Business & Real Estate

New UC Davis business dean looks to strengthen ties with Sacramento

It was a big deal 20 years ago when the little-known Graduate School of Management at UC Davis cracked U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of America’s top 50 business schools for the first time.

Now the new dean wants to raise the Davis business school’s profile in a different way – by forging stronger ties with Sacramento’s business community and supplementing the school’s curriculum to focus on food, agriculture, biotech and other core strengths of the university at large.

H. Rao Unnava, who arrived from Ohio State University over the summer, said he’s trying to create a pipeline for UC Davis’ business students to secure more internships with Sacramento-area companies. He’s developing a system for professors to share their research and insights into marketing and other fields with Sacramento companies on an ongoing basis.

In an interview last week, Unnava acknowledged he’s trying to address a criticism that’s hung over the entire UC Davis campus for years: that its considerable base of knowledge and research hasn’t been much of an economic-development engine, in the way that Stanford University helped build Silicon Valley.

“We feel we aren’t representing ourselves well in Sacramento,” Unnava said.

Sharing faculty research with Sacramento companies could be one way of building bridges. Faculty research typically is published in academic journals, but “most people in industry don’t read those journals,” he said. So Unnava is trying to devise a way for professors to share their expertise with area companies before the research is formally published.

In addition, he wants to augment the school’s curriculum so students can be trained in fields where the rest of the university is well known for its excellence. That means putting marketing students, for instance, in touch with executives from health care, energy and transportation, food and other fields, either through guest speakers or other means.

This approach would provide students with a more specialized and marketable education. Someone with a degree in finance who understands biotech, or how a computer startup functions, could be a more valuable commodity to potential employers. The same is true for someone who’s seeking a career in marketing and has gotten to know the health care and pharmaceutical fields.

“Instead of just knowing marketing, they will know marketing as it applies to health care,” Unnava said.

Such connections could pay dividends for Sacramento in economic development terms, too, as employers come to understand the specialized training coming out of the Davis campus.

“A Kraft Foods would think of Northern California as a place to set up operations, because this is where the talent is,” he said.

The Graduate School of Management was just 15 years old when U.S. News ranked it the 39th best graduate business school in the country. At the time, the school was one of UC Davis’ best-kept secrets. A former dean, Robert Smiley, once recalled telling a Sacramento business executive that he was with the UC Davis business school. The executive said he had no idea Davis had a business school.

UC Davis is still in U.S. News’ top 50 – it ranked 45th in the latest ratings, tied with the University of Iowa – but Unnava said its visibility still isn’t as high as it should be.

“The collective noise we make in the field is not as large as the bigger schools,” he said.

Linking the school’s curriculum with the food and agriculture faculty, School of Medicine, Institute of Transportation Studies and so on could improve the school’s standing with its rivals.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler