‘Former hippie’ evolves into business school dean

The Carlson School dean attended the University of California-Berkeley.

Carlson School of Management Dean Larry Benveniste is the silver-haired paradigm of professional deportment.

From his signature crisp white shirt and tie to his composed and thoughtful communication style, Benveniste is the Carlson School’s public face.

The dean – who is currently lobbying the Legislature to approve a $1.7 million bonding bill to plan the expansion of the Carlson School’s undergraduate facilities – has lived many lives.

Benveniste, who five years ago never wanted to be the school’s dean, said he is not the product of a polished life but is an evolution of character that began in the 1960s tumultuous social climate.

He described himself as a “former hippie” who attended the University of California-Berkeley during the Vietnam War era.

He drove trucks for his father’s hardware store in Southern California to pay his way through college, where he earned a doctoral degree in mathematics, Benveniste said.

“Going to college to me was incredibly eye-opening,” he said.

While attending a university that helped shape the nation’s social consciousness, Benveniste said it was difficult not to think idealistically.

Issues such as discrimination, homelessness and corporate America’s government role were being publicly scrutinized like never before, he said.

“At that time, as a young college student, it was very easy to be very emotional about these issues,” he said. “There were, and there are, a lot of wrongs in the world.”

But as Benveniste matured he had another eye-opening experience, he said.

“As I grew up, especially when I began to study economics, I began to realize that there is no easy solution,” he said.

“We used to think, just identify the problem and fix it.

“Economics tells you that for everything you try to do there are unexpected consequences that are not necessarily good,” he said. “Solutions are much more difficult than I ever expected when I was younger.”

Benveniste remains socially liberal but is economically conservative, he said.

Carleen Kerttlula, the Carlson School’s assistant dean, said even while Benveniste was a professor, he was always resolute.

“He was always very bottom-line oriented,” she said. “He asked the tough questions.”

Benveniste said his study of mathematics taught him to find logical solutions to problems.

“It’s not necessarily what you learn, but how you develop your mind’s ability to think through situations,” he said. “You get a real sense of when you have a complete, logical, well-supported position.”

A challenging role

Though Benveniste never aspired to head Carlson School, he moved from faculty member to dean in approximately one and a half years.

“I view it as a sequence of events, and suddenly I found myself in this position,” he said.

“Sometimes things happen in life and you just follow your gut.”

But Benveniste said he had not fully considered the role’s challenges.

Working with others as a leader is different than working with formulas, he said.

“Leading any organization is incredibly hard,” Benveniste said.

He also said that because of his demanding public role as the Carlson School’s representative, he must now live up to a higher standard.

“Everywhere you go and everything you do, you have to realize you’re in a fishbowl now,” he said.

At least one colleague believes the dean is not much different than he was as a professor.

“I don’t think the fundamental guy has changed,” said Carlson School finance professor and friend John Boyd.

On the bonding bill

Benveniste said the business community expects the bonding bill to pass. He also said he feels confident it will win approval in the Legislature.

“The community sees the opportunity for this school to become a national leader and really expects it,” he said. “That puts a certain pressure on me to deliver it.”

Boyd said Benveniste is up to the task.

“He works like a slave,” Boyd said. “He’s the leader and the buck stops there.

“He’s able to set an agenda and stick to his priorities.”

Benveniste, who has been dean for approximately three years, said he enjoys his job, but realizes the role is not meant to be permanent, he said.

“There’s a limit. Every organization needs periodic turnover to keep ideas fresh,” he said. “I have no aspirations to stay here longer than what would be good for the school.”