Each month, Raghu Tadepalli — in addition to his many responsibilities as dean of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business — has lunch with senior business students to discuss their praises and critiques of the business school.
Tadepalli does not simply hear complaints from students — he listens to them.
At one of these monthly lunches last year, students voiced their frustrations about the reporting portions of the business school’s internship requirement. They felt the essays and reflections required in addition to the internship were onerous and redundant.
So, Tadepalli made changes. He worked with his colleagues to modify the internship requirements and alleviate some of the work for students. This past summer, he supervised around 20 interns because he wanted to see first-hand the work students were completing to receive internship credit. Seeing that there were still redundancies in the work students were required to complete, Tadepalli helped revise the program again.
Meeting with and listening to students is not only what Tadepalli sees as the most important part of his job, but it is also his favorite part.
“I think a large number of students know my door is open, so people drop in,” Tadepalli said. “I think [the students are] really respectful and know that they’re also very busy. I’d say that they’re quite a few students who feel comfortable dropping in to chat.”
Kristin Barrier, director of operations and accreditation in the Love School of Business, sits in an office directly across from Tadepalli and witnesses these student interactions daily.
“Dean Tadepalli has a true open-door policy, and he often meets with students who are looking for help or advice,” Barrier said.
Barrier graduated from the Love School of Business in 2004 and earned her Master’s of Business Administration from Elon in 2007, so she has seen Elon’s growth under Tadepalli’s leadership from the beginning.
“The Love School of Business has grown in numbers exponentially since Dean Tadepalli arrived, and also the quality of education and the quality of students we are attracting has improved,” Barrier said. “I graduated from the Love School of Business in 2004 and the M.B.A. program in 2007, and I have seen both undergraduate and graduate programs take huge leaps in improving the curriculum and rigor in the past 5 years that he has been dean.”
Tadepalli’s move to Elon
Tadepalli began his position as dean of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business in July of 2012. He came to the university from Babson College, where he previously served as the Murata Dean and Professor of Marketing in the F. W. Olin Graduate School of Business.
Tadepalli received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in commerce with a major in accounting from Andrha University in India. He then went onto complete his Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in marketing from Arizona State University and earned his doctorate from Virginia Tech.
After completing receiving his doctorate, Tadepalli was given several job offers to complete marketing research, but turned down the offers because he “didn’t see much fun in it.” Tadepalli wanted to continue doing research but was more excited by the idea of teaching and interacting with students. This led him to begin working in higher education.
Tadepalli held faculty and staff positions at a few other universities before arriving at Elon almost five years ago. While he has not taught in a classroom in a while, he is still able to conduct research and will have a new study published in a few months.
No matter what position he has held, Tadepalli has always made students his biggest priority. His dedication to students is part of the reason he enjoys working at Elon because the university as a whole mirrors that same commitment.
“It’s nice to be at a university campus when there is such an undivided attention on making sure that students learn,” Tadepalli said. “I think it’s a value that permeates everything that we as, faculty or staff, that we do. Students are really at the center of what we do … here there is no mistake about it: We are about students. We are about what students are learning and how they’re learning and how we are helping them develop into leaders for tomorrow.”
Exemplifying good leadership
His commitment to listening to students is also reflected in his leadership style. For him, listening to those he is leading is the most important aspect of leadership.
“I think listening is very important,” Tadepalli said. “When someone walks into my office, the conversation is about them. It’s not about me. So you have to pay attention to what they’re saying.”
Barrier has seen this through her interactions with the dean. Barrier is responsible for general behind the scenes work and ensuring that the Love School of Business is meeting all of the requirements for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accrediting body. They work together to meet the requirements and complete other projects in the school.
“[His leadership is] very laid-back and supportive — he trusts people to do their jobs, and he makes sure they have the resources needed to accomplish what is expected in their job,” Barrier said. “He is incredibly easy to work with, values my opinions and, in my view, a great leader for the business school.”
Junior Franki Filandro had the opportunity to witness this leadership and work closely with Tadepalli when she brought the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi to campus. Filandro wanted to provide business students with the opportunity to be involved in a professional organization without having to give up a large portion of their time.
To bring the fraternity to campus, Filandro had to first be approved by Delta Sigma Pi’s national board and then Elon. Tadepalli was supportive of the organization and helped convince the university to allow Filandro to start a chapter at Elon.
Filandro said that Tadepalli succeeds in making himself available to students, saying that he is always around to meet with students or tries to reach out to them if he hasn’t seen them in a while. Listening and staying connected to students is a part of Tadepalli’s leadership style.
“His style is certainly very open and almost a backseat kind,” Filandro said. “He gives you a chance to figure it out for yourself and then guides you in the slightest of ways. I believe that the whole time he knows where you should be going, but he let’s you find it on your own.”
The future of the business school
Still, Filandro fears that the business school may be growing in quantity, not quality. According to Tadepalli, the business school has grown by around 65 percent in the past five years. In his time at Elon, Tadepalli has worked with faculty and staff to revise every major and minor within the business school, revise the MBA program and added a Master’s of Science in Analytics and Master’s of Science in Accounting.
And, with Sankey Hall, the new business school, beginning construction this summer, the fear of getting too big too quickly is on Tadepalli’s mind, too.
“We recognize that it’s not important to just be big but to be good,” Tadepalli said. “We are constantly benchmarking and asking ourselves what we can do.”
Diversity as a priority
Though many members of the Elon community believe that increasing diversity on campus needs to be made a greater priority, Tadepalli recognizes the need and works to bring diverse voices into the business school. He believes that understanding how to manage diverse groups is important to excelling in business and said that diversity is one of the business school’s core values.
He has worked to uphold that value by implementing diversity education initiatives into various class curriculums and recruiting diverse faculty and staff members. Currently, he said the business school has about 60 faculty members representing 16 different countries.
On a personal level, of the six deans at the university, Tadepalli is the only dean of color, so he sees the need for diversity first-hand. It is not uncommon for him to be the only person of color in a room.
“Yesterday morning I was in a meeting, there must have been ten people there, and I was the only non-white in that room,” “Sometimes, you know I kind of have an out of body experience and I’m thinking, ‘Wow if I were looking down upon me, if there was a picture that was taken, how would this look?’ And I think, in that respect, I came here from Babson College in Massachusetts, which is very diverse. And so, I’d say, at Elon I think the values are there and the respect for diversity is there, but we need more demonstrable programs in that regard.”
Many accomplishments to be proud of
Even with all of the growth the Love School of Business has yet to see, whether it be in infrastructure, quality or diversity, Tadepalli has plenty to be proud of. When reflecting on his proudest moments at Elon, he recalled an experience from rather early in his career here.
During his second year at Elon, the Love School of Business had an accreditation visit where three deans from other schools visited campus and assessed the business program with the goal of giving recommendations to make the program better.
At the end of the visit, the three deans sat down with Tadepalli, President Leo Lambert and Provost and Executive Vice President Steven House to discuss their findings and give recommendations for improvements over the next 5 years.
Their recommendation was simple: they had no recommendation. To the three deans, the business school was operating perfectly and there were no changes they felt Tadepalli needed to make. Even after praise like this, Tadepalli finds a way to recognize the work of others, showing once again the interesting dynamics of his leadership style.
“So I think it’s kudos to my colleagues,” Tadepalli said, “but when a group of three deans from outside come and look at you and their 21 standards, and at the end of it they say, we have no recommendation, you feel pretty good.”