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Profiles in Leadership: Hartline gets down to ‘business’ of leading college to Top 25

In April 2016, Dean Michael Hartline became the sixth person to lead FSU’s College of Business since it was founded in 1950.
In April 2016, Dean Michael Hartline became the sixth person to lead FSU’s College of Business since it was founded in 1950.

It was a big day for Michael Hartline, one of the biggest of his life. Hartline had been serving as interim dean of Florida State University’s College of Business for nine months when the life-changing day arrived in the spring of 2016.

The College of Business Board of Governors was slated to meet at 8:30 a.m. to officially welcome Hartline as the school’s permanent dean, but the gravity of the day — and the date — made it all seem a little unreal for him, especially since it was April 1.

“Before I went to that meeting, I literally came in my office right before 8 o’clock in the morning to make sure it wasn’t a joke,” Hartline said with a laugh. “I halfway thought someone would be standing in here saying, ‘April Fool’s Day!’”

It was no joke. Hartline stepped up to become only the sixth person to lead FSU’s College of Business since it was founded in 1950.

The school is one of the largest and most successful in the nation with more than 6,000 students; 123 faculty members and 17 different programs at the bachelor, master and doctoral levels.

A Bold New Plan

Hartline has a big vision for the College of Business. He’s implementing a new strategy to make it a nationally ranked, preeminent program that breaks into the Top 25 nationwide. Currently, the undergraduate program is ranked No. 41 among national public institutions, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 edition of “America’s Best Colleges.” U.S. News also ranks the college’s risk management and real estate programs in the Top 10 nationally.

Hartline’s goal dovetails with Florida State President John Thrasher’s mission to boost the university into the Top 25 rankings of public universities. FSU leaped five spots this year from No. 43 to No. 38 — the most of any public university — in the same U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Hartline started pursuing a new strategic plan for the College of Business when he was named interim dean in July 2015 — a bold course of action for someone who had just received the often transitory “interim” title. But he figured he had two options: act as a caretaker and not ruffle any feathers until a permanent dean was hired, or forge ahead with ideas he wished he could do to put Florida State on a new path toward preeminence.

He chose to shake things up.

“We’ve come a long way in a pretty short period of time. Things seem to be moving in the right direction. Everyone seems to be working toward the same common goals. I’m excited about our future.”
— Michael Hartline

As interim dean, Hartline ditched the college’s outdated strategic plan and spearheaded a year-long process to create a new one. It focused on the metrics that measure preeminence, including student performance, job placement, starting salaries, post-graduate programs and even the perceptions of other deans around the country about FSU’s College of Business.

The updated plan is already getting positive results. The MBA program got an infusion of new cash and a dynamic new director, student performance is rising, the college is recruiting more talented students and offering more tuition waivers to get those bright students. Recently, U.S. News ranked the college’s online MBA as No. 16 in the nation (up from No. 44), and its specialized master’s degrees in risk management and management information systems are both ranked in the Top 10.

Plus, a $100 million gift from Jan Moran and The Jim Moran Foundation — the largest in Florida State’s history — will have a monumental impact on the goal of transforming FSU into one of the nation’s leading entrepreneurial universities.

The money is expanding the reach of the college’s Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship, which teaches entrepreneurial skills to small business owners throughout Florida. It also creates the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship — separate from the College of Business — to focus solely on teaching those same skills to students.

The FSU Jim Moran School will become the largest interdisciplinary degree-granting entrepreneurship program in the nation when its first classes start in the fall of 2017.

“It’s interesting because other schools around the country are starting to look at us and ask, ‘What is Florida State doing in entrepreneurship? It’s kind of cool, kind of interesting,’” Hartline said. “We think we’re setting the trend for what will happen around the rest of the country.”

Hartline is focusing on four primary goals — the four P’s, as he likes to call them — to move the College of Business forward:

  1. People
  2. Programs
  3. Physical Space
  4. Posture

People

Hartline is pushing to do a better job of investing in all students with scholarship support. That includes more travel money for students so they can see industries around the country and take advantage of national conferences and internships.

“It’s pretty common to have students who say, ‘I have a great internship in New York and I can’t afford the flight. Can the college help me out?’” Hartline explained. He added the college is starting to provide that help now.

The other part of the focus on people is retaining faculty. Last year, 13 of the college’s best faculty members were aggressively recruited by other universities, Hartline said, and six left FSU. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that three of them were accounting professors, who are extremely difficult to replace because there aren’t enough Ph.D.-level accounting professors to meet the demand for their skills.

