One of the thousands of new and returning faces on the University of Hartford campus this fall is that of Martin S. Roth, the third dean in a decade for the Barney School of Business.
Roth — who goes by Marty — emerged tops this summer from among 12 finalists for the post that drew 50 to 60 candidates. But there was one thing, his boss and university President Walter Harrison says cheekily, that may have given him an edge.
"He was born about two miles from where I was born in Pittsburgh,'' Harrison said of the Steel City's renowned Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where Roth grew up. "I'm a little older than he is, but he's a homey.''
Turning serious, Harrison says Roth's rich teaching experience and engaging demeanor were what stood out among the other candidates.
"He has a strong academic background and will be a good leader for our faculty,'' the president said. "And he has the kind of personality that will make him very successful with the business community."
Roth's first official day in his new job was Aug. 19. Recently, the 52-year-old talked about his vision for the 55-year-old Barney School, one of seven colleges on UHart's West Hartford campus.
Roth got undergraduate and graduate degrees in his backyard, at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1989, he joined Boston College as a marketing professor, leaving in 1997 for the University of South Carolina's Darla Moore School of Business, as an international marketing and strategy instructor. He was also chair of the Sonoco International Business Department.
There, he and students devised or oversaw marketing training programs for Norwalk's Xerox; telecomm giant Verizon; German carmaker BMW (which has a plant in Spartanburg, S.C.); and Bank of America, to name a few.
In Connecticut, Roth plans to make the rounds of the insurance companies and other businesses large and small to seek similar "blended learning" opportunities for Barney faculty and pupils as class projects and graduate internships.
"Priority one is on education and helping our students in a way that isn't just three hours a day in a classroom,'' Roth said.
Even without a medical or dental school, UHart is "a pretty comprehensive university,'' Roth said. But it's not so large that "we can't be innovative and entrepreneurial,'' he said.
Another goal this first school term, he said, is to meet and build relationships with UHart's key stakeholders: Students, faculty, and the Barney School's board of visitors, who function as an ad hoc advisory panel. The object will be to incorporate their goals and concerns into his action-plan for the school.
"It would be presumptuous of me,'' Roth said, "to come here from South Carolina and say, 'OK, here are the three things we need to do'.''
Roth said he was contacted last spring by a job recruiter about the Barney vacancy. His Barney faculty numbers 39, plus another eight full-time staffers.
He was aware, he said, of UHart's announcement late last year to shrink its complement of faculty and staff in the wake of mounting pressure on it and other U.S. secondary schools to slow the tide of crushing student-loan debt linked to ever-rising tuition.
Harrison says Barney is among a handful of UHart's colleges that will see additional funding, especially for the masters in business administration program.
"His real task in this," he said of Roth, "will be how to lead us in creating new opportunities in the years ahead.''
Roth did just that at Moore School, where he was its first and only chief innovation and assessment officer, said former Moore colleague John McDermott, an economics professor who is the school's acting dean.
"I first worked with him when he was the director of our highly ranked international MBA program," McDermott said via email. "He had a clear, coherent vision of what the program should be, and acted to make sure it conformed to that overall structure. His greatest achievement, I think, was keeping that program ranked in the top five during a period of extraordinary competition among global MBA programs."
The pressures gripping UHart, Roth says, are the same as those confronting other organizations: constantly monitor markets and match staffing accordingly; and seek out new opportunities with big upsides.
He also understands, he said, that the greatest need among central Connecticut employers is to confront and cope with growing global competition, especially in China and Africa.
Changing technology, too, is a major challenge, he said. To that end, he intends to use technology to teach his future business leaders, and to stay linked with them well after graduation. That includes expanding Barney's offering of online courses for its masters of business administration pupils.
"We're not looking at this as a cost-savings play,'' Roth said. "It's purely as a market-demand play.''
Because of round-the-clock access to the Internet, he said, "students are much more globally aware and technologically savvy. They have a much wider breadth and exposure to information via social media versus previous generations.''
"That's where University of Hartford has such a potential,'' he said, "to give the students the depth that they lack: critical thinking, writing and oral communication; and functional knowledge in whatever area they're majoring in.''
Barney's biggest shortcoming?
"We're probably a bit of a hidden gem,'' he said. "People say the university has a good reputation, but I'm not sure they appreciate the breadth and depth the university has to offer, including the Barney School of Business.''
Roth moved to Simsbury with his wife and two high-school age daughters. Outside work, the fitness buff plays racquetball, tennis and golf. He also is a life-long fan of his hometown pro teams: Pirates, Penguins and Steelers.
Like his predecessor, James Fairfield-Sonn, who returned to teaching full-time at Barney, Roth says he will fold some classroom instruction in with his administrative duties.
After college, Roth worked a few years in the early to mid-80s as a pharmacy technician and a store manager for a defunct chain of five stores. Later, he directed market research for a firm that also is no longer around.
He, too, hailed what he calls "the sense of community here. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here,'' Roth said.
That sense of community, he said, consists of a "well-defined vision that everybody buys into,'' a diverse student body, and "a portfolio of great professional and liberal-arts schools.''
"That's pretty refreshing,'' Roth said, "for a large organization to have everybody as aligned and working toward a common goal.''