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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Stevens guided growth of business school for 22 years

Dave Stevens is best known for his work on the Rizzo Center. By Jon Gardiner.


Dave Stevens still remembers a conversation from early 1996. Two business visionaries, Frank Kenan and Paul Rizzo, were discussing a new executive education conference center for Carolina’s business school.

Even though Stevens had started his job as the school’s associate dean for business operations just the year before, he had been here long enough to understand the stature of each man and the weight of their words.

Kenan-Flagler Business School had borne Kenan’s name since 1991. Rizzo had proposed the idea of a conference center during his tenure as the school’s dean from 1987 to 1992.

“I remember Frank looking at Paul and saying, ‘You know, when I am up there looking down at these buildings, I don’t want to see anything cheap. Those roofs are going to be slate just like the house,’” Stevens recalled.

“The house” was the DuBose House, the 20,000 square-foot manor built in 1933 by David St. Pierre DuBose and his wife, Valinda, and later donated by the Dubose family – along with 28 acres – to Carolina.

Kenan, at 83, died in summer of 1996, months after that conversation took place.But four years later, when the first phase of the conference center was completed, the buildings had slate shingles on every roof, just as Kenan had wanted.

Stevens made sure of it.

Executing the vision

Rizzo, who died early this year, lived long enough to witness the completion of his original vision for the conference center that the school named in his honor. The Rizzo Conference Center has become a thriving campus for executive programs, with a dining facility in the Dubose House and other buildings that house a first-class residence center and state-of-the-art classrooms.

In each phase of development, Stevens’ steady hand guided the project forward – a fact acknowledged again and again by the longtime colleagues who nominated him for a 2017 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

In a jointly written nominating letter, Lynne Brody, assistant dean of human resources, and Christy Dodson, assistant dean of finance, define Stevens’ role this way: “The business school would not be where it is today without the Rizzo Conference Center, and the Rizzo Conference Center would not exist as it is today without Dave Stevens.”

Paul Fulton, the former dean who hired Stevens, affirmed the central role Stevens played in his nominating letter. “More than anyone, he made it happen,” Fulton wrote. “His vision, coordination, planning and execution were most instrumental from the start – or before the start – until today. Dave was the quiet implementer that gave everyone confidence in a plan for the development of the center.”

Building a legacy

In his 22 years of service, Stevens oversaw the construction of the McColl Building and was also deeply involved in the expansion of the full-time MBA program and the launch of MBA@UNC, Weekend MBA, Global OneMBA and the UNC Executive Development Program.

In her nominating letter, longtime colleague Jennifer Conrad, the McMichael Distinguished Professor of Finance, documented the rise of the business school to the creation of the Rizzo Center, which allowed the school’s executive education program to blossom.

In the current academic year, Conrad wrote, the Executive Development Program is expected to bring in $25 million in revenue, “up from $4 million prior to Dave joining the school.”

The revenues, she added, have furthered the school’s teaching mission with a range of corporate and government clients. At the same time, proceeds from executive education have also been used to provide research funding and to offer competitive hiring packages for faculty.

David Stevens. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

Stevens said winning the Massey, was a tremendous honor that, near the end of his career, matched the pride he felt in 2000 when he received the Weatherspoon award within the business school. One reason he values the awards so much is because they connect him to two families who have contributed so much to Carolina. It feels even better to know, Stevens said, that the people you have worked with for a long time appreciate what you do.

But it is the tremendous progress that the school has made that matters to him most of all, he said. When he started in 1995, revenue at Kenan-Flager was $16 million. It is now more than $160 million. Back then, the school’s endowment was $40 million. Now it’s $170 million. The school had just over 100 faculty and staff members. Now, including the part-time faculty for the school’s on-line programs, school employees number
nearly 500.

“That is pretty amazing growth and it’s been a fun ride to be a part of that,” Stevens said.

But Stevens was more than just part of that phenomenal growth, Conrad said. He was the key to it all.

“The success that Kenan-Flagler has enjoyed over the past two decades would not have been possible without Dave’s steady management of growth,” Conrad said. “He has had a significant influence on every aspect of our mission, and has, perhaps more than any other single individual during that time period, shaped the school.”

As senior associate dean of business and operations, Stevens is responsible for the school’s finance and administration, human resources, facilities and information technology. With his wide range of expertise, said business school dean Douglas A. Shackelford, Stevens has provided the “strategic and administrative glue” to support the business school’s growth and high national rankings in business education.

“In short, everything that we enjoy here at the school has Dave’s imprint on it,” Shackelford said, “and Dave’s wisdom is sought for every major decision we undertake.”

That’s why Shackelford said that the success of the Rizzo Center is only part of Stevens’ legacy.

But Stevens said he knows that the one thing he will be remembered for is the Rizzo Center – and that suits him just fine.