Dean Eyes Bigger Role for College of Business Administration

February 13, 2010

By Vic Kolenc / El Paso Times

Kent Shingetomi Dean Robert Nachtmann said he was attracted to UTEP by the school's working-class student body. Last week, he checked in on students working on a marketing class project. At left is Esmeralda Hernandez, and at right is Paola Garcia. (Rudy Gutierrez / El Paso Times)

EL PASO -- Robert Nachtmann doesn't know why El Paso doesn't attract more high-wage companies. But he expects the UTEP business college to play a larger role in trying to solve that problem.

Nachtmann, Dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Texas at El Paso for 4 1/2 years, aims to have the college ranked among the nation's top 50 business schools within five years.

Hispanic Business magazine last year ranked it as the second-best business graduate school for Hispanics in the nation. It ranked sixth in 2008.

"My sense is -- at least in discussing with the corporate leaders and civic leaders in this region -- that the business school is going to play an increasing role in how do we fill those gaps. How do we attract new businesses here?" Nachtmann said.

He predicted that the business school would be "a quiet partner" in researching and discovering the conditions that support growth.

Les Parker is founder and president of United Bank of El Paso Del Norte and chairman of the college's Business Advisory Council. He said Nachtmann sees the business college "as one of the tools for not only development of the university but also development of the economy."

Woody Hunt, CEO and chairman of Hunt Companies, a group of real estate development and construction companies based in El Paso, said UTEP as a whole "needs to help create an entrepreneurial, innovative environment here, which we need to get high-paying jobs."

The Hunt Family Foundation last year donated $1 million to UTEP for an endowed chair in international business and to support the Institute for Policy and Economic Development.

Hunt said he was impressed with Nachtmann's co-chairmanship of a committee involved in the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development's study of how colleges and universities on both sides of the border can help grow the regional economy. The study's results are due in April, he said.

Nachtmann said El Paso needs its long-established ties with Juárez for this area to be sold as a metroplex of more than 2 million people. That allows the region to compete for jobs with other large metro areas in the United States, he said. But the violence in Juárez is making that difficult to do, he said.

"Are we affected by what's going on in Juárez on a day-to-day basis? I don't think we are. But what's taking place in Juárez is heart-wrenching. You can't figure out what to do to solve that problem. Will it limit economic growth? I don't know. No doubt it's affected the economy in Juárez, but the effect on us is unclear."

Many restaurants from Juárez have opened in El Paso in recent months.

"I don't know how I feel about that," he said. "You sit there and say, 'God, it's great for us, but what that is a signal of is the economy in that city is shutting down.' It's kind of bittersweet."

Nachtmann, 63, became dean in September 2005 after spending most of his 33-year academic career at the University of Pittsburgh business school. He managed the undergraduate and graduate business schools at Pitt as executive associate dean before coming to UTEP.

Nachtmann said he was happy in Pittsburgh and he was not job hunting when a search firm contacted him about the UTEP job.

"One of the things that attracted me most to even applying for the position was that the (UTEP) student body was as close to my demographic, when I was an 18-19-year-old kid, as I could imagine."

Nachtmann, whose father was a factory worker, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He worked a variety of jobs to pay his way through City College of New York, where he received a math and physics degree. He received his master's degree in business administration from Long Island University and a doctorate in finance from Indiana University.

Nachtmann and his wife, Lauren, lived in El Paso in 1970 when he was in the Air Force and stationed at Biggs Army Airfield. They liked it here, he said.

The allure of UTEP was simple.

"What I was interested in is seeing what could be done at a public university in an urban setting with a group of students who on average have serious economic challenges.

"I just felt that I didn't think that most universities that I knew devoted much time to trying to understand and solve that problem. Here, after speaking to the president primarily, and the provost, I learned that was (UTEP's) mission."

Diego Rico, 20, an accounting student and one of a handful of students making up the dean's special projects team, said Nachtmann is close to the student body, and is "renowned" for seeking out students to talk with them.

The college has 3,200 students, a faculty of 57 and a budget of $10 million. It has 2,500 undergraduate students, 670 students in master's programs, and 30 in its international business doctoral program.

Nachtmann said the college was "pretty much a mess" when he arrived in 2005.

"The faculty was disorganized, there was not a core strategy and there was very little investment in research," he said.

He spent the past four years laying the foundation for a "tier-one business school." That was done by focusing on development of faculty, students and the "full range of academic programs," he said. "Before all the focus was on the undergraduate level."

UTEP President Diana Natalicio said Nachtmann has "injected a tremendous amount of energy into the leadership role, and has brought in the kind of standards and expectations we need to progress toward a tier-one" research university.

Natalicio said one of Nachtmann's biggest achievements was the opening last year of the UTEP Graduate Business Center in the Chase Bank building Downtown.

It showed that the business college was "indeed partnering with the business community," and playing a part in the revitalization of Downtown, Natalicio said.

The two-floor center allowed the business college to further expand its master of business administration programs, including the new executive MBA program for people with management experience. It also provides space for research teams.

Besides expanding MBA programs, the business college plans to add four doctoral programs in the next five to 10 years -- something needed to become a top-tier business school -- Nachtmann said.

Nachtmann gives professors the tools they need to excel at their jobs, said Laura Guerrero, 40, an associate professor of management.

"UTEP was a teaching school when I was here" as a student, and now it is a more research-oriented university, Guerrero said.

A native of Mexico City, she became an assistant professor of management at UTEP in September, after getting a doctorate in organizational behavior last year at the University of Western Ontario, one of Canada's top business schools.

The value of a UTEP student's education will increase with the focus on research because students are being taught by experts in their field, Guerrero said.

"When students say they want to go to UT Austin or Rice, it's because people who teach there are experts in their fields," she said.

Rico, the accounting student and president of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Association at UTEP, said he likes to see the business faculty and students involved in more research. It's a way to bring the college more recognition in El Paso and in other parts of the country, he said.

Guerrero said, "You build a name for the school through research."

Nachtmann said he sees the next five years as the college's time to shine.

"What excites me is we put in four real hard years to put the structure in place. The next five years, I'm hoping, is the fun time, where we can really get busy achieving both a national and regional success."

Personal file

  • Name: Robert Nachtmann
  • Age: 63
  • Job: Dean of the UTEP College of Business Administration.
  • Background: 25 years as a top administrator and professor at the University of Pittsburgh business school.
  • Education: Doctorate in finance from Indiana University, MBA from Long Island University in New York, and bachelor's degree in math and physics from City College of New York.
  • Family: Wife, Lauren, a retired nurse, and two grown children.
  • Quote: "I hope that within the next five years we're among the top 50 business schools in the country. That's the goal. That's not easy, but I think we're positioned to do that."


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