UCLA Anderson’s assistant dean of student affairs for the full-time MBA program can be credited with numerous successes along the journey that has led him to us. Dr. Gary Fraser, originally from New York City, earned his B.S. from Syracuse University, his MBA from NYU Stern and his Ed.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He has served as dean of the full-time MBA program at USC Marshall School of Business and as dean of students at NYU Stern. Prior to his entry to academia, Fraser enjoyed an eight-year career in brand management with prestigious companies such as Kraft Foods, Cadbury Beverages and Sara Lee.
Q. What are the responsibilities of the assistant dean of student affairs?
My focus is on student leadership and the development of the students. I fulfill this focus by providing the support students need to succeed academically and by opening up opportunities for their MBA experience to be transformational.
Q. How did you go from managing large, household brands to managing student affairs?
When I was in marketing, I would occasionally talk to peers about what the future holds for brand managers. One day, an associate brand manager suggested I talk to the dean of NYU Stern because she thought I would be a great fit there. I ended up doing that (I was a NYU Stern alumnus and came back to campus for an event) and, a few months later, I was able to interview for the assistant dean of NYU Stern’s Office of Career Development, which led to the start of my career in higher education.
Q. In your work, you communicate with people from a variety of diverse backgrounds, languages and cultures. What is your secret to doing this successfully?
Understanding where someone is coming from is key to building any good relationship. I also find I can relate better to that person who then becomes more comfortable sharing information about his or her background or cultural difference. I truly believe that there is something valuable to learn from almost anyone, and I go into any conversation expecting that.
Q. Why is Black History Month important to you personally?
Unless someone takes a course in college, the history of African-Americans is largely ignored in elementary and high school education. As an African-American, I felt like I missed out on this history, but I also feel that all Americans have. By taking a month to focus on black history, the hope is that every American learns something new about the history of blacks in America and the positive impact that African-Americans have made to our American society.
Q. What can we learn from the Academy Awards debate?
The most important thing to glean from this is that we have become a fairly diverse country and, as such, we need to have representative diversity in all aspects of our lives, whether in politics or industries such as the film and motion picture industry. Without representative diversity, we cannot say we are evaluating things or choosing things as “American.”
Q. How do we create a deeper pool of prospective MBAs who are underrepresented minorities?
I’m not an admissions expert so I don’t think I’m best tooled to answer this question, but I will say that there needs to be a more concerted effort to solve the education gap at a much earlier level. SAT scores should not have a link to household income level. Neighborhoods that are more diverse or have a heavy representation of African-Americans or Latino Americans should have public schools with the same track records as affluent neighborhoods. The issue really starts before we look at prospective candidates for an MBA.
Q. How has your MBA experience helped you personally and professionally?
In short, my MBA put my career on a trajectory that has been much more successful than a scenario without one. Above all else, my MBA degree gave me the confidence I needed to succeed in knowing that I could learn, compete and excel with a talented group of peers. I still remember lectures on competing in the marketplace that I used when I was a brand manager and still reference them today when I think about how we can differentiate Anderson from other top business schools. It was in business school that I got my first taste of leading an organization (a student club), which helped shape my future management and leadership style. Today, I still relate to my business school experiences and draw on those experiences when I am working with current students because I understand what they are going through and the stage they are in professionally.
Q. What do you feel is unique about the Anderson experience compared to other schools you’ve encountered?
Anderson has a unique combination of community (because of the size of the program), access to business (because of all the opportunity associated with the second-largest city in the U.S.), talented faculty (because of its reputation as a premiere school) and lifestyle (let’s face it — we are in sunny Southern California). This combination attracts not only the best and brightest, but it creates an environment where students, faculty and administrators can work hard, make a difference, but also enjoy life outside of work. I think you would be hard pressed to find a combination like this anywhere in the world!