Paul Madsen describes his research to a layman in this way: “It’s wacky.”
A question – something involving the economic justification for a regulatory system in accounting – had confounded the financial research world for over 80 years. This unscratchable academic itch annoyed the then-doctoral student. A dissertation topic was born.
Three years and 60 pages later, Madsen emerged. Accounting and finance departments were intrigued by the newly minted Ph.D. from Emory who had ambitiously attempted to “quantitatively identify an efficient level of accounting standardization.” But some schools weren’t quite sure they needed an accounting professor who, you might say, scribbled outside the ledger.
Then came his interview at the Warrington College of Business.
“They didn’t evaluate me by asking which box I lived in and whether they needed another resident of that particular box,” says Madsen. “Instead, they asked whether I was doing interesting work.”
Today, Madsen is happily ensconced – and now tenured – at the Fisher School of Accounting. He holds the Deloitte Foundation Professorship, bestowed on him in 2019. Students write glowingly of his impact on their academic and professional careers – “No course truly caught -my interest like Professor Madsen’s graduate class,” says Andrew de la Osa, who said he was inspired to pursue a career in forensic accounting because of Madsen’s class – and he has received multiple teaching awards, including Graduate Teacher of the Year, as well as accolades for his research.
“It’s been ideal for me,” Madsen says of Warrington. “I have access to the resources I need – computers, software, research assistants, data – to do the research I want to do, and I have had the freedom to deploy these resources in whatever way I believe is best.”
To Warrington’s leadership, Madsen’s satisfaction is high praise indeed. But it’s also hard evidence that the Warrington strategy has worked.
“You can only compete if you have talent,” says John Kraft, Warrington’s dean, “but you have to invest in that talent.
“We bring in talented people, and we make a huge investment in making them successful.”
The ‘Go Greater’ Effect
As one might suspect, the Warrington College of Business tells its Go Greater success story in the parlance of the business world. There are “benchmarks,” “analytics,” “metrics,” and “resources” deployed “for a competitive advantage.” “Key investments in specialized assets” are made.
“We’re a hard evidence place,” Kraft says.
And there is hard evidence aplenty that the Go Greater campaign has fueled Warrington’s rise: an overall ranking of 12 among undergraduate business schools, up from 16th in 2014, when the Go Greater campaign began. A ranking of 9 among graduate schools, up from 15 in 2014. An MBA program, and graduate accounting, marketing and finance programs, all in the Top 10 among public universities. And much more.
These wins can be traced in large part to one specialized asset at Warrington that is, well, the most special. “Over time, we’ve benefitted from attracting and retaining extremely high-quality faculty,” says Kraft.
Since the Go Greater campaign’s inception in 2014, Warrington has brought on board seven additional faculty, for a total of 120 full-time professors and researchers. That’s not large by the standards of peer institutions – the University of North Carolina has 140 full-time faculty, for example, and the University of Michigan over 150. But it was never about being big, says Kraft, “it was about being better.”
For cost-benefit reasons, recruitment efforts at Warrington focus not on established stars but on fresh Ph.Ds., as Madsen was, and junior faculty – all with seemingly limitless upward trajectories. Competition for these rising stars is fierce among universities, but UF’s reputation on multiple fronts – including as a uniquely supportive incubator for up-and-comers – ensures there’s a pipeline of teaching talent.
“They see there’s a culture here that’s important for their careers,” Kraft says. “And we want smart, talented people to come and be creative and innovative and want to stay here.”
Endowed with Greatness
The Warrington recipe for faculty support sounds pretty simple: Allow those hired to teach and conduct research to, yes, teach and conduct research. At Warrington, impediments to those duties – technological hurdles, IT sinkholes, administrative morasses – are systematically removed.
But there’s another ingredient that’s just as important at Warrington: Ensure as many faculty as possible have money they can control. These endowments – unending monetary streams, funded by private donors, that go directly to the current holders – bestow a mantle of prestige upon teaching and research stars and giving them time for research, and money they can control for travel, data sets, additional technology, teaching assistants, computer software or anything that advances scholarship. As faculty leave, the endowment remains, passed to the next worthy recipient.
