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Dean reflects on well-managed career

Dennis Weidenaar peered from behind the wheel of his Volkswagen Beetle at the West Lafayette Campus.

A high school economics teacher fresh off the road from Grand Rapids, Mich., Weidenaar had seen a flier about graduate economics education at Purdue. "I didn't know a soul," says Weidenaar, dean of the School of Management and Krannert Graduate School of Management.

The year was 1962, and a career and a school were about to be launched. The school, the Krannert Graduate School of Management, continues to excel as a graduate business school, peer to the finest public and private business schools in the country.

Weidenaar's career is about to enter a new phase as he returns to teaching. He has been dean since 1990.

"That summer of 1962 started a very nice relationship," Weidenaar says. That summer, he took a graduate seminar and became a teaching assistant under the late Emanuel Weiler, founding dean of the School of Industrial Management.

Although economics had been taught at Purdue for decades, Weiler recruited a cadre of bright young economists in the mid-1950s. In 1958, management education emerged as a distinct discipline at Purdue, with the founding of the School of Industrial Management.

That was the school formed from the Department of Economics in the School of Science, Education and Humanities and the Department of Industrial Management and Transportation in the Schools of Engineering.

In 1962, industrialist Herman Krannert agreed to provide nearly $3 million to endow a graduate school in industrial administration and partially fund a new building to house graduate programs in management.

Weiler, the dean, and Weidenaar, graduate student and future dean, produced a textbook together and audiotutorials that supplemented the book. A relationship that started as teacher-student grew.

"Em was mentor and close personal friend to me," Weidenaar says. The Weiler-Weidenaar bond is a link between early management education at Purdue and the global enterprise that Krannert School is today.

"I suspect I will be one of the last people who really transcends the entire history of the school," Weidenaar says.

Much has changed since that summer of 1962, he says. Back then, business schools educated students and sent them on their way.

"Our alumni are much more involved now in influencing our activities," Weidenaar says. "They provide a vital conduit between business and the University, helping us to constantly evaluate what we do."

He offers Richard Dauch as an example. Dauch graduated from Purdue in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in industrial management.

In 1987, as a member of the Krannert Dean's Advisory Committee, Dauch was a driving force in encouraging and supporting the creation of the Center for the Management of Manufacturing Enterprises. As a top executive for a U.S. automaker, Dauch was keenly aware of the need for well-educated managers in manufacturing. The center promotes manufacturing management as a career, as well as undertaking research projects to enhance manufacturing management.

In October, Dauch and his family made a commitment to contribute $5 million to "Krannert at the Frontier," a $55 million fund-raising campaign just getting under way.

Krannert actively cultivates the support of alumni and the corporations that employ them. In venues as near as Indianapolis and as far as Hong Kong and Germany, alumni are invited to receptions to keep them in touch with their alma mater.

Alumni contribute more than $3 million a year for scholarships, faculty support and computer technology.

"Without alumni support, we wouldn't be where we are now," Weidenaar says. He knows many alumni as his former students. He became an economics instructor in 1966 and rose through the faculty ranks, achieving the rank of full professor in 1978. In 1983-84, he served as acting dean and later as associate dean.

Since Weidenaar became dean in 1990, he has led management education in new directions:

  • Special programs for executives, known as weekend master's programs, enjoy great popularity.
  • International graduate education is on the rise, with courses jointly offered by Krannert and European universities.
  • A refocusing of Krannert programs has resulted in top-five rankings for programs in production and operations management, as well as an overall ranking in the top 25 business schools in the nation.

At the age of 61, Weidenaar says, "I sense I have one more career, and I want to go to it with enough time to achieve something."

So in June, a new dean will take over. And Weidenaar will take a new, albeit familiar, job.

"I'll go back to one of the finest jobs in the world - that of a Purdue University professor," he says.

Stories by Jay Cooperider

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