William Gillett, New Dean of the Business School at Southern New Hampshire University: A Fresh Perspective

by Hattie Bernstein

William Gillett, the new dean of the School of Business, comes to the university as an outsider; something he sees as an advantage.

"I don't have a history or experience with the organization," he says. "I'm coming from the outside with a completely fresh perspective but also with a steep learning curve. I need to develop my own understanding of my role and he operations of the school with help from the faculty and administration but also on a 'trust but verify' basis.

Gillett, whose name rhymes with "Bill it," moved into the Dean's office in Webster Hall on June 1st with his sleeves rolled up ready to get to work in the top leadership post in the School of Business, SNHU's largest and oldest school, given the university's beginnings almost 70 years ago as a business college.

Christos Papoutsy congratulated
and welcomed Bill Gillett.

"My role is to enable the faculty to do as great a job as they can, by taking and dealing with the issues of administration and managing the school, so they don't have to," Gillett says during an interview at his office on his third day on the job.

Gillett stared his career as a lawyer, working in private practice, moving to a corporate, in-house counsel role and eventually making the transition to executive management.

He went to work for a small, private law firm in his native Detroit after graduating from the University of Michigan Law School and spent five years primarily engaged in a series of substantial insurance coverage cases involving the Dow Chemical Company,.

Success with the Dow case opened the door to an opportunity in New York at Shearman and Sterling, an international law firm where he made the transition into securities, finance, and mergers and acquisitions.

At Shearman and Sterling, Gillett was part of a Merger and Acquisitions group that represented heavy hitters like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, and he was among the attorneys involved when KKR purchased RJR Nabisco, at the time, the largest leveraged buyout in history. He was also involved in the legal aspects of American Re, one of KKR's early and successful investments in the insurance industry.

From New York, the attorney took a position in Seattle with Talegen Holdings, overseeing the legal and regulatory aspects of selling off seven insurance and reinsurance company groups and the exit of Talegen's parent company, Xerox, from the insurance business.

"It was a small holding company overseeing a large insurance group and the CEO wanted us all to do things outside our areas. The smaller size allowed us to employ a number of alternative management techniques and working styles as well as letting each of us work outside of our immediate areas of expertise," Gillett says, crediting Talegen management with preparing him for the position he took with The RiverStone Group, one of the operations that Talegen had created and subsequently sold.

At RiverStone, first in Chicago and later in New Hampshire, Gillett served first as general counsel with an emphasis on the assessment and structuring of acquisitions of insurance companies and portfolios.

"I had primarily a legal role with Talegen, but I became part of the senior management team at RiverStone with broader direct responsibilities for the future of the company," he says.

"We're all here on the same teach," Gillett says, describing his style as "not overbearing or aggressive but demanding of excellence and honesty."

By the time Gillett moved to London to run the firm's European operations in the United Kingdom, France, and Sweden, he had left his legal roles completely for an executive leadership role.

Altogether, following his ten years in private legal practice and four as in-house counsel, he has spent eleven years in management roles with seven in executive leadership, experience he is already drawing on at SNHU.

"My focus as a manager, because of the nature of the companies I was involved with, is strategic and developmental," Gillett says. "I bring that same focus to the dean's office." The new dean also brings a commitment to collaboration and the belief that work is best accomplished in and success flows from commitment to mutual respect in the organization, fairness and ethical behavior. "There needs to be a shared vision," he says. "My job is to help people, to coordinate and organize to move us in the direction we all want. We need to establish and promote our unique identity as the School of Business at Southern New Hampshire University." That shouldn't be difficult.

The new dean compares his role to that of a senior manager in business: the School of Business is the product to be developed, test, improved upon, and marketed. "We must also be rigidly focused on serving the students, our 'customers,' to the best of our ability and in a manner that fully prepares them for the business world and their chose discipline."

Not surprisingly, a business focus means decisions and initiatives will depend on numbers. "I'm very interested in data, in understanding the numbers and ensuring that they make sense and support our actions," Gillett says. "I'll be asking: 'Why? Show me what you mean and show the support.'"

(Posting date: 09-24-10)

This article originally appeared in the university's magazine,
Impact, Fall 2010, pp. 6-8., under the title, "William Gillett: A Fresh Perspective." HCS readers are invited to view other articles about SNHU or business ethics at our extensive, permanent archives under the Business Ethics section at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com/archivebusinessethics.html or the Christos and Mary Papoutsy Distinguished Chair in Business Ethics at Southern New Hampshire University at http://www.helleniccomserve.com/archivepapoutsychairbizethics.html.

The purpose of the distinguished chair in ethics is to promote and enhance students’ and community members’ awareness of ethics in personal and professional settings through teaching, community lectures and conferences. These events will foster understanding and assist in the application of lessons taught by current and classical ethicists to 21st-century settings.The chair serves as the cornerstone for an integrated university program in business ethics that encompasses the undergraduate and graduate levels. For more information about these events or about the ethics chair, contact Jane Yerrington at SNHU (603-668-2211 x2488) or visit the webpages of the ethics chair at http://www.snhu.edu/1301.asp.

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