Moez Limayem is no fan of vanilla.
Just a couple of weeks into his new job as dean of the University of South Florida College of Business and he's already offering up strong opinions about establishing the right flavor for the school.
In a Friday interview in his corner office, the engaging dean who has lived and taught on four continents stressed that one of his priorities is to make sure the USF College of Business finds a way to stand out among the nation's best business schools.
"If we come across as a plain vanilla business school, we won't get far," says Limayem, 48.
So far, that's true. For all the progress made at USF's business school in Tampa, it remains generally ignored by the big national rankings of best business schools published by Bloomberg/Businessweek and U.S. News, among others.
Limayem hopes to change that, though he cautions that raising the bar and national reputation of a state university business school with a lean $15 million budget last year is no overnight project.
But it's doable, he says. He cites the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business that was able to break through by building expertise in international business. And Washington University in St. Louis, also too vanilla to get noticed, decided to excel at critical business thinking and now tours the world sharing its insights.
So how might USF in Tampa stand out?
Limayem says it would be a big mistake to declare USF's special niche so early. He's "promised to hit the ground listening" to a wide swath of the Tampa Bay business community before picking that niche. Still, he sees some natural strengths at the business school that could, in theory, become the strength that — given time and resources — sets the school apart.
One possibility is "business intelligence and analytics," which really means that USF is good at teaching business students how to mine and interpret the piles of data corporations are accumulating about their customers but lacking the ability to interpret. This is key, Limayem suggests, because such troves of data will only multiply ahead.
Another possibility is USF's new MBA in sports and entertainment management, a niche that gained a powerful partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring.
And another option might be USF's focus on entrepreneurship. It's an area that the Tampa Bay region is trying to nurture.
The new dean is a big fan of real world experience for business students. Expanding internships — ones that offer substantive learning opportunities, not trips to the copier machine — will be high on his to-do list when he comes calling on area companies.
Grinning, Limayem tries out a school motto mocking old-school teaching: "No death by PowerPoint."
The dean also recognizes he has landed here at an opportune time, given the Republican National Convention arriving in Tampa next month. Many Tampa Bay business leaders are in the advanced stages of preparing elaborate advertising, public relations and branding campaigns to pitch the merits of the Tampa Bay region in person to key RNC attendees and online to a broader audience.
Heads up, business leaders. Limayem may be new here, but he already sounds like a fan of the Tampa Bay region.
"This is one of the best well-kept secrets in the nation," he says. "We need to tell that story better."
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]