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An Exploration of College Presidents with Business Backgrounds

Susan L Gorman, Johnson & Wales University


Higher educational institutions (HIEDs) are complex organizations at a pivotal moment in history (Bourgeois, 2016; Guskin & Marcy, 2002; McGee, 2015). Their leaders, defined as the chief executive or president, are essential regardless of whether they have traditional academic backgrounds or nontraditional ones (Buller, 2021; Ivory, 2017; Klein, 2016; Ruben et al., 2017). This research study aimed to understand the leadership traits of nontraditional college presidents, particularly those with business management backgrounds, to determine whether HIEDs could benefit from hiring them to help face challenges today. Information is limited on the possible unique leadership traits that someone with a business management background could bring to their institution (Beardsley, 2017; Klein, 2016). An anticipated benefit of this study was that it will add to the literature on the contributions of nontraditional college presidents, particularly those with business management backgrounds. A phenomenological approach was utilized to understand the lived experiences of these individuals to find out if they share common leadership traits. The primary goal was to discover central themes of what they experienced and how they experienced it, thereby creating a composite description of them (Giorgi, 2018; Moustakas, 1994). The primary research question posed was “What unique leadership traits do college presidents with experience in business management bring to their positions in private four-year HIEDs in the United States?” To answer the research question, interviews were conducted with nine college presidents; one withdrew out of an anonymity concern. Results of the study were based on data collected from eight current college presidents collected April–August 2022. Three major findings and several subthemes emerged. Two major findings were expected: college presidents with business management experience are business driven and turnaround driven. A third major finding was unexpected: they are also mission driven. By offering this composite description of these individuals, HIEDs will understand the attributes and potential benefits of hiring college presidents with business management experience to meet their challenges.

Subject Area

Business administration|Management|Higher Education Administration

Recommended Citation

Gorman, Susan L, "An Exploration of College Presidents with Business Backgrounds" (2022). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI30313813.