When asked about the mission of the Sauder School of Business, its new Dean, Professor Robert Helsley describes an ambitious agenda, saying the school should be in the business of transforming lives.
“If I look back on many of the most important events in my life, it is apparent that they were completely transformed by educational experiences,” says Helsley, who studied at the University of Oregon before graduating from Princeton University with an MA and PhD in economics.
“When I was an undergraduate student, I met a professor who was both a very good economist and an outstanding teacher. I took all of his courses and, with his guidance and encouragement, I completed majors in economics and mathematics, and all of the credits for a Master’s degree in economics in three years,” he says.
His mentor, Professor Ed Whitelaw, advocated for Helsley’s accelerated program and took him on as a teaching assistant. He also provided a role with his consulting firm ECONorthwest after Helsley’s graduation, providing the future dean with the financial stability to pursue his academic ambitions.
Helsley recalls this generosity with great affection and says he will draw on the spirit of this experience as Sauder’s new leader.
“There is no substitute for having a chance to do exactly what you want to do in life,” he says. “That’s what universities are here for.”
He is looking forward to greeting the more than 1000 new students joining Sauder this September, saying they are about to enter the most formative and exciting period of their lives.
“The thing I always tell students is to stay open,” says Helsley. “Their experience at Sauder is not a short-term experience, it’s a lifelong enterprise.”
He takes on his role as Sauder’s leader after four years at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was Professor and Chair in Real Estate Development, and Co-chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics.
However, Helsley is not new to Sauder’s leadership, having held roles of increasing responsibility as a member of the school’s faculty between 1984 and 2008, with the final six years as Senior Associate Dean, Faculty and Research.
A key figure in leading Sauder to its current level of prominence, Helsley managed initiatives to significantly renew and expand the school’s academic staff and played a central role in the revitalization of Sauder’s teaching facilities on the UBC campus. He also led the UBC Centre for Real Estate and Urban Economics, where he built Sauder’s reputation for research in this area.
With this experience behind him, the new Dean is well prepared to move the school forward in its ambitions.
“The goal is for Sauder to be one of the world’s finest public business schools and we have all of the necessary conditions and people to make this happen,” Helsley says.
He emphasizes that the culture of teamwork and innovation at Sauder is extremely strong and that nurturing this culture is the key to the school’s continued success.
“Innovations that find their origins at the school are the result of individual efforts,” says Helsley. “Our role is to provide an environment of exploration and collaboration that gives the brilliant people at Sauder and our extended community the guidance, support and resources needed for success today and throughout their lives.”