Getting students ready to work: Augusta University’s dean of business

The Means Report - Getting Students Ready To Work: Augusta University's Dean of Business
The Means Report - Getting Students Ready To Work: Augusta University's Dean of Business
The Means Report - Getting Students Ready To Work: Augusta University's Dean of Business
The Means Report – Getting Students Ready To Work: Augusta University’s Dean of Business

Augusta, Ga. (WJBF) — Some students are graduating and preparing to head off to college, others are graduating from college and preparing to enter the workforce. Dr. Rick Franza is one of the leaders helping to prepare students for the world of business as the dean of the Hull College of Business at Augusta University. He shares some of the soft and hard skills he finds important for everyone in the business world, as well as the connection between the university and the city’s future.

Brad Means: Let’s begin it by talking business with the brand new Dean of the James M. Hall College of Business at Augusta University, he is Dr. Rick Franza. Dr. Franza, welcome to town and thanks for being here.

Dr. Rick Franza: Oh thanks Brad, it’s my pleasure to be here.

Brad Means: Listen, I wanna just lead the interview, I’ve always learned in the news business don’t bury the lead and I think the lead with you is the name that you selected for your youngest child, your daughter.

Dr. Rick Franza: Yes.

Brad Means: Please tell us about the name you selected and why.
Dr. Rick Franza: Oh yeah, that’s great, it’s gotten a little bit of publicity here, Brad.

Brad Means: Yeah.
Dr. Rick Franza: My youngest daughter who actually turned 17 today, the day of our taping, she, her first name is Augusta.

Brad Means: Her first name is Augusta, which is first of all a beautiful name.

Dr. Rick Franza: Absolutely.

Brad Means: But Augusta was named for Queen Augusta, I think.

Dr. Rick Franza: We wish.

Brad Means: But tell me about that and why you selected that 17 years ago.

Dr. Rick Franza: Well it was, actually it started 19 years ago when my wife was pregnant with our older daughter and we were watching the Masters and my wife said, we always wanted our children to have names that were both unique and easy to make nicknames out of and we’ll get to her nickname later but I said to her, what do you think about Augusta for a girl’s name and she said, well we already have our older daughter, who was about to be born, who was due in a week or two, we already have a name for her, a family name, it was Audrianna, shortened to Audi. She said, but I always want a unique name so she said, let’s think about that if we have another girl. And sure enough, two years later, we had a girl and we named her Augusta Jane and she goes by A.J.

Brad Means: Okay, I love that and I love the tribute that you gave to Augusta, Georgia, without even knowing it. Now you’re here so that’s I think instant credibility.

Dr. Rick Franza: Absolutely.

Brad Means: I think you’re instantly, now having told that story, beloved by everyone watching and I’m glad that you’re running things over at the Hall College of Business and I wanna ask you what you plan to do when it comes to relationships with local business, I love reading about you, that you consider businesses your customers, tell me why you consider them that and how important the relationship is between the school and the businesses.

Dr. Rick Franza: Right, Brad, absolutely, it’s our most important relationship because students may not wanna hear this right off the bat really students are our product and our job as a business school, particularly as a state business school, our salaries, mine as a dean and all my faculty and staff, we’re paid by you, the taxpayers of the state of Georgia so our job is to help stimulate that economy and our job is to provide talent for the businesses who are located here so they are indeed our customers, we’re gonna spend, I’ve already spent some time out there talking to ’em, ’cause again, to know what your customer wants, you need to go out and listen to them and this summer we’re gonna do a whole lot more of that, is go and visit most of the bigger and small and medium-size employers here in Augusta, eventually we’ll expand our footprint but for now we’ll keep it mostly local and provide them with the talent that they need.

