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Triangle Business Journal Applauds Dean Buckless’ Efforts to Push Poole College Forward

Frank Buckless, dean of Poole College of Management, recently interviewed with Triangle Business Journal about his role, and his efforts to ensure the college stands out among competitors and engages in industry. Read the full interview here

Frank Buckless was a varsity wrestler at Michigan State University who shared his father’s passion for accounting. 

He earned a Ph.D. in accounting and, impressed by N.C. State University’s connection to industry and the robust Triangle market, joined the Wolfpack faculty in 1989.

Buckless rose to interim dean of the Poole College of Management and, last year, became its permanent dean – a pivotal role on a campus looking to launch its graduates into impactful careers. N.C. State’s program spins out startups and the Princeton Review ranked the school No. 10 for undergraduate entrepreneurship programs and No. 21 for graduate programs for 2020. 

But in his new role, he has to wrestle significant challenges as well, including making sure his program stands out against tough competition and also pushing the program forward in a time of international crisis. 

How has being the permanent dean changed your approach? In many ways, it has not changed very much. You are still trying to create an inclusive and engaging environment that brings out the best in faculty, staff and students to move the organization strategically forward to achieve the mission and vision for the college and university. Knowing you have the support of the faculty and staff does provide comfort when making the more difficult decisions. 

How does the program differentiate itself from rivals? The great competition we have in the region, I believe, is an advantage. You have to be more focused on what you do well and how that can create advantages for you in the marketplace. We focus on developing leaders who are great problem-solvers and have an entrepreneurial mindset looking for opportunities not served. We help our students develop lifelong skills by engaging them with industry and the new science technology being created across campus. … We also are differentiating our program by delivering content and experiences in a flexible format that allows our students to continue progress toward their degree no matter the changes going on with them outside of school. … We have seen 69 percent growth in our MBA program the last five years and are seeing our rankings continue to improve. 

Tell us more about N.C. State’s focus on an entrepreneurial spirit. It starts with a curiosity to learn and understand, moving to asking what is the goal and what alternative approaches would achieve that goal? What really drives the innovation is the collaborative approach our whole campus embraces. We have a great group of people who know the best solutions need to be viewed from multiple perspectives. Our faculty, staff and students do not approach an opportunity with egos that close off discussion and exclude different perspectives. … This whole campus collaboration has helped N.C. State to be a national leader in this entrepreneurial space. 

What’s the enrollment trend? The data I have seen suggest that the market for MBA programs has been shrinking. The focus and flexibility we offer in our program has helped us to buck that trend. In the last five years, we have seen our MBA (across all formats) grow from an enrollment of 378 students to an enrollment of 640 students. For this upcoming fall we have received a total of 389 applications and admitted 132 students with the expectation we will enroll approximately 100 students. We expect to enroll another 80 or 90 students to start the 2021 spring semester. We have experienced a little over 16 percent increase in applications from the previous fall. 

What’s a piece of advice that helped you? Be who you are and do not try to be someone you are not. You will enjoy much more what you are doing and you will build the trust with the people around you to be able to do extraordinary things. 

Your father was an accountant and you have a passion for it. Why? I had an interest in business and thought accounting would allow me to see more businesses quickly and then I would be able to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. My professional career began in public accounting, where I had the opportunity to work with million-dollar to multibillion-dollar organizations in a diverse array of industries. It was a great learning experience. … As I have often said, accounting is the language of business – the better you understand it, the more you will be able to influence decisions. 

Is there a setback you had where you learned an important lesson? A lesson I learned early on in a leadership role was the importance of open and transparent communication. Early in my career as a department head I made a decision without communicating it properly to the whole group and fortunately individuals felt safe enough to let me know what they thought. I immediately called a department meeting where I told the group the decision I made and why I made it. I also acknowledged how I should have been more open and that would change going forward. It also taught me that people will give you grace if you own up to your actions – good or bad. 

What lessons did you learn as a wrestler? Probably the most important were that with desire and effort you could achieve goals you had doubts you would be able to achieve. I also learned how to be resilient and if you focused on making a little improvement each day the end result can be amazing. 

Tell us about becoming a grandfather. You forget how quickly babies grow and develop. There is no better feeling than holding a newborn baby. 

How has Poole College handled the pandemic? This definitely is not the semester we imagined when we started. I am very proud of the work of our faculty and staff during this transition to virtual learning and working remotely. Moving all of our courses to a virtual platform has been much smoother than I expected. We are certainly doing our best to provide an enriching experience for our students and keep our whole community engaged. We were fortunate to have the technology infrastructure and substantial experience offering online courses.