Linda Livingstone is one of the few women in America running a top-ranked business school. She became dean of Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management four years ago and has led its Executive M.B.A. program into BusinessWeek's Top 25 worldwide in 2005. She came from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, a faith-based institution like Pepperdine. Under her tenure, the Malibu school created a program targeting moms returning to the workplace, and its E2B (education-to-business) initiative has brought local corporations such as Walt Disney Co. into the classroom. Livingstone credits her ease in the male-dominated world of business academia to growing up with brothers and basketball. And she calls L.A. the best city in the nation for minority and women entrepreneurs. There's evidence Pepperdine students agree: More than two-thirds of Graziadio's 29,000 alumni still live and work here.


Question: You're one of the few women running a top business school today? Why aren't there more?
Answer:
There are more now than when I started four years ago. I think like in the business world, it takes a while to build up the credentials to be considered for a leadership role. In the world of academia, the tenure process can be challenging for women who want to start families. It can slow things down considerably.


Q: So how did you get the job?
A:
I know they brought in about three to four finalists. I don't know exactly why they selected me you'd have to talk to the provost for that. I do know that I had a number of the right pieces in place: a strong background in graduate business education at Baylor, experience at a faith-based university, involvement in strategic planning and helping to develop global programs at Baylor that they thought were a good fit.


Q: What do you think about former Penn State business school dean Judy Olian just being named dean at UCLA's Anderson School of Business?
A:
I am certainly glad to have another women (business) dean in the city. I think it will be a good thing for the community and for business education in this city.


Q: What made you pursue a career in education?
A:
I wanted to work in athletic administration. When I was getting my master's, a faculty member asked if I would ever consider getting a Ph.D. and teaching, and it planted a seed in my mind. After a few years away from Stillwater, Okla., my husband and I went back so I could get my Ph.D., and enter academia, and he could get a master's.


Q: What happened to athletic administration?
A:
When I was finishing up my M.B.A., I was up for a job to run the women's sports championships for the Big 8 (now the Big 12) conference. It combined sports and leadership, and it was a perfect fit for me. When they picked someone else, I was devastated. Looking back now, I feel if I had gotten the job, I would never have gone back to get my Ph.D., and enter academia. What seemed like a setback at the time, ended up pushing my career in an exciting new direction.


Q: Where did that love of athletics come from?
A:
I was born in Norman, Okla., where my father was the basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma. My dad had played on the 1945 National Championship team at Oklahoma State at Stillwater, and he went back to OSU, where I was raised, to be an assistant coach. I was a gym rat. I have two brothers and I loved playing basketball with the boys. I played at OSU on a scholarship.


Q: What was your tenure like over at Baylor?
A:
We were approached to customize an M.B.A. program for a state-owned power company in China. The program was taught at their facility in Jian and we would send faculty over there for two weeks at a time. We taught in English, the textbooks were in English, and we talked about how you reconcile Western and Chinese business methods when you have a company that wants to go global.


Q: Pepperdine is a faith-based university. How important is that to you?
A:
That's been part of my career. Their commitment and values really spoke to me. Pepperdine has a Christian tradition, but our students come from all different faith and non-faith backgrounds, and we don't recruit based on religious faith. Regardless of what our students feel about faith and religion, we want them to think seriously about their values and how that plays out in a business context. We want to build value-centered leaders, who consider how business impacts society. Leading a company is not just about maximizing profits.


Q: Enron executives won awards for ethics before the company went bankrupt. What do you tell your students about values and ethics colliding in the real world?
A:
One of the things we find, even with people who are mature in their careers, is that they often don't have a clear idea of what their values are. You get in a situation like Enron, where the culture is compromised, and it's hard to think clearly without an ethical stake in the ground. You can actually design compensation systems that encourage unethical decisions. And certainly not all decisions are black and white or right and wrong in the world of business. But we certainly want students thinking about the values that go into building a company.


Q: UCLA's business school, Anderson, and USC's, Marshall, have higher profiles than Graziadio. What is your niche in the city?
A:
What sets us apart is that we are geared toward the working professional. We want students to leave the classroom with something they can take back to work and apply immediately.


Q: What about all the advertising the school does?
A:
We do radio and print to help promote our evening program. Online marketing has grown a lot, and generating word-of-mouth among our alumni is a still a prime tool. Pepperdine is a smallish school, that doesn't get the media attention of UCLA or USC. There is a greater burden on us to do marketing and promotion in the community.


Q: How competitive is the business school market?
A:
Extremely competitive on the graduate level. Quality business education used to be only available in the United States, but now there are top-level schools in Europe, Latin America, and even Asia. Because of the soft economy, companies across the country have been paying a lower percentage of a student's education. They've also cut back on hiring, which slows the market for full-time M.B.A.s.


