“To be a successful leader, you need to treat people with dignity and give them an opportunity to achieve something,” says Thomas Turk. This philosophy is more than just a lesson the Chapman University professor teaches to his management students. It is something he has put into practice as dean of the Argyros School of Business and Economics, a position he departs from this summer after five years.
During Turk’s time as dean, the Argyros School has grown in both reputation and ranking. This year, the school’s MBA program climbed to No. 72 in the national rankings – the highest position it has achieved since the program was first established in 2005. In the past five years, the school has jumped 26 places in the rankings overall, earning its place among the top business schools in the country.
Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Attitude
Turk, who first came to Chapman in 1992, is quick to deflect credit for the school’s continuing success, acknowledging the efforts of fellow administrators and faculty, and the overall momentum of the university.
“I think one of the things that makes Chapman special is the excitement and energy, a very positive attitude. I think it’s because we’ve been on a 30-year winning streak,” he says. “Year after year, we’ve attracted more students, more applications, and gained a little bit more prominence. People are optimistic, excited about the future because they’ve seen how much progress you can make.”
Turk’s background in finance and strategy has definitely been an asset, according to Candace Ybarra, senior associate dean for academic programs at the Argyros School. “He really used his background to build strategic goals and to set clear steps to achieving those goals,” Ybarra says. “I think because of that the staff responded. When you tell somebody, ‘Hey, this is our goal,’ then they know what they’re trying to achieve.”
A Focus on Job Placement Leads to Success
The result was a five-year strategic plan for the Argyros School aimed at improving its rank and reputation – the barometer for success in higher education.
“The key short-term driver of the rankings is job placement,” says Turk. “They look at the percentage of people who have jobs after graduation, at the end of the summer and average salaries.”
Turk’s strategy for increasing those numbers focused on changes in the career center. “We asked our career counselors to think of themselves more like headhunters, who try to get somebody a job, rather than just give them some training on how to look for a job. We shifted to help our students get actual offers. We find out what they’re interested in, connect them with business partners and promote them aggressively to potential employers.”
The tactics paid off. In 2021, 91% of the school’s MBA students had jobs within three months of graduation, an increase from 57% five years earlier. In addition, all of the MS in Real Estate students and MS in Accounting students had jobs at graduation.
A similar shift was made at the undergraduate level, by combining Student Advising and Career Services. Now, when students go in to talk about their schedule, they can get assistance with internships and other valuable experiences that complement their academic program.
“We are proactive about helping students launch or accelerate their careers. We have alumni, business partners, events and numerous co-curricular activities to get students internships, jobs and promotions,” says Turk.
This hands-on approach to career placement leans into Chapman’s mission to deliver personalized education with distinction.
“Although we’re much bigger as an institution, class sizes aren’t any bigger. The interaction with faculty is still essentially the same,” says Turk, reflecting on a faculty that is 50% larger than it was five years ago. “We still can provide unparalleled personalized education in the context of increasing national prominence.”
A Multidimensional Pathway to School Growth
The larger faculty also means growing visibility.
“We’ve brought in nationally known scholars, business leaders, entrepreneurs, partners from accounting firms and others. As our prominence in the academic community has grown dramatically, so has our impact on business and public policy,” Turk says. “Our faculty publish editorials in major news outlets like The Wall Street Journal and lead the national debate on tax policy, economic issues, restoring California’s competitiveness, real estate market conditions and more.”
Along with devising strategies to increase the school’s rank and reputation, Turk played a significant role in the Argyros School’s fundraising efforts. During his five years as Dean, the Argyros School raised more than $27 million, up from $6 million during the previous five years.
“Tom has been committed to taking the lead in fundraising,” says Ybarra. “That’s something he’s just outstanding at, going to dinner with people, inviting them to events and having them as guest speakers in our classes. Building relationships with potential donors and also potential employers. That’s something I think he thoroughly enjoyed, and it showed in the results.”
When Turk looks back on his time as dean, it’s not necessarily the numbers that mean the most.
“The most rewarding moments are when you see somebody achieve something,” he says. “When we were able to promote someone on our staff into a much larger role and watch them thrive. Seeing a student when they are new and then seeing the unbelievable growth by the time they graduate – this is the best part, I would say.”
“Dean Turk’s service as dean of the Argyros School has added tremendous value to over two decades of Chapman alumni who have benefited from his wisdom and mentorship both inside and outside of the classroom,” says Chris Pagel, assistant dean of graduate business programs and career services. “His presence throughout the halls and in the student study areas has motivated thousands of students and encouraged them to think more purposefully and strategically, always remembering that business is about helping other people.”
Luckily, future students at Chapman will still be able to benefit from Turk’s experience and knowledge. As his term as dean concludes, he will return to full-time teaching at the Argyros School.
“It’s a privilege to work directly with students in the classroom,” Turk says. “They have placed their trust in us. The staff, the faculty, our supporters in the business community, the Argyros family, our Board of Counselors and others have been indispensable. Working together, we’ve increased the national recognition of an Argyros degree, brought students and alumni new career opportunities, and prepared them to lead with honor. I hope we have earned their trust and made our alumni proud.”