Brad Means: What are they saying to you? I love that here in the infancy of your time at AU, you’ve already met with so many businesses. What do they want, do they just say, Rick, make sure that the graduates are work-ready?
Dr. Rick Franza: Work-ready is real important because again, I think one of the things we hear no matter, probably you hear it at all business schools not just here in Augusta, I was at Kennesaw State before I came here so dealt with a lot of businesses in metro Atlanta. Unfortunately, a lot of our students lack what we call soft skills, communication skills, technology has been great for us, we love the instant, I have, again, two teenage daughters, so texting them is great to stay in touch especially since we’re living apart right now. But it has its downside, they do less of what we’re doing right now, is having one-on-one communication, speaking, writing skills, ’cause they’re used to abbreviating everything, using text speak.

Brad Means: Everything’s shortened.

Dr. Rick Franza: Right. So I think that’s what business wants more of, is be more professional, so that’s from the soft side and then the hard side is we’ve gotta give them hard skills. Most entry level jobs require hard skills, whether that be accounting skills, project management skills, sales skills, we gotta give them hard skills that are gonna lead to better business practices.

Brad Means: Are employers, going back to the soft skills ’cause I think it’s fascinating because everything we’ve always suspected is now manifesting itself in the real world with these kids. Are these deficiencies when it comes to soft skills noticeable in the interview, are the employers saying, look, we know the minute we sit down, they don’t look at us, they can’t talk to us, are they seeing that?

Dr. Rick Franza: I think so, I think so, and again, I don’t wanna paint with too broad a brush ’cause every kid isn’t like that, every young man and young woman, they’re not all like that but that’s generally speaking, and again, our generation had issues also, we always talk about the good old days, we weren’t perfect either, but it’s just I think become more of an issue, is this issue of having the ability to communicate, to lead, things like that. Teamwork, and we try and do a lot of that in the classroom, is and kind of the, we’ve heard a lot of things about millennials and we’re kinda highlighting some of the deficiencies, but a lot of really good things, millennials like to be collaborators, which is again, what all businesses need, we don’t need heroes doing it by themselves, so there’s lot of great things, great attributes that millennials have and we just wanna fix up those deficiencies, provide that whether it’s within our curriculum, co-curricularly, extra-curricularly, we’re gonna address those issues.

Brad Means: You have such a wealth of resources and the future is so bright at AU whether it’s in the healthcare field or whether it’s in cyber, is there an area that you wanna focus on when it comes to making sure that you provide the real world with a workforce, is it gonna be all cyber all the time, talk to me about that.

Dr. Rick Franza: Well I don’t think it’ll be all cyber all the time, although obviously, clearly, the investment that the federal government’s at Fort Gordon, the state government’s making at our kinda new campus, our new facility that’s being built, cyber’s really important and obviously there’s a talent gap there that we’re gonna have to help fill but we can’t be too narrow. Again, I think one of the areas that, people often talk about the downside of consolidation, excuse me, but our new institution, the plus side is now we’ve got a business school married with the healthcare side, so I think we’ll spend a lot of time, I think everyone in the nation would agree this country provides healthcare very well, we have the best doctors, the best technology, however, we don’t do it in a very cost effective manner so that’s gonna be part of our job, I think, we’d like to get into the area of healthcare management, leverage the great brand of Augusta University as the medical institution in the state of Georgia and why don’t we do the business side too so that’s an area where we have some capability in the faculty already but we really need to build on and then actually put programs in place to help with healthcare management.

Brad Means: Well what about the changing face of healthcare management? They seem to always be moving the target just when we’ve got it figured out. How as an institution do you teach kids, people, students, how to manage in the healthcare world when it never stays the same for more than a few months?

Dr. Rick Franza: Well nothing stays the same anymore, does it? So again, I think the important thing is to have, for us to listen to the professionals. There are people out there are getting granted, it’s not being managed perfectly, but there are a lot of really good healthcare managers out there and we’re gonna go out and talk to various levels of management within healthcare, we’re lucky here, we got so many healthcare providers, we’re gonna go out and talk to them and find out what are the skill sets they need to make for a better managed healthcare system ’cause I think what healthcare does now is they either turn doctors into managers or they take managers who were trained generically and have them learn the industry. The big jump we can provide is if we can provide trained people to be prepared to enter that industry, well now the learning curve’s become much more steep and I think hopefully it’ll show results pretty quickly.