Programs

Hartline has restructured the College of Business as its entrepreneurship major separates from the college in 2017 and becomes an independent program in the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship.

The revamped structure includes a new Department of Business Analytics, Information Systems and Supply Chain. It’s a high profile STEM program — science, technology, engineering and math — an increasingly hot field attracting lots of attention and money from legislatures across the nation.

In addition, the college is working to develop Florida’s first master’s degree in business analytics.

“I really think the addition of business analytics will be a home run for us,” Hartline said. “Not only is it STEM-related, but it helps solve the problem that recruiters have been telling us: We turn out great students who are focused in their major areas, but they have very little analytical skill. So this will help solve that problem.”

With its plans to build Legacy Hall, the FSU College of Business is posturing itself to become a nationally preeminent business school prospering in a world-class facility.
With its plans to build Legacy Hall, the FSU College of Business is posturing itself to become a nationally preeminent business school prospering in a world-class facility.

Physical Space

Hartline is leading a fundraising effort to build Legacy Hall, an $85 million facility for the College of Business. The building will offer the latest technology to serve students for generations and also solve an existing problem with lack of space. Hartline believes FSU’s College of Business is playing catchup with other programs — such as those at the University of Georgia, University of South Carolina and the University of Florida — that have built new buildings.

“We’re falling behind,” Hartline said. “Legacy Hall will help recruit students and faculty, and it also matters to recruiters. Recruiter perceptions are another important metric to rankings, and there’s nothing more impressive than a brand-new building.”

The College of Business will split the cost of Legacy Hall with the state of Florida — each contributing more than $42 million to the project. That’s unusual. The facility will be one of the only state buildings in Florida, Hartline said, constructed with half private funds. The college hopes to break ground in 2018.

Posture

Think of this as the school’s “swagger.” Hartline is challenging faculty and students to think, act and perform like a Top 25 college of business.

“You really have to believe you’re going to get there,” Hartline said. “We know we’re a great college. We have to think like it. We have to act like it. We have to perform like it. If we believe it, we’ll be able to convince others of how successful we’ve been.”

Hartline is also pursuing his goal of having a named college of business within three years. He believes a dedicated name would help boost the college’s potential for more success and swagger.

“It gives us a brand that can be promoted and leveraged in recruiting and fundraising. Secondly, it gives us a large endowment to fund our efforts in perpetuity. The bottom line is: Becoming a named college will give us the posture to move forward into the Top 25 of public business schools.”

That’s currently the practice among Top 25 public business schools nationwide: 96 percent are named.

Tailor-made for the Job

Hartline’s breadth of experience has uniquely prepared him for the job of dean at Florida State — the fourth academic institution of his career. He has held a variety of positions since joining the College of Business in 2001 and learned valuable lessons along the way in research, teaching, recruiting and hiring faculty, mentoring professors, running a doctoral program, developing academic programs, fundraising, writing gift proposals, finding ways to generate income for the college and serving as an associate and interim dean.

All those duties — and lessons learned — helped him hit the ground running when he became dean of the College of Business on April 1, 2016.

“It was probably the best training ground you could ever have to become a dean,” Hartline said as he reflected on his background. “I knew what it was like to work with a college board. I knew what it was like to ask for gifts. I understood the importance of research. I understood the importance of the doctoral program. I’ve taught in the MBA program. I’ve taught face to face. I’ve taught online. I’ve taught in the part-time program. I’ve taught in Panama City. So, I had a breadth of experience that when people talked about the issues in all these areas, I understood exactly what they were talking about.”

Now Hartline, who arrived in Tallahassee as an assistant professor of marketing in the fall of 2001, aims to enhance the national narrative about FSU’s College of Business and amplify the buzz starting to develop among deans and recruiters. That challenge should be right in the wheelhouse of this former chair of the Department of Marketing.

He looks forward to leading the college as it transitions into a fascinating new chapter with a larger, more technologically advanced facility; talented students; dedicated faculty members; and hopefully, a Top 25 national ranking.

“We’ve come a long way in a pretty short period of time. Things seem to be moving in the right direction. Everyone seems to be working toward the same common goals. I’m excited about our future.”

“Profiles in Leadership” is a continuing web series that will feature Florida State University deans, directors and administrators and their respective colleges, schools, departments and centers.