Thanks in part to the Go Greater campaign, Warrington now has a total of 67 faculty endowments, giving almost all tenure-track faculty additional financial support. The goal, Kraft says, is endowments for all of them.
“I can’t overestimate the value of private support,” says Joel Houston, the first recipient of the Eugene Brigham Chair in Finance, established in 2017. Additional research data, for example, can easily run from $50,000 to $100,000.
Mo Wang, holder since 2017 of the Lanzillotti-McKethan Eminent Scholar Chair, called Warrington’s faculty support “excellent.” His endowment funds data collection and conference travel, he says, and gives him the time and resources to think in the long-term about complex research questions.
This strategy of support – both administrative and financial – is reaping rewards on multiple fronts: Warrington faculty research activity consistently ranks in the Top 5 and Top 10 among the Association of American Universities. And professors are productive in the classroom: the college graduates 2,300 students per year, producing an astonishing 15% of UF’s graduates with only 2% of the university’s faculty.
As junior faculty grow into sought-after commodities in the academic world, suitors are a constant threat (“When people are trying to hire senior people they’re trying to hire our faculty,” Kraft admits). But endowments and other forms of support have proven to be powerful retention tools.
“If you look over 30 years,” he says, “we’ve only lost six faculty who we really wanted to retain.”
The Warrington Behind Warrington
This focus on faculty traces its way most directly to Robert Lanzillotti, dean from 1969 to 1987. Lanzillotti, intent on raising the profile of the College of Business from regional to national, saw big-name talent as the answer.
He pursued the hot shots of the academic business world, luring finance and textbook luminary Eugene Brigham from the University of Wisconsin in 1971, a move Lanzillotti has called “the spark that lighted the way” for UF. Other rising stars took notice of the university in north-central Florida and brought their knowledge – and high-octane reputations – to UF.
But it was alum and benefactor Al Warrington (1935-2020) who would move the faculty push into overdrive. Warrington, who would become the College’s namesake, had long been intensely focused on the business school’s ascent, Kraft says. Al Warrington, too, saw the power of professors as the way to compete with best schools nationwide.
In 1996, he made a significant gift for faculty support, following it up with a 2009 endowment to support the College’s accounting and entrepreneurship programs.
“Faculty reputation was growing over time,” says Kraft, “and Al measured in outcomes. He invested in input that could make the difference.”
Warrington latest gift –– $75 million earmarked for faculty research and teaching initiatives – kickstarted the Go Greater campaign and provided the step forwarded needed to make the College of Business a magnet for top teaching talent.
And a generator of future business talent.
And that, Warrington leadership says, feeds the cycle of winning: Strong teaching attracts strong students, who in turn have gratifying experiences at Warrington and receive excellent job offers. (Alumni rate Warrington’s Career Services No. 1, according to The Economist.) Those alumni go on to have successful careers, which creates the ability – and desire – to give back to their alma mater.
Their gifts are needed, as Warrington constantly evolves in an increasingly competitive environment, where universities the world over work to stay ahead of the curve with instructional technology and attract star faculty and exceptional and diverse students.
Fred Fisher. William Emerson. Gary Gerson. Bill Hough. Bill Heavener. Kelley Bergstrom. Jane Sun. Hyatt Brown. Keith Koenig. Ron Canakaris. Bob Brockman. Chip Lane. And more.
Many donors whose names now grace endowments, scholarships, buildings and centers at the College of Business are those successful – and grateful – alumni.
The Reputational Advantage
Happy faculty (who stay put) creating successful alumni (who give back). It’s the formula, made possible by donors, that keeps Warrington on the rise and its reputation solidified.
And reputation, Kraft says, is more than bragging rights. It’s the fuel in a carefully calibrated strategy.
“Reputational ranking is what drives people to view you as a competitor,” Kraft says, adding that it attracts the best and brightest minds – both faculty and student – to Warrington, which in turn puts the school’s research and other contributions on the map.
“Over the years, the College of Business has produced some really significant scholars who have made a huge difference in the industry and the profession. … And all of it starts with high quality faculty.”