Brad Means: I also know that during your early time here at AU, you’ve had a chance to meet with members of the faculty at the College of Business, making sure that they’re in the right place to maximize their skill sets. How’s that gone, and just from listening to you, it sounds like there’s gonna be room for a lot more hiring.

Dr. Rick Franza: I hope so, that’s up to the state of Georgia, I think, more than me, it’s gone very well, yeah, I spent my first couple months, I think. As a leader of a team, you really gotta know your team in order for the lines of communication to be open between you and also so that they can trust you and also I have to know what resources do I have in order to deliver programs so that’s been my first couple months, I had a meal or a coffee with everyone of my faculty members to kinda get them to know me, me to know them, and then also know what skill sets they had and also again, I think there’s a virtuous cycle between happiness and productivity and if I can put ’em in positions to be happy, they’re gonna be more productive, they’re more productive, they’re more happy, and so on and so forth, so that’s how I spent the front end of my time here, was trying to hopefully optimize how we deploy our faculty.

Brad Means: Well I think that’s a good way to get things started. Let me go back to the diverse workforce that we’re seeing today, I know that’s part of your wheel house. What would you say to the veteran employee on how to deal with the millennial who comes into the office because you’re talking about two worlds colliding. How can they coexist and be productive for their company?

Dr. Rick Franza: Part of that job I think might be ours. One of the things we hope to do is do executive education, so non-credit courses out for the business community and one of the areas I think we should probably address is that interaction between boomers, Xers, and millennials and whatever they call the next wave that’s coming. I think that’s part of our job is to help educate business to better address the intersection between them and millennials, I think, again, we always think our generation’s the best but we all have our pros and our cons and I think the millennials have tons to offer and we, just like boomers and Xers do, so we just need to learn more about each other and I think part of that’s our job, our job’s also for us to educate our millennials on the other, it can’t be a one-way street, they have to understand the environments they’re moving in also.

Brad Means: You know, how fired up are you, probably my last question, about the future of Augusta, and the cyber district, as we’re now calling it? We do have a lot of bright young minds, and we do have a lot of quality young people, many of them at the Hall College. It looks great, doesn’t it? Is that one of the reasons you took the job?

Dr. Rick Franza: Absolutely, absolutely, yeah. I was at a very big, I was at Kennesaw State, which was probably one of the fastest-growing schools definitely in the state if not the country. A lot of it due to geography right there in Cobb County but this was more exciting to me, ’cause I think there’s the future here is really bright, this is a much more strategic position. My last job was a little more operational, trying to keep the trains running for 7000 business school students. Now it’s more about positioning, making us a more valuable asset to the university system of Georgia and to Augusta in general and the whole CSRA.

Brad Means: It seems like we’re starting to stand out system-wide, would you agree with that, that the university system of Georgia says, Augusta’s a player?

Dr. Rick Franza: Oh definitely, absolutely. I think consolidation got a lot of bad press early on and maybe some of that wasn’t that deserved but I think we’ve turned the corner, I think it’s actually in great position, we have, the institution is positioned to really make an impact, and like you said, I think the governor spoke with $50 million that Augusta is a place the state wants to be.

Brad Means: Well exciting times for sure and we’re sure glad to welcome you and your family to Augusta and look forward to working with you over the years.

Dr. Rick Franza: Oh, I look forward to it also, thank you, Brad.

Brad Means: Absolutely, Dr. Rick Franza, Dean of the Hall College of Business at Augusta University, father of recent birthday-celebrant A.J. and her sister Audi, gotta give a shout-out to her too but happy belated birthday, Augusta Jane.

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