DeVos Graduate School celebrates 20th Anniversary


This year, The Richard DeVos Graduate School of Management is celebrating its 20th anniversary of teaching both aspiring and experienced business leaders to master sound business understanding and management in areas such as marketing, finance, leadership, and strategy. Dr. Lisa Fairbairn, the current dean of the DeVos Graduate School of Management, thought it would be interesting and insightful for all the DeVos deans to share highlights, milestones, and perspectives—including her own—from their tenure.

Dr. Bob Serum

Dr. Bob Serum was the first dean of the program that would later be named The Richard DeVos Graduate School of Management.

“Discussions about the need for a graduate school began early among Drs. David Fry, Edgar Madden, and me.  In 1989, I was asked to move into the position of dean of University College and to begin working on an MBA proposal to the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.  Dr. Fry and VP of Finance Don Hunkins would meanwhile pursue Michigan licensure, which came quickly as a consequence of the merger of Detroit and Mercy College.  In effect, Mercy sold us their Charter (with State concurrence), effectively giving us authority to offer any degree.

In the meantime, we had made a decision that, assuming we’d be approved, we would offer our first classes in January of 1993, though as of December 1, we had hired no faculty.  I quickly organized teams of Northwood interviewers and brought in one outside interviewer…Dr. Leo Erickson of Central Michigan University, who had a career at Chrysler and an Michigan State University Ph.D.  I had collected about 50 resumes and we identified four we thought could chair each of four areas:  management, marketing, finance, and economics.  To my great dismay, one applicant backed out at the last minute and the teams rejected two of the three remaining, unanimously approving Jared Lobdell, whom we quickly hired.  Now, in the second week of December, we got another handful of applicants and decided that Dr. Fry and I would interview Richard Miller.  We liked him and also hired him.  I then told Fry I’d gotten another resume I liked from a man named Bill Busby. Fry was going to be away, so he decided I should invite Busby and hire him if I liked him.  He came, I liked him and hired him.  Busby also suggested we just proceed with three people at the beginning, and that seemed reasonable, given the time left.

I was very pleased all three faculty moved to Midland right away in mid-December.  To my further surprise, they wanted to revise the program with some of their ideas immediately, before the first classes were offered.  We agreed, and they dug in with a vengeance.  I was pleased they liked my broad notion of a simulation, but I think they made it superb.  All three were also committed to the case method, a process Miller led.  The thesis was promptly dumped, and the first classes met in January as planned.”

Dr. Bill Busby

The next dean to serve DeVos was Dr. Bill Busby, who was also part of the graduate school’s original three faculty members.  He reflected on some important milestones under his leadership:

Classes started with 63 students across four evening locations in Midland, Flint, Troy and Lansing, Michigan. We graduated our first class of 20 students two years later.

In 1996, Business Week identified Northwood’s MBA as one of the top 20 in the country.

In 1997, a generous donation from Richard DeVos turned the Automotive Hall of Fame building on our Michigan campus in Midland into the newly named Richard M. DeVos Graduate School of Management.

In 1998, a full-time MBA program was started and in 2005, this program was expanded to Montreux, Switzerland.

Dr. Tim Nash

Dr. Tim Nash succeeded Bill Busby as dean, and like Bill, Nash’s tenure entailed many successes including the creation of new learning methodologies and strategies along with corporate partnerships. Among his personal highlights, Nash was particularly honored to lead an institution bearing Richard DeVos’s name.

“It was an honor to lead the DeVos Graduate School of Management because our namesake, Richard M. DeVos, is one of this country’s great entrepreneurs and business leaders, an icon and personal hero of mine. Mr. DeVos is the epitome of everything that is good in America and the free-enterprise system.”

Nash also prized the opportunity to partner with his NU colleagues.

“It was wonderful to work with Dr. Lisa Fairbairn and Dr. Bill Busby as the two of them developed our unique and powerful methodology for teaching ‘Line-of-Business’ and ‘Corporate Strategy.’ It’s wonderful to see how the brilliance of conceptual strategy models developed and taught by your colleagues transform industry and students across the United States and globally.”

Other highlights from Nash’s tenure include:

• Working with Northwood alumnus John Hantz, Drs. Busby, Fairbairn, and Matt Bennett, to develop and implement NU’s first corporate- centered MBA program with The Hantz Group in 2001.

• Working with Dr. Frank Morgan and the leadership of The Dow Chemical Company (beginning late in 2002), as well as Drs. Busby, Fairbairn and Behring to develop and deliver a world-class cohort-based Executive MBA program with The Dow Chemical Company and The Hantz Group.  

• Development of the DeVos Graduate School’s Automotive and Dealership Executive MBA programs.

• Working with Drs. Busby, Fairbairn and trustee, Kathy Vertin to design, conduct, write and deliver the findings of a $300,000 research on the subject of inventory control and parts proliferation in the U.S. motor equipment aftermarket.

Dr. Lisa Fairbairn 

Dr. Lisa Fairbairn was named the fourth dean of DeVos in 2009. Building on the foundation laid by Drs. Serum, Busby and Nash, she reflected on some of the important milestones under her leadership.

“Launching the Daytime and Evening MBA programs on the Texas and Florida campuses, in 2009 and 2010 respectively, was very significant. Expanding our MBA program to the Grand Rapids, Michigan area in a new state-of-the-art facility has also been a highlight.

New facilities for our students in Lansing and Troy, Michigan have made for a more prominent presence in these Michigan markets. These centers are cutting edge in terms of functionality and technology, and are quite distinctive.  This really signifies our commitment to innovation in learning and design that is targeted to the needs of individuals’, organizations’ and businesses’ overall success.

As a global business university, it is imperative we provide current and future students with a high quality education that includes an elevated level of flexibility and the best learning environment possible.  In early 2013, we added the Weekend MBA option to our our Daytime and Evening program.  This opened our MBA up to a whole new demographic of students.  On a broader front, we have gained expanded authority from the Higher Learning Commission, to offer additional business-related master’s degrees.  Under the guidance of Associate Dean, Dr. David Rausch, the DeVos Graduate School will be offering an online Master of Science in Organizational Leadership this fall.  This takes our footprint beyond the MBA and opens the doors for students outside our traditional geographic markets to earn a DeVos master’s degree.”

In summary, all the deans agreed while some aspects of the DeVos Graduate School have evolved and changed, the core attributes of the school endure. These foundational aspects include: emphasis on students mastering skills necessary for leadership and management, problem-based learning, a simulation as the capstone integration experience, strong emphases on student contribution, cases and applied learning—and the mentality that the process of learning is just as important as the content learned.  It is exciting to envision what the next 20 years will look like!

- Story idea and organization, Dr. Lisa Fairbairn

Watch NU Alumni Page for details regarding the 20 Year DeVos Graduate School Celebration on October 19, 2013.