 30, 2015, “or as soon as the next Dean can be identified and on board.”

CSU President Tony Frank said that he and Miranda accepted Menon’s decision to step down “with deep reluctance.”

“Having worked closely with Ajay through every one of the 12 years he’s served as dean, I can personally attest to what a remarkable impact he’s had on the College and the University as a whole during his tenure – and what an inspiration he’s been and continues to be for all of us,” Frank wrote in an email on Jan. 31. “His tireless pursuit of excellence, his unfailing commitment to our students and faculty, and his power to help us think about what we do in new and more innovative ways has had a transformative impact. Ours is now the top public business school in Colorado and consistently ranked among the best in the U.S. and internationally – and Ajay deserves an enormous amount of credit for leading our program to this point.”

College on the rise

Menon took over the responsibilities of Dean in 2002. Since then, he has provided strategic direction for the College, providing leadership; developing and maintaining relationships with all external stakeholders; obtaining financial resources for the college to achieve its vision for success; and broad oversight of the college's senior management.

A listing of his duties and responsibilities, however, doesn’t come close to describing what Dean Menon has done for the College of Business, or what he has brought to the University.

A few statistics illustrate his impact. In fiscal year 2001-02, the year before Menon became Dean, the College of Business had 55 full time faculty members; in fiscal year 2013-14, that number had risen 50 percent to 83 faculty members.

Enrollment in MBA programs has grown even more dramatically. In fiscal year 2004-05, the College enrolled a total of 294 students in five MBA programs. In fiscal year 2013-14, enrollment had soared to 1,546 students in seven programs, with an astounding tripling of enrollment in the College’s Online MBA.

To house all the new faculty and students – during Menon’s leadership, undergraduate enrollment made the College one of the largest on campus, with nearly 2,000 non-majors choosing a business minor as well – the College also undertook an ambitious capital campaign that resulted in the addition of Rockwell Hall West in 2010. The 60,000-square-foot addition to historic Rockwell Hall on Laurel Street contains an array of technological advancements, and was constructed with funding from a number of sources.

Focus on students

Menon’s tireless efforts as an ambassador for CSU among the top echelon of U.S. and international corporations, foundations and other organizations helped raise the level of private funding for the College from less than $230,000 annually in 2002 to an average of $2.5 million per year since 2006, even during the worst of the Great Recession. However, he takes the most pride in the fact that CSU students chose to support the construction of Rockwell West through self-imposed fees that raised more than $1 million.

His focus on students has been primary, and one he looks forward to deepening when he returns to teaching. One of his first initiatives as Dean was to improve job placement for graduates. In 2002, only one staffer was assigned to career management services; today, nine FTEs in the Career Management Center boast a 90 percent job offer rate for students within 60 days of graduation at an average starting salary of $46,500.  

“I hope Dean Menon knows what a difference he’s made in my life,” said Alison Fisher, a College of Business junior management and marketing major who also serves on the Dean’s Student Leadership Council. “I’ve always taken for granted that he’d be the one handing me my diploma when I graduate – I hope that happens. He’s been a mentor whose words will stick with me. I know I’ll rely on his wisdom from my first job until I retire. He’s just one of those inspirational people.”

Chief Innovation Officer

Menon’s inspiration has been felt far beyond the walls of Rockwell Hall – even all three Rockwells. 

In November 2011, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Menon the state's first Chief Innovation Officer. In this position, Menon provided leadership to the Colorado Innovation Network, created by Hickenlooper to promote collaboration among Colorado's private, public and academic organizations – in addition to his full-time duties as Dean. At the end of his two-year term, Menon turned over the reins of COIN in August, but remains on the COIN Board of Advisors.

The mission of COIN is to stimulate economic growth, help create jobs and attract new businesses by supporting innovative business activities and establishing Colorado as the best state for business.  Menon led COIN to develop an eco-system in Colorado that cultivates entrepreneurial and innovative activities.

“Ajay Menon is a living personification of ‘innovation,’” Hickenlooper said. “His contribution to the creation of the Colorado Innovation Network was immeasurable, and we will be forever grateful for his service to Colorado as the state’s first Chief Innovation Officer.”

Entrepreneurial approach

Under Menon’s direction, CSU Economist Stephan Weiler produced the very first Colorado Innovation Report, presented during the 2012 Colorado Innovation Summit in Denver. The 2013 update was also presented to the C-level business, government, education and community thought leaders convened by Menon to discuss the state of the local innovation economy and develop strategies to tackle the issues and challenges facing the state.

“Ajay approached me in the late Spring of 2012 with the idea that the state needed to get a sense of what was out there in terms of innovation, something that hadn’t ever been done before,” said Weiler, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “Innovation is a big term, and Ajay gave me the freedom and resources to do the research that needed to be done to create the Index. I appreciated that support, and now we can say that we have created something that we hope will continue permanently at Colorado State and will become something the University is known for.

“That, to me, seems to be the way Ajay approaches everything – find the best people for the job and then let them do their job the best way they know how,” Weiler added. “He has been very entrepreneurial in what he has done for the College, and the College and the University have benefited from it.”

Make a Difference

One of his greatest entrepreneurial leaps – and one that illustrates Menon’s deeply held belief that business can be a force for good in the world and business people acting ethically can make a positive difference – was the creation of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program. Launched in 2007, “the good MBA” had already doubled in enrollment, and graduates are setting up ventures throughout the developing world to apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems of hunger, poverty and disease.

For all his accomplishments, Menon is famous for his aversion to the limelight. He prefers to share whatever accolades come his way with everyone who accompanied him on the journey.

“To be trusted with the responsibilities of leading our College of Business is one of the great honors of my professional career,” he said. “I am happy, and very grateful, that due to the tireless efforts of our faculty, staff, alumni and friends, the College of Business has made significant progress and is today a national leader in business education. After serving 12 years in the role of Dean, I look forward to finding alternative ways to contribute to the future growth and success of my beloved College and our great University.”

President Frank plans to take him up on that offer.

Special projects

“In addition to the work he wants to do as a faculty member, I intend to keep Ajay fully occupied with high-level special projects on behalf of the University, including continuing to represent the institution with key leadership and constituent groups,” he said.  “We are very, very fortunate to continue to benefit from his insight and experience as we move forward.”

The University will begin moving forward with the search for a new Dean shortly, fully engaging the faculty, staff and students in the College of Business in the process. Frank predicted that this will not be a quick process.

“This will be viewed as a very attractive position in the academic marketplace and we expect to attract a highly competitive pool given the respect and reputation that Ajay has built for the program,” he said.