Michael Cunningham views potential academic greatness for the College of Business Administration in spite of severe budget setbacks.
Michael R. Cunningham took over on June 20 as dean of the San Diego State University College of Business Administration.
Cunningham, who earlier built his graphics communications firm into a multimillion dollar international powerhouse, has served as a clinical professor of entrepreneurship at the school. He succeeds Gail K. Naughton, who helmed the college since 2002.
“My goal is to create as many opportunities for as many students as I can, and help rebuild the economy one student at time,” Cunningham said. Collective support
“Mike is a savvy businessman, and it’s been my privilege to serve with him on the CBA Board of Directors over the past three years,” said Linda Lang, chairman, CEO and president of San Diego-based Jack in the Box Inc, who earned her MBA at SDSU. “He has strong teaching and research skills and is admired and respected by the students, faculty and staff at the college. I’m confident that Mike will accomplish great things during his tenure as dean of the College of Business Administration.”
Gangaram Singh, associate dean for academic affairs at the college, praised the selection of Cunningham.
“We talk business, he's lived business, and he brings it back into an academic setting.” said Singh, who has worked with Cunningham at SDSU since 2005. “It is a unique set of skills he's acquired over the years that will make us relevant in the national and the international market place.”About Cunningham
The 51-year-old Cunningham's advanced academic roots go back almost two decades. As CEO of Cunningham Graphics International, he multi-tasked his way to a master's degree from New York University while growing his company into a darling of Wall Street with offices in London, New York, and Hong Kong. By 1996, he was already bringing his business expertise to the classroom.
After he took his graphic communications company public and subsequently sold it for in excess of $100 million to Automatic Data Processing of Roseland, New Jersey. In 2000, he completed his return to academia. He earned his Ph.D. in administration, leadership and technology from NYU in 2006. His teaching career at San Diego State began in 2005.Critical time at SDSU
Cunningham takes the helm as California's institutions of higher education are in crisis, facing funding cutbacks that could lead to lower enrollment, fewer academic staff, larger class sizes and increased teaching loads. Concerns about these issues were widely evident during his two-hour-long job interview before scores of faculty and staff. His main job, he told them, is maintaining academic excellence in the face of those cuts. “It's the one thing that keeps me awake at night,” he said.
“Everybody here is aware of the budget crisis,” said Alex DeNoble, chair of the college's management department. “When the State of California hiccups, we feel an earthquake. Morale has really taken a nosedive.
“This is a situation that brings out the best in Mike. He's upbeat, he's positive, he finds the best aspects of us and shines a light on them. We think of him as our turnaround artist.” Goals
Cunningham feels there is opportunity in adversity. “Our business school is a local jewel that hasn't received the recognition it deserves nationally,” he said.
He hopes to push the school higher in national academic rankings. To make up for some of the funding cutbacks that will shrink local enrollment, he wants to attract out-of-state students who won't need subsidies, which will improve the school's finances, as well as its diversity.
“We also need to increase our interaction with the local business community and the alumni. Seventy percent of our alumni are in Southern California, many of them occupying the C-suites (CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, CMO). I know many of them. They look forward to mentoring our students, offering job placement, and helping with faculty initiatives. We can help them with research and with graduates who are ready for the jobs of the 21st century.”
Cunningham said he's already begun working with faculty and other stakeholders on a new strategic plan for the school, which he hopes to have completed in three months. Rather than a shotgun approach, he said the school will focus tightly on a handful of areas where it can be among the best in class, programs that play to existing strengths and the local economy.
With the right focus, he thinks he can get the grants and donations that will plug the funding hole and make SDSU business a world-class institution.More about Cunningham
Cunningham’s teaching experience encompasses stints at NYU, SDSU, and Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo. He's taught undergraduate and graduate-level classes in international business strategy, business plan development, competitive industry analysis, entrepreneurial thinking, quality control and business plan writing.
Cunningham has a long record of charitable work and community involvement. In 2005, he turned a voluntary fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Katrina into a learning experience for 50 M.B.A. candidates and 150 undergraduates.
The students did this by hosting a variety of events which included a golf outing, a concert featuring local bands, a Marti Gras party (with a silent auction), a raffle for a BMW, sales of SDSU merchandise and an online solicitation for three months. After developing a business plan, a goal and a timeline his team sent a check for $750,000 to Katrina relief efforts.
“Most of us thought that it was an impossible task,” Singh recalled. “But he delivered.”
He is still active at NYU, where he's currently a trustee, and is on the school's Academic Affairs Committee, Alumni Committee and the Development Committee. He has also served on the board of the San Diego Foundation, the Christ Hospital foundation of New Jersey, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Jersey City.
Before he founded Cunningham Graphics in 1989, he worked as a sales executive for Gibson
Graphics in New York City (1981-83) and a senior vice president of sales for Scott Printing in New Jersey (1983-89).
After he sold his firm in 2000 to ADP, he stayed for the transition with the Fortune 500 firm as group president and corporate vice president for a year. After six years in academia, he was called back to the company in 2007 and made its new CEO with the charter to mount a turnaround operation.
This he did, culminating in the successful sale of the firm to a New York-based private equity firm in 2008, where he spent another two years as CEO of the firm, renamed Diversified Global Graphics Group (DG3).
His honors and awards include:
- Forbes Magazine Top Small Public Companies
- Business Week 100 Best Growth Companies
- Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, New Jersey
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Blue Chip Award National Finalist
- The British American Chamber of Commerce 2000 Transatlantic Business Entrepreneurial Award
Cunningham is particularly proud of the British American Chamber of Commerce award as his global business expertise perfectly matches SDSU’s highly ranked international business programs and the College of Business’ motto: Leadership for the Global Marketplace.
This story was submitted by the SDSU College of Business Administration.