The Big Picture: New Business Dean Aims High For College Growth

Boasting a proven track record as an effective academic leader and accomplished scholar, Dr. Asghar Sabbaghi understands how to cultivate student success.

Sabbaghi, the new dean of the Heller College of Business (HCB) at Roosevelt University, has spent years building strong environments of academic excellence, and hopes to further that mission at the University’s Chicago and Schaumburg campuses.

From his early days as an assistant professor in the Karaj School of Mathematics and Economic Management at Tehran University in Iran, to serving as dean of Saint Xavier University’s Graham School of Management, Sabbaghi has left his mark on every academic institution for which he has worked. He hopes to do the same for the Heller College of Business, elevating its stature to one of the most renowned in the world.

In an interview with the Roosevelt Review, he spoke about his experiences in academics, his goals for the college, and his personal life.

Q: What attracted you to Roosevelt University?

A: Roosevelt University is a wonderful place, in a very strategic location in the heart of downtown Chicago. It is the center of the country’s and world’s financial centers and business communities. The leadership at Roosevelt has a strong commitment to quality education, so being in a small private university, paying close attention to the education of its students, transforming their lives — it’s exciting. Those are the elements that attracted me to Roosevelt, and I am excited to cultivate opportunities, working side by side with the business community and helping our students succeed.

Q: What are your day-to-day and long-term objectives as dean?

A: Here at Roosevelt we have a well-developed institute of real estate, finance, accounting, management and marketing disciplines, and some areas such as hospitality and tourism management which have carried over from the [former] College of Professional Studies. It’s very exciting to have those areas being part of the college, and it is really a wonderful package to lead.

I have created a transitional task force to look into the organizational structure that effectively moves the college forward to a higher level. My vision is to create one of the best small business colleges in the country; we have wonderful potential being in Chicago and Schaumburg, and having the commitment of top leadership.

I have been meeting with faculty and department chairs and identified a number of areas that I have to address for improvement to build up a strong college. [In July], we received funding from the Clearing Corporation Charitable Foundation (CCCF) to help us with not only supporting the experiential education in finance and Bloomberg terminals, but student fellowship. It is a great start for me to have that financial support, as well as the leadership in place.

At the core of my effort is student success, which I put at the forefront of everything we do. Whether it’s faculty development, business community partnership or curricular programming, any kind of initiatives — we are trying to see how much we are helping students succeed academically and professionally.

“Our job is not just to teach in class and have students earn good grades, but to make sure they learn critical skills to help them succeed in their careers.”

Asghar Sabbaghi, Dean of the Heller College of Business

Our job is not just to teach in class and have students earn good grades, but to make sure they learn critical skills to help them succeed in their careers, through internships, our business executive mentorship program, service learning, field projects, et cetera. All initiatives are taken with the purpose to help our students succeed.

Q: How does Roosevelt’s social justice mission, in HCB and in general, differ from that of other institutions?

A: There has been so much focus on the academic side at other universities, but we have to realize we are training and preparing future successful leaders in business. We need to pay very close attention to three attributes of success, which I call the three Cs:

  1. Character: We emphasize business ethics and moral values, the foundation for success in business leadership today. There is no shortcut. Therefore, we emphasize students understand the concept of corporate social responsibility, sustainable societal values. We try to translate social justice into character. They must have a deep understanding of our University’s mission.
  2. Competency: We try to focus on technical skills, functional skills. They have to be proficient in financial modeling, accounting, organizational behavior, production/supply chain operational management. They have to understand those skills. Furthermore, they need to have good understanding of the application of those techniques. That’s where I put emphasis on experiential education. I try to integrate that into business curriculum, complementing what they learn in the classroom, and applying those concepts in a work environment.
  3. Commitment: Internships are a gateway to good, high-paying jobs. It’s an investment. Sometimes students have to be convinced to give up their part-time jobs to take an internship, though many business internships are paid. It is still helping you build up a successful career.

