Transforming Ryerson’s Business School

[W]hen Dr. Ken Jones, Dean of Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM), retires on July 1, 2013 he will leave a faculty that is more connected than it was when he assumed head position of it in 2005. In fact, TRSM didn’t even exist and the five departments that now make up the school (Business Management, Information Technology Management, Hospitality and Tourism Management, Retail Management and Management Graduate Programs) were separate and located in the Victoria Building. “I inherited a school that didn’t have a locational focus. Students didn’t feel like they were a part of one faculty,” says Jones. “I wanted them to feel like they were a part of a bigger unit.”

How do we differentiate ourselves from other business schools in Toronto? That’s the question Jones looked to answer when he first become dean. Recognizing that Ryerson is a professional-program oriented university located right in the heart of corporate Canada he sought a brand that would best show what the faculty could contribute to the business world. “Many of our students have an entrepreneurial spirit and I wanted the brand to recognize that passion,” he says. “I also wanted it to show the school’s energy, that this is a place where things are happening.” He stressed the importance of staff and students connecting with local, national and even international businesses all under the opinion that a business school shouldn’t be an ivory tower, it should be an agent of change. These connections are something Jones is very proud of and it shows when he makes a commitment to attending the 100 student-led events each year that he supports. “Our students really do want to make a change and that’s evident through the level of volunteerism at TRSM,” he says. “Take a walk around the building and you’ll find that he knows everyone and everyone recognizes him,” says Abdullah Snobar, Manager of Undergraduate Student Relations and Development at Ted Rogers School of Management. Snobar was in first year of the business management program when Jones first became dean and came to know him well as he became involved with the Ryerson Commerce Society. He’s now worked full-time in the dean’s office for three years. Snobar says that he’s been to many business schools and finds that he rarely sees the same level of connection between a dean and its students as there is at TRSM.

Jones also saw the renaming of the Faculty of Business into the Ted Rogers School of Management early in his term, something he is very proud of. “When I found out Ted Rogers was giving us the name I was very happy,” he says. “Everyone knows who he is and it’s a very recognizable national brand.” He also saw the school’s move to its 55 Dundas St. W location. Eight years later TRSM has become the largest undergraduate business school in Canada. Jones likes to call it “Canada’s most connected business school”. Last year it joined an elite group after receiving its business accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), only six other Ontario universities and 18 Canadian universities have this distinction.

Not bad for a man who says he never aspired to become a dean and only considered after former Provost and Vice President Academic Errol Aspevig approached him to run. After learning that there would be an opportunity to help with the creation of a new building, brand and opportunity to grow the faculty he became interested. Although, he does admit that to this day he still doesn’t know why they chose him for the job. “I’m proud that TRSM is a better place than when I arrived,” says Jones. “Our students are truly making a difference in the business world and beyond.” But in true humble fashion Jones refuses to take all the credit. “I wasn’t the person who made this happen. A dean is simply an orchestra leader. All you can do is create an environment where people can try new ideas, create and be entrepreneurial,” he says. “It’s the staff and students who’ve made this happen. It’s not my legacy, it’s there’s.” Snobar couldn’t disagree more with Jones’ perspective. “I think he’s left one of the biggest legacies at the school,” he says. “TRSM was never what it was before Ken.” It’s his openness to listening to all different ideas that Snobar says is a part of the stamp Jones will leave on the school. “One of the great things about Ken is that he truly does listen to any idea. You can go to him with the craziest idea and instead of dismissing it he’ll help you find a way to make it happen,” he says.

Despite Jones’ opinion, it’s clear that he has made a mark on the Ryerson community. Joining the university in 1970 as a geography professor, Jones jokes that he’s been at the school so long he can probably give a history lesson on the place, he specialized in business geomatics, geo-spatial analysis and marketing geography. He then founded the Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity (CSCA) in 1992. The Centre is a non-profit research unit based at Ryerson that specializes in studying private-sector economic activities that deal directly with consumers. He received the Sarwan Sahota Distinguished Scholar Award in 2000 and earlier this year he won the Errol Aspevig Award for Outstanding Academic Leadership, which is presented to an individual who has advanced the mission of the university through extraordinary and outstanding academic leadership and who has contributed significantly to the enhancement of academic life at Ryerson and beyond. On top of all this he’s also a published author of three books.

For someone who has spent most of his life in school, Jones does admit it will be an unfamiliar feeling come next September when he’ll no longer have to make the commute. “For me the real new year starts the day after Labour Day,” he says. “For the first time in 60 years I won’t be going to school that day. That’s a good feeling.” There aren’t any grand plans in the works for the man who swears he doesn’t have a bucket list. He’s just looking forward to relaxing, spending time with family and no more 6 a.m. wake ups.

But before he leaves Jones has a few things left to accomplish. Successfully seeing the launch of the School of Accounting and Finance is one. He also plans on completely rethinking what a business curriculum looks like. All this in the hopes that he can leave the school knowing that it’s a place where leaders are created and where students’ interests are top of mind. He insists that he has no regrets and that there’s no point on dwelling on things you can’t change. He’s focused more on enjoying every day of his last year as it comes and making sure that the next person to takeover can lead the ship smoothly into the future. “Where do I hope TRSM looks like in the next 5, 10, 25 years? I hope it evolves as a great business school known for focusing on careers, students, entrepreneurship and having an international reputation as a leader in business education.” No matter who’s chosen as the new dean Snobar says it’s clear TRSM will miss the “great humility and charisma” of Dr. Ken Jones.

Photo by Joseph Hammond for Ryerson Folio
Lighting assistant, Jacob Louvelle-Burt