Former Dean Robert Homes, Ph.D.Here, former dean Robert Holmes talks about his almost decade-long tenure that brought him from Boston to UAB.

What was your vision for the school while you served as dean?

When I joined UAB, it was clear to me that the business school had excellent academic programs and had developed and implemented innovative and collaborative programs with several other schools at UAB and organizations in the community. And, we had a strong faculty and a student body of mostly non-traditional students who were working and paying their own tuition. The business school had achieved much, but the faculty and I believed that the School was ready to move to the next level of excellence. I was aware of how acclaimed the UAB medical, research, and healthcare programs were, and my vision early on was for the UAB School of Business to become as widely recognized as those programs were. Could we become one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial b-schools in the nation, where our graduates are in high demand, and where when people think of UAB, they think of business as well as health care? 

Early in my tenure at UAB, the faculty, administrative team, and business executives serving on our advisory boards developed a comprehensive strategic plan for the next five years. That process resulted in revised vision and mission statements, as well as goals, plans, and strategies to accomplish the plan. And we were fortunate to have the strong support of the provost and President Ann Reynolds, who committed $500,000 for five years above our annual budgeted funds to support the realization of our strategic plan.  

What’s your fondest memory about your time at UAB?

There are many fond memories of my time as Dean of Business at UAB, but what stands out most is working with a great team of faculty, administrative staff, other deans at UAB, and highly supportive provosts and the two presidents (Dr. Ann Reynolds and Dr. Carol Garrison) I worked under. I was also blessed to have the support of Dr. Jack Duncan and Associate Deans Dr. Robert Scott and Dr. Lowell Broom, as well as the faculty and business community. From Day One, I felt very much a part of UAB and the Birmingham community! 

There was one week that especially stands out for me during my time as dean at UAB–the horrific event of September 11, 2001. That week was to conclude with the celebration of the School of Business’ 30th anniversary with a gala planned for Saturday, September 15 at the Alys Stephens Center. That was one of the most challenging times for all Americans and was one of the saddest days in our history. When I met with our leadership team in the school, our first thought was that we should cancel the event out of respect for the victims and their families as well as for the shock, sadness, and grief that Americans were experiencing. However, after a lot of thoughtful discussion and reflection, we decided to have the event as scheduled, but with a refocused theme. From just a celebration of our school’s 30th anniversary, we modified the event to be a patriotic and “God Bless America” celebration of our great nation and its people with patriotic music and decorations, as well as prayers for our country and for the families who have suffered the loss of loved ones. More than 600 people attended the event and virtually all thought it was a wonderful occasion. 

Holmes Regions CEOFormer Regions Financial Corp. Chairman and CEO Grayson Hall, Jr. with students in "Business Strategy: A Seminar with CEOs". In addition to serving as a dean at two previous business schools, I also enjoyed teaching and engaging with students. Another wonderful memory for me was working with Professor Edward Friend, a well-known local attorney, business executive, and part-time faculty member, to develop and team teach the capstone course for undergraduate and graduate business students. Over the years, I had taught a course in strategic management that was a case-based, capstone course in business. Professor Friend and I converted this course into “Business Strategy: A Seminar with CEOs.” The class featured “live” case studies of publicly traded companies and the CEOs of each of these firms. Each term, 12 companies participated in the course which met once a week for three hours in the late afternoon/early evening either on campus or hosted by the CEO at his/her firm. Students analyzed and prepared written analyses of each company, and one student team each week presented and discussed their findings to the CEOs and our class. Interactions with the CEOs provided a great learning experience for our students. Also, the experience was invigorating to the CEOs and to Professor Friend and me. The course also further solidified UAB’s connection to and interactions with the business community and its CEOs.    

What challenges did you face during your tenure as dean?

There are always challenges that a dean or any other leader must deal with. Although it’s been 14 years since I served as b-school dean at UAB, I do recall a few of these. There were several challenges that required my immediate attention. When I joined UAB in January 1999, the university was at the midpoint of a major capital campaign, and the School of Business had goals that we were expected to meet. This was a major focus of the dean and the school’s director of development, Eva Hanson. Meeting our capital campaign challenge provided me with lots of opportunities to meet and interact with key business and community leaders during my first several weeks at UAB in 1999. In fact, I had more than 35 appointments scheduled with business and community leaders at their offices when I arrived for the first day on the job! And UAB and the business school did achieve the goals in the capital campaign during the next three years. 