Q: Describe your experience in higher education.

A: I have been in higher education my entire life. I started [in the U.S.] as a junior faculty member at Indiana University South Bend, involved heavily in research scholarship; I was then asked to take a leadership role when the school was going for AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accreditation, the premium accreditation for business schools — only five percent of business schools around the world are accredited by AACSB, so it’s very prestigious.

Sabbaghi previously served as dean of Saint Xavier University’s Graham School of Management.

I served as associate dean, department chair and later interim dean [at the Judd Leighton School of Business and Economics at IU South Bend]. I then spent three years at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, where I led re-accreditation efforts of the [Graham School of Management], which it received in 2010.

So, one of my missions here is to move the college for AACSB accreditation, and that is a hallmark of excellence and higher education in management. Over time I learned a great deal about successful business colleges, and I focus on student success because that is a true measure of the college and University’s success.

Q: Describe your upbringing and how it influenced your personal and professional career.

A: From an early age, I was very interested in humans and the humanities. I was a first-generation high school student in my family, the only one to get a diploma, and first to go to college. I always tried to search for truth and knowledge, and what would differentiate humans and humanity, and cultivate their potential. That caused me to focus on my education. I became interested in teaching because you can really transform the lives of students as a teacher.

Soon after childhood, I became a teacher to support my own education. That gave me a good perspective on the value of education when you change the life of a student. That focus on education has really changed my life, and I have tried to have it as a personal mission.

When I came here, I hoped to eventually go back to Iran. But because of circumstances such as the Iranian Revolution, I did not return. Universities were closed, and I didn’t want to go back and not do much. I tried to build up a good foundation here and have an impact in society and my community.

I originally taught at Tehran University in Iran, where I earned my master’s. I wrote a major textbook, Linear Programming and Game Theory, and got a scholarship offer from Indiana University to come to the states and finish my program. And here, my kids started to grow up, I got an early promotion, so I stayed. And now it’s been 39 years since I came to the U.S.

Q: What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

A: In my own scholarship, I have been passionate about sustainability. I have worked on water resource management as part of environmental issues, and co-authored a book on economics of water resource management. Professionally, in scholarship and leadership, I have received a number of awards. While earning my PhD, I became interested in using quantitative modeling and applying those techniques toward the betterment of society. I tried to develop a number of models to differentiate qualities of water for various purposes. Water is the most valuable natural resource and there is not enough attention being paid to how to use [it].

Personally, I have four boys. My first two sons were triple majors at University of California Berkeley — [the eldest studied] computer science, engineering and mathematics, then got his PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is now on the faculty there. My second son studied math, statistics and economics. He earned his PhD from University of Chicago in econometrics and finance and is now a faculty member at University of Detroit Mercy. My youngest son earned his PhD from Harvard and is now on the faculty at Purdue, and the other works in informatics and business. I am very proud of all of them, they are all good kids.

Roosevelt trustee Maurice Smith with Ron Kubit (BGS, ’84) and Sabbaghi.

Q: What are your passions and hobbies away from work?

A: I am a family man, and strongly believe in family life. I enjoy traveling to different countries, and I’ve been to almost all European countries. I am a runner, I love music — specifically Iranian classical music — and poetry. Those are my passions. I do not play music, but I encouraged all my kids to learn violin from an early age. It’s one of those instruments in Iranian music where some of the best musicians played it. They have had an enormous impact.

Q: Any closing thoughts?

A: We are working like a soccer team; we are all part of the same team with the same goal. That goal is student success. That is the message I am trying to spread to the faculty and staff, in order to build up a college that works side by side with the business community, to gain synergy of resources.

“We are working like a soccer team; we are all part of the same team with the same goal. That goal is student success.”

Asghar Sabbaghi, Dean of the Heller College of Business

We are offering the intellectual resources, and they provide the professional resources and other opportunities. We’re trying to make the best out of the community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *