Q&A with Dean H. Rao Unnava

Dean H. Rao Unava standing in front of window
Dean H. Rao Unnava joined the Graduate School of Management in June 2016 following 32 years at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, where he earned his Ph.D. and most recently served as the W. Arthur Cullman Professor of Marketing.

New Graduate School of Management dean shares his background and future goals

by Laura Pizzo
What originally inspired you to pursue a career in higher education?

My mom was a professor in India. Before that, she was a high school teacher. And as I grew up, there were often kids at our house asking  for extra help in various subject areas. My mom taught them in the evenings, which was a pretty common practice in India. 

But she was  unable to handle all these people. So I would assist her. When I was in fifth grade, I was teaching the third graders math and science. I enjoyed it and thought I should consider it as a possible vocation. 

Then I became an engineer, got my MBA and started working in industry. I was selling computers in the early 1980s when I got a call from a university saying that a faculty member in the MBA program had dropped out at the last minute. They asked if I could help by teaching the class. I said yes. 

It went well, so they asked me to come back. That’s when I talked to my wife and said, ‘It looks like my evening job is actually more interesting to me than my day job. Maybe we should go to the U.S. because that’s where higher education is the best? I could get a  Ph.D. and get into the profession of teaching.’

Now, after 30-plus years at The Ohio State University, UC Davis offered me a chance to come to a university system that is one of the best  in the world—a system that I heard about and dreamed of being a part of when I was still living in India. So when the opportunity presented  itself, we decided as a family it was time for us to move.

What makes UC Davis’ Graduate School of Management unique? 

The GSM is a hidden gem in many ways. The faculty are extremely productive in terms of intellectual output. What that means is that, if you  look at the rankings that are given to faculty, in terms  of intelligence and business knowledge at a per capita basis, UC Davis’ Graduate School of Management faculty are ranked No. 1 in the country. That’s something most people don’t know about because the faculty are humble and don’t make a big deal about it.

With your interdisciplinary background, are you further inspired by all the crossdisciplinary work that happens at UC Davis?

Yes, I am very inspired by the potential for GSM to collaborate with top colleges across the university. Imagine an MBA degree that has a top college in agriculture associated with it, or a top college of engineering, or our healthcare or veterinary medicine systems. There are not any MBA programs that have that privilege.

We are constantly thinking about how we can work with other colleges to make GSM one of the top five public business schools in the world and, at the same time, solve problems that are more complex than what a business school would typically handle.  That’s the thrill of UC Davis at this time, getting to work with other deans to make good things happen.”

What efforts to do you plan to take to help alumni with their careers?

We want to make certain our students continue to feel engaged with UC Davis even after they graduate. So I ask myself, is there a way that we can continue to provide educational opportunities for UC Davis alumni? Could GSM, for example, have free webinars given by our  faculty on issues that are very topical? This is one of the goals that I personally have in mind.

Let’s say there’s a student who graduated from the MBA program five years ago. They were probably not very aware of a whole field that is  developing called business analytics. Now, they want to learn more about analytics, but they’re busy with their job. Is it possible that we can  prepare three to five lectures on analytics and put them on a website that only members of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association can access? They would then have a chance for continuous learning and would not be left behind.

“We are constantly thinking about how we can work with other colleges to make GSM one of the top five business schools in the world and, at the same time, solve problems that are more complex than what a business school would typically handle. That’s the thrill of UC Davis at this time, getting to work with other deans to make good things happen.”
— H. Rao Unnava

The whole idea is to see if we can fulfill our mission as a land-grant institution. Our job is to educate people not just for the time that they’re here, but for their entire lifetime. Our alumni should always feel secure, knowing they have a place to go if they have a question.