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Posted: August 01, 2012

Executive edge: Christine Riordan

Dean leads DU Daniels College of Business to new heights

Lynn Bronikowski

When Christine Riordan four years ago took the helm as dean of the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, the school was not ranked on BusinessWeek’s prestigious list of the top business schools.

Today, the school ranks 57th among 3,600 business schools nationwide and 13,000 worldwide. And Riordan is a rarity among business schools where only 17 percent are headed by a female dean.

"To go from not even being ranked to 57th is remarkable, and we always make the ‘hot university’ rankings," said Riordan, who on her arrival led the charge to create a strategic plan for the school named for the cable pioneer. "We had not had a strategic plan since 2001 so we started with a retreat – taking a look at what the problems were and what the opportunities were. Our plan took six months and involved 350 people."

Among the plan’s initiatives, the school created a class called Gateway to Business, which has been in the national spotlight for having students design an app, write a business plan and then pitch their idea to venture capitalists.

"It’s a real hands-on application of going through the process of what it would take to start a business," said Riordan, 47, who was associate dean for external relations at Texas Christian University before being recruited for the top spot at Daniels.

Riordan was born in Michigan but grew up in Atlanta, earning a degree in materials engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and her MBA and Ph.D. from Georgia State.

"I was 17 when I went to college and was good at math and science," said Riordan, whose father holds a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and whose mother was an elementary school teacher who became a principal. "I paid my own way through college with grants, loans and merit awards."

With only 10 percent of engineering students female when she was in school, she became passionate about diversity issues. Her first job out of college was with the public utility Southern Co.

Today she travels widely, giving talks on everything from leadership development to workplace diversity while also writing monthly articles for mainstream business publications such as Forbes. She serves on the boards of several nonprofits locally and got involved with the exploratory committee that recommended Denver bid for the 2022 Olympic Games.

"It was a lot of work, but it also was a lot of fun," said Riordan, who chaired the Olympics Why, Why Not Committee. "We did a very thorough, honest assessment of what it would take. We really tore it apart and then put it back together. That was the due diligence that was necessary to come to an informed decision rather than an emotional one."

Now she looks forward to DU being at the forefront of the presidential election when it hosts the Oct. 3 presidential debate.

"We’re expecting 15,000 on campus and 3,000 journalists," Riordan said. "We have a whole series of programming that will be going on and this building will be a hub for it all."

With so much going on, no two days are the same in the dean’s office.

"This job fits who I am. It’s like being an entrepreneur because you are doing research and have the ability to craft your own research agenda and take it in any direction you want. And then beyond that, you can blend in consulting, leadership development or work on great committees like the Olympic bid committee," Riordan said. "I’m an avid learner myself, so I enjoy being in a dynamic, innovative environment with a lot of smart people."

Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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