Q: So business schools must innovate to survive?
A:
Our industry was so robust for so long, that people got complacent. Now that for-profit providers have come in, and the international market has picked up, everyone's trying to figure out how best to meet the needs of the business community.


Q: There were reports that Dean Yash Gupta's sudden resignation from USC's Marshall School of Business was due to the school's drop in rankings. Do you feel pressure to keep Pepperdine's ranking up?
A:
I personally do not feel pressure from the university on rankings per se. The pressure is more around adding value to the business school and ensuring that we are representing the university the best we can. If that is reflected in the rankings, we certainly appreciate and like that. But we don't do what we do uniquely to target the rankings. If rankings follow, that is a plus and a benefit that we take advantage of.


Q: But what do you think about all the focus on business school rankings?
A:
They've taken on such an importance that many schools have reallocated money into full-time M.B.A. programs to pump up their national rank. That reallocation can come at the expense of undergraduate programs, as well as doctoral programs, which are very expensive to provide. We've seen a decline in the number of business Ph.D.s coming out of doctoral granting universities. So we're going to see a shortage of qualified business faculty in the years ahead.


Q: The CEOs who have dropped out of business school or college is impressive: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell. Why spend all that money for a business degree?
A:
The people on that list have been enormously successful, but they didn't build their companies by themselves. I'm sure if you analyze their organizations you'll find people all around them who have rich educational backgrounds and who have brought valuable skills to the table.


Q: Pepperdine is known for having a high percentage of female students. Why is that?
A:
The ratio is very high, compared to most business schools; 43 percent of our freshman class in our full-time day program was female. I think it may have to do with our approach to problem solving, which is collaborative and team-oriented, rather than overly competitive. None of our classes have more than 30 people. In large, hyper-competitive schools, the minority group can get lost and be reluctant to participate.


Q: What about moms returning to the workforce?
A:
The Harvard Business Review recently ran an article that said roughly 40 percent of women in the workforce step out at some point to start a family or for other reasons. Of that population, 93 percent want to go back to work, but only about 40 percent go back full-time. We've designed something we call a "Morning M.B.A." program. They do their classes mid-morning, a few days a week, and can still take care of family responsibilities. There's going to be a shortage of workers when the baby boomers start to retire, and this returning workforce will be very important. We want to meet the needs of a population that has been traditionally underserved.


Q: And the Latino business community?
A:
One of our economic faculty members, who had an affiliation with the Latin Business Association, had this concept of creating a certificate program that would provide a taste of an M.B.A. program accounting, marketing, management, strategic planning. Our fully employed M.B.A. program is 12 percent Hispanic, and that's impressive, given that only about 4 percent of students who take the GMAT are Hispanic. Latino business owners are a huge part of this city and the desire within that community for higher education is surging.


Q: You've focused your academic research on how the individual functions in a corporate culture. What's at the core of this philosophy?
A:
A firm's culture is more of a determinant as to how creative employees will be, rather than the individual characteristics of each worker. What I've tried to bring into the classroom is the idea that corporate cultures must allow people to take risks and make mistakes. If you squelch the individual, then they'll stop taking risks and the company will stagnate.


Q: What companies are good in creating the kind of culture you describe?
A:
The firms here in California are different than what I saw in Texas. There are many entertainment companies, and their cultures are designed to foster creativity. New concepts and ideas are the essence of what they do. Technology firms also tend to be very creative and risk-positive. You see creativity thriving in industries where on-going innovation is critical to survival.


Q: Is that what makes L.A. a unique place to do business?
A:
L.A. is a wonderful place for small and mid-size business owners. The community's very open to new people, new ideas and innovation.


Q: Any industries in particular?
A:
Health care and entertainment are the two we've been watching. Health care figures prominently on the national scene, and entertainment is unique to this city, so that provides great opportunities for all the business schools in the area. The entrepreneurial community, independent of any industry, is on the move. Tied to that is the growth of women and Latino-owned businesses. I think L.A. is the best city in the nation for those two markets.


* Linda Livingstone
Title:
Dean
Organization: Graziadio School of Business and Management, Pepperdine University
Born: 1960; Norman, Okla.
Education: B.S., M.B.A., and Ph.D., Oklahoma State University, Stillwater
Career Turning Point: Becoming associate dean at Baylor. "Changed my career path from teaching to academic administration."
Most Admired People: Mother and father
Hobbies: Running, tennis, reading and spending as much time as possible with my family
Personal: Lives in Malibu with husband, Brad, a high-school teacher, and daughter, Shelby, a fourth-grader

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.