In addition to the capital campaign, the School of Business would celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2001 and undergo a major accreditation review by AACSB International in 2001-2002. To prepare for these challenges, the School was reorganized to increase our effectiveness, and the interior of the business building underwent major renovations. Several classrooms were redesigned into horseshoe-type seating to facilitate student interaction and learning. These challenges provided the faculty, staff, and me with an opportunity to revise our strategic plan, including our vision, mission, goals, plans, and strategies. I was surprised by the enthusiasm and support of the faculty and the business and community leaders. Within a few months we developed and implemented a new strategic plan for the next five years– from 2001-2006.

Dean Holmes with studentsDean Holmes with studentsWhat accomplishment are your most proud of?

Although there are many accomplishments of the business school during my time as dean, the most noteworthy include: the reaffirmation of accreditation by AACSB International; the innovative and entrepreneurial programs such as an MBA for Scientists, forensic accounting, a certificate program in technology entrepreneurship; the enhancement of the school’s relationships with business and community leaders; and the significant enhancement of the external visibility of the business school. In 2000, as the business school prepared for its 30th anniversary in 2001, I thought that it was important to have a written history of our school, and I could think of no better person to document the first 30 years of the UAB School of Business than Dr. Gene Newport, Dean Emeritus, who served as dean for 22 of those years! After considering and discussing this daunting project with several faculty members and me, Gene graciously agreed and worked for nine months to prepare and publish Thirty & Thriving: The UAB School of Business/Graduate School of Management, 1971-72 to 2001-2002. The book documents the history of the school and its major achievements over the first 30 years and makes an important contribution to UAB and its business school. We are indebted to the late Dr. Newport for the book and for his leadership of our school. He would be very proud of the Collat School, its faculty, students, and new building.  

Do you have a message for current students? Faculty and staff?

I’m writing this in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the needless destruction of a sovereign country including the homes, businesses, and lives of more than 40 million Ukrainians. Enjoy and be thankful for your life and freedoms each day but prepare for a future of even more rapid change!   

Over its 50-year history, the UAB School of Business/Graduate School of Management – now the Collat School – has become widely known for excellence in its academic programs, the quality and preparation of its students, and in the exceptional teaching, research, and service of its faculty. You should all be proud of the Collat School of Business and UAB! Take pride in that success and in your successes and move forward with confidence into an even more rewarding and exciting future!  

Context – I served as Dean of the School of Business from January 1, 1999 to January 1, 2008 – a total of nine years.  In June, 1998, my wife, Diane, received a phone call at our home in Boston from Dr. Ann Reynolds, President of UAB.  Dr. Reynolds asked Diane to give me a message to call her as soon as possible.  As I came to understand later, the phone call from Dr. Reynolds was the result of a meeting she had with Dr. Jack Duncan, who was serving as Interim Dean and Dr. Jay Smith, Chair of the Dean’s search committee to discuss the finalists for the Dean’s position in the School of Business.  Dr. Reynolds was not satisfied with the three finalists and asked both Jack and Jay who they thought would be the “ideal” candidate for the Dean’s job – and they recommended me. I had known Dr. Duncan for years and had tremendous respect and admiration for his professional accomplishments as a research scholar of distinction in the academic field of management, and knew of Dr. Smith and his leadership of the Industrial Distribution program at UAB.   I returned Dr. Reynolds phone call and listened to her plans for UAB and its business school.  And, I agreed to meet her at La Guardia Airport in New York for lunch and a more in depth discussion about UAB the dean’s position.  My wife and I were very happy living in New England and had just recently completed building “our dream home” on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and really did not want to move.  However, my meeting with Dr. Reynolds at La Guardia convinced me that UAB offered a unique opportunity and that I should come to UAB to interview for the position.  At the end of the interview process, I was offered the dean’s position and after much discussion, Diane and I decided to make the move to Birmingham!