Business School Dean Leaves a Legacy of Servant Leadership

July 24, 2012 / by / 0 Comment

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau

Dr. Kevin Barksdale came to GCU asking about an adjunct role to get his foot in the door at the Ken Blanchard College of Business.

Barksdale never expected a shot to serve as dean. University officials offered him the job after recognizing his mix of academic prowess, business savvy and understanding of servant leadership principles. He sensed God’s handprint on the sudden opportunity and accepted the chance to lead.

Well-wishers surround Dr. Kevin Barksdale (light green shirt) at today’s farewell reception in the Williams Building on campus.

After more than two years at GCU’s business school, Barksdale has stepped down from what he considered the best job of his career. He leaves for Houston this week, joining daughters McKenzie, 15, and Madi, 13, and his wife, Lisa, who agreed to relocate as a senior vice president with Bank of America. Barksdale has secured a professor’s position at Houston Baptist University.  

His send-off reception today marks the end of an era in which the dean helped raise the business college’s profile by promoting the school in the Phoenix community, helping to differentiate the school from its competitors. But he also fostered a stronger sense of community among faculty and students on campus with his genuine enthusiasm for team building.

The dean said his decision to resign in the midst of such success and momentum was one of the most difficult decisions of his career.

“It was hard because I love them so much,” Barksdale said of his business school colleagues. “It was hard because we’d come so far, and devoted so much. It was hard because there’s scarcely a person in the University who I don’t know and care for.”

Barksdale wrote a farewell letter, in which he said he would miss the collaborative environment found at GCU.

When he first joined GCU, around 175 students were enrolled in the business school on the ground campus. The faculty doubled under Barksdale’s tenure, from seven to 14, and GCU is expecting more than 1,100 students enrolled in ground campus business classes this fall — up from around 540 last fall. Nearly 6,700 students are enrolled in business courses online.

Barksdale shared his love of dirt bikes and motorcycles (like this Yamaha R6 racing bike) with students and staff.

GCU is emerging as an academic powerhouse with its sports business program named after Arizona sports magnate Jerry Colangelo and MBA programs that include the cohort-based, eight-week online MBA. Barksdale’s tenure also saw more focus on entrepreneurship programs and on student business challenges, such as the first Canyon Challenge competition earlier this year.

“This college had so much talent and capability, all we really did as team was … spin the plates up in the air and see which ones stuck on the poles,” Barksdale said about his high-energy brainstorming.

Promoting GCU has come naturally to Barksdale. At a recent Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce luncheon, he referred to GCU as “the greatest business story of this decade.” Events like those, and others hosted on campus, have resulted in dozens if not hundreds of GCU strangers making their first trip to campus — and returning many times since.

“I had this undying belief that the College of Business should be inextricably intertwined with the community,” said Barksdale, who held faculty positions at three Tennessee universities and also enjoyed success in various roles with an automobile group before moving to Phoenix.  

Barksdale, 51, is known for his playful irreverence and love of dirt bikes. The Alabama native has been known to drop a redneck joke on colleagues when he’s not boasting about ripping through the trails of Tonto National Forest. But for someone who is known as being so down-to-earth and approachable, he also has earned a reputation for being strictly devoted to servant leadership.  

Dr. Ken Blanchard, the servant leadership guru after whom GCU’s business school is named, said Barksdale helped solidify that vision in the past two years. The world is in desperate need of true leaders who make a difference by “getting right into their hearts and going right at them,” Blanchard said, and the outgoing dean helped further that selfless approach to teaching business management.   

Barksdale (far right) joined GCU CEO Brian Mueller and Jerry Colangelo in announcing the Colangelo School of Sports Business in late 2011.

“He’s a classic One Minute Manager,” Blanchard said, referring to his landmark 1982 book, which has sold more than 13 million copies worldwide.

“He sets goals and then he wanders around seeing if he can catch people doing things right,” Blanchard said. “If they’re not doing things right, he redirects them, he doesn’t beat them up.”

In the interim, Dr. Kevin McClean will serve as dean of the business college. University officials already have begun a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.

McClean, a business veteran of more than 30 years who coordinates GCU’s Delta Mu Delta Honors Symposium, said he hoped Barksdale’s replacement would embody the same balance of industry and academic experience.

“That person is going to have to help us control cost, and help the University keep its tuition down as we grow, and that’s a real challenge,” McClean said. “The person coming in would have to have a sense of the corporate world, what a for-profit is like – but also strive for academic integrity.”

But replacing Barksdale’s personality and enthusiasm for GCU could be more challenging. Around the business college, those who know him said his spirit will be missed. 

“He had a lot of personal investment,” McClean said. “He wasn’t just managing.”

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].

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