Brown: ‘Why am I walking away from the best job ever?’

Chicago
By Chicago 5 Min Read

Jeff Brown

Brown

L. Brian Stauffer

CHAMPAIGN — Stepping down from his role as dean of the Gies College of Business at the end of this year was a hard decision for Jeffrey Brown, but he said he wanted to move on at the right time for the school.

“This really is the best job I’ve ever had, and every now and then, I’m like, ‘Why am I walking away from the best job ever?’” Brown said. “But it’s been an honor and a privilege to serve it, and this is entirely my decision.”

Brown has left his mark on the school in a variety of ways — the name of Gies Business itself being far from the least.

He was introduced to Larry Gies by another faculty member in 2017 and, a few months later, after Brown explained what a large gift could do for the school, Gies made a $150 million donation — the largest in University of Illinois history.

“He and I had a conversation about the future of the college. He was excited about my vision; I was excited about his enthusiasm,” Brown said.

Six years later, Brown says the gift has changed the college of business in many different ways, including creating an identity for the school.

Application numbers have risen, scholarships have increased, and the college has invested in online resources.

“We’ve moved back into a position that we should have always been in, which is to be the business school that smart students in Illinois want to go to,” Brown said. “It would be impossible for me to overstate the impact that the gift had.”

Brown said that he sees more enthusiasm in the student body after some of the improvements made by the gift, but that it’s hard to quantify exactly how the funds have affected specific areas.

Knowing that the money would be available over time made it possible for the school to budget for larger expenses without as much risk.

“It put us on stronger financial footing so we could go into everything that we wanted to do with more confidence,” Brown said.

One of the reasons Brown felt this was a good time to step down is that in January 2025, Gies Business will move into a brand-new building, Steven S. Wymer Hall.

Wymer Hall will have dedicated studios for creating online classes, collaborative student workspaces, traditional classrooms and about 80 offices to accommodate a growing faculty.

“It’s absolutely an investment in our future. One of the things that makes this building unique is it being designed for a world in which we’re doing both residential and online education,” Brown said. “There aren’t many buildings that have been designed with that in mind.”

Whoever succeeds Brown as dean would be in the position to transition buildings within their first year.

Brown has no fears about Gies Business finding a good person to take his place; he thinks the strength of the school’s reputation will bring in more than enough good candidates.

His ideal successor would be someone who is looking to the future of business, can keep up with changes in education and will welcome people into the college.

“And any dean of any college needs to come in with a vision and a high level of energy,” Brown said.

As for himself, Brown is avoiding making big plans for the future.

He’ll take the first sabbatical of his career and decide what to do when he has had time to reset from his years at Gies.

“I love this university. I love this community. I hope that what I decide to do will be here,” Brown said. “No guarantee, right? You never know where life is going to take you.”

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