by Amy Borer
photography by Rhidian Maehl
At 1:35 p.m. on a busy Thursday, Dr. William Relf, dean of the School of Business and Economics, returns to his office on the second floor of the Landis Academic Building. He checks the messages left for him by his secretary and returns each call, setting up appointments and meetings for later in the day.
“I typically have two or three scheduled meetings a day, and anywhere from three to 10 additional unscheduled meetings,” he says, explaining his busy schedule. “I also spend a lot of time on the telephone and going through the inches of mail we receive each day.”
Dr. Relf, who has held his current position since August 1995, is responsible for the School of Business and Economics in terms of managing and leading it into the future. Part of the future planning for the School includes the development of a strategic plan, which is part of a larger University-wide plan to carry it into the 21st Century.
“I think the best way we can prepare for the 21st century is to help in the development of personal competencies and personal values that will equip them [students] for the rapidly changing world,” he says.
Dr. Relf also believes that the school needs to create a uniqueness that separates it from the other business schools in Southern California. “I think the business education tradition has prepared students to fit in large companies with a particular specialization,” he says. “For the 21st century, we will need to be more entrepreneurial, more individualistic and rely upon our abilities to perform in different organizational situations. The traditional corporate organization in the United States is a dying breed.
“We’re trying to find a new market niche for our on campus MBA [Masters of Business Administration degree]. We have a number of well financed new competitors moving into Southern California, and so we have to find a unique way to serve students that is special to the University of La Verne.”
Part of the plan for restructuring the School includes updating its curriculum. “We’re in the process of redesigning the traditional MBA, which has been in the past for students with no business experience,” says Dr. Relf. “We’ve begun the process of revising our undergraduate curriculum to be more market sensitive and to give students more options. A very important move that we are just beginning is to create new majors that combine disciplines in arts and sciences with business.”
According to Dr. Relf, this combining of disciplines would enable a student, whose primary interest is in the arts area, political area or media communications area to specialize in these areas while at the same time gaining competencies in the business area to prepare them for management positions. Classes in the combined disciplines will definitely be offered in the fall of 1998, but there is a possibility that at least one program will begin next fall.
“I’m frustrated that we haven’t moved faster, but other challenges in the School of Business have had to take priority,” he says.
Not only does Dr. Relf envision expanding his School on the La Verne campus, but also globally, including centers in Hong Kong and Zimbabwe. “Within the United States we have an oversupply of schools offering MBAs,” he explains. “The fastest growing market for MBAs is the international one. We are looking at the feasibility of entering those markets. Our goal is to provide added opportunities for our students and faculty for research and multicultural experience.”
With a long career in business education, Dr. Relf also has a long history with the University of La Verne. He served at the University from 1967 to 1972 as dean of curriculum and student development.
During that time, he also began playing tennis.
“I learned to play tennis at La Verne in 1967,” he explains. “My teachers were John Gingrich [current dean of the school of arts and sciences], Dwight Hanawalt and Nancy Blickenstaff.”
Dr. Relf left La Verne in 1972 and spent the next three years living in Singapore, where he was a professor of management at Nanyang University, a Chinese university. “I traveled through Malaysia, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia and Brunei, where I taught, as well as consulted and conducted workshops.”
In 1975, Dr. Relf returned to the United States and ULV for one more year, teaching in the fields of business and American foreign policy and serving as the chairman of the Business and Economics Department before taking a post as a professor of management at Cal Poly, Pomona. He remained in that position for 20 years, then returned to La Verne in his current position.
“I had close personal ties with people here at La Verne that go back many years,” he explains of his return. “It isn’t so much that I left Cal Poly, but rather I came back to La Verne. I wasn’t even looking for a new place.”
In the nearly 30 years that Dr. Relf has been connected to the University, he has seen a change in structure.
“When I first came, La Verne was a small, liberal arts, church related college oriented primarily to traditional age college students. We are now a university with professional schools, and these professional schools serve about 70 to 80 percent of our students,” he says.
Outside of business, Dr. Relf enjoys reading and playing golf.
“I started playing golf when I was a kid. Someone gave me a bag of old clubs. I was raised in a mill town and used to caddie at a country club. I never thought at that time that I’d be playing at one,” he says, referring to a country club in Glendora where he plays on weekends.
But right now golf is far from Dr. Relf’s mind as he returns one more phone call and prepares for an afternoon meeting with a couple of members of his school’s faculty, proving that the world of business is never ending.