Student desktops and slightly smudged erase boards do not take up space in room 307, unlike other classrooms in the west wing of the School of Business and Industry. Behind this door, mementos of the school’s illustrious history line the walls and shelves.
Magazine covers bear Florida A&M’s name. Hard hats with logos of Fortune 500 companies, which the school has partnered with, sit in SBI’s memorabilia room, watched from picture frames that hold the eyes of the college’s founding dean.
In her absence, Sybil C. Mobley continues to dominate the hallways of SBI. Even if the school was not named after her in 2007, it would still be impossible to forget Mobley’s name. Since her retirement in 2003, SBI has seen three interim deans and two permanent deans. Through these transitional periods, the school of business has been criticized for not sustaining the level of prestige that Mobley cultivated.
As Shawnta Friday-Stroud prepares to send off her first class of graduates as permanent dean, SBI tries to establish a blueprint for the future in the middle of a tough business climate.
“I think we have all the pieces here to not only get us back to where we were under Dean Mobley’s time, but to also soar to new heights,” said Friday-Stroud, who was named permanent dean of the 1,200 student program in February.
In Tom Peter’s 1985 New York Times Best-Seller “A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference,” Peter refers to FAMU’s business program as “The Marine Corps of business schools.”
Mobley served on the board for such companies as Anheuser-Busch, Sears and Hershey Foods. As a result of those relationships, companies sent representatives to interview students for job openings. This was an effective recruiting tool for the business school.
“There will never be another Dean Mobley,” said Lydia McKinley-Floyd, a professor of marketing and former dean of SBI. “Dean Mobley was the kind of person that if you were headed to Harvard; she would pick up the phone, call you and your mother and she would get you down here. When she left, things did change because she was such a strong person.”
McKinley-Floyd, SBI’s second permanent dean, was appointed in August 2006, during the Castell Bryant interim presidency. After Bryant left in 2007, she was succeeded by James Ammons. Friday-Stroud replaced McKinley-Floyd as dean in spring 2009.
“Dr. Ammons did not appoint me,” McKinley-Floyd said. “What I found out later was that there was this ‘Castell Bryant’ stigma on me that I was totally unconcerned about because I came here for an (entirely) different reason. The new administration decided that they wanted a new person, and that’s when I was asked to step down.”
Graduating senior Ramel Strong, a professional MBA student, enrolled in FAMU the semester after Mobley’s departure. Strong has seen how SBI has developed with new leaders.
“Everybody’s opinion of Dr. Mobley is that she was a great leader, and I (understand) why she ran her ship the way she did,” Strong said. “But it takes away from your legacy if when you leave, the ship falls apart. To me that means you didn’t put a system in place.”
Another lingering issue surrounding the business school is the question of accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Although accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), SBI is not accredited by AACSB, while Howard University and other historically black universities are.
But one of Strong’s biggest concerns is that professional leadership development is not stressed as much as it was in the past. According to the school’s Web site, professional leadership development teaches students business sophistication, communication skills and other forms of business etiquette.
“You’re going to get some people here who didn’t come from the best of backgrounds and who need that polish and preparation not only to be superstars, but just to compete with their peers,” Strong said. He also said the school faces dress code and punctuality issues, which could be enforced more.
Friday-Stroud agrees with Strong.
“We’re going to have to go back to some of that in the fall,” Friday-Stroud said. “There’s a consequence for being late. I believe that it’s our job to prepare you all for the world that you’re going to face when you get out of here.”
She says students need to know what the expectations are upfront.
“In my generation, you didn’t really have to tell us why. If you gave us a rule we just accepted it,” she said. “Today’s generation, not only do we have to give the rule, but I think we have to tell you why so that you understand.”
As the new dean, Friday-Stroud has sought student input to improve SBI.
“I have always been a collaborative person by nature and I don’t profess to know everything. As I used to tell students in the classroom, I learn just as much from them as they learn from me.”
She tells students they have to be accountable and do their part as well. Times have changed since the Mobley era and her name alone doesn’t guarantee good relationships with companies.
According to some students and faculty, financial services firm JPMorgan Chase recently voiced concerns about the quality of SBI students. Although she wouldn’t fully disclose specific details involving the situation, Friday-Stroud did not shy away from the issue.
“I think there are some lessons we can learn from what’s going on with the JPMorgan Chase situation so that as we begin to mend and grow it, we can take those lessons and apply them to other corporate relations,” Friday-Stroud said.
She points to Altria, parent company for Phillip Morris and Kraft Foods, as one corporation that has praised the caliber of the program’s students.
In the end, the dean believes the issue with both companies reinforces what should be SBI’s main focus.
“The firms don’t come here for me,” she said. “They don’t come here for the administrators and the faculty, they come here for the students. So if the students don’t perform, what’s the reason for them to come?”