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Home » Discover Rackham » Alumni Spotlight: Larry Crosby

Larry loves his job: ”Being a dean is a general management job. It has all of the functions that go into the president or a general manager of a business. I can apply everything I’ve learned in my Ph.D. and M.B.A. every day of the week. I make decisions around marketing, people, finance, strategy, IT, and really integrating all of that to put your best foot forward. That’s what you learn in graduate school – and I actually get to use it!”

Larry serves as the Dean of the Drucker School of Management in the Claremont Graduate University. “I feel very fortunate to be the dean here and have the honor and responsibility to help and manage that legacy into the 21st century.”

A local boy from Jackson, Michigan, Larry holds three degrees from U-M. He says, “I came over in 1967 into the College of Engineering and thought I would be an aerospace engineer. After a while, I felt like I was missing my calling and made a jump to LSA and got one of the first degrees bachelor of general studies degrees, with a heavy focus on social sciences. Then I sat back and said ‘now what am I going to do?’”

He saw an advertisement for a marketing research company, and his future unfolded from that one moment. He laughs when remembering, “It was 1971, and I needed a substantial haircut and had to ditch the bell bottoms for my interview. I didn’t have real shoes, so I interviewed in socks and sandals. They told me I got the job because I had the audacity to do that.”

He worked diligently for years and became the next heir apparent to JD Power, working with big accounts like Buick and Chevy on their national marketing plans. When the bottom fell out of the auto industry his boss encouraged him to go to grad school. “It didn’t take me long to decide I would go back to Michigan. I was accepted directly into the doctoral program, but was given an M.B.A. along the way. I was a marketing guy now and continued that emphasis through the PhD program and added public policy to that as well. I had some great professors, and feel that I’m forever indebted to my dissertation committee.”

As a graduate student, he was heavily involved at the Institution for Social Research. “Every Ph.D. student on campus practically took their stats education over there. We were extremely well trained.” He also remembers other ways in which his life was shaped on campus: “I was a student during the tumultuous times of the late 60s, and when I go back and see pictures of the protests against the Vietnam War, I’m impacted by all of that. It affected my world views and I have vivid memories of that experience. It was a time of change. Still, on campus Michigan football always loomed large. Growing up my family had 10 tickets on the 30 yard line in Michigan Stadium.” It was a bit of a family affair, and his sister Elaine followed him to U-M years later.

Larry started his career in academia at the University of Nebraska, where “I spent a great four years. When I arrived, I saw a lot of insurance companies in the area and took the notion of customer satisfaction and thought how it could apply to the insurance industry. I got substantial grants to research the project and was able to leverage it into a pretty good publication record. My next research focus was to shift from customer satisfaction to study the customer relationship and the notion of service quality.” This led to a return to U-M for a visiting professorship in the executive M.B.A. program. Larry then went to Arizona State University in Tempe, where he created the Center for Services Leadership, a groundbreaking center at a time when people were waking up to see how important service was to the U.S. economy.

He worked his way up academic totem poll to full professor, then to the amazement of his colleagues, he left academics. “I went to work for a marketing research company in Indianapolis who was focused on customer satisfaction and I took them global. After four years, I left and started my own company focused on customer satisfaction and customer relationships.” He grew that over a 10 year period, selling the company in 2004 to Synovate, a top 10 global marketing research firm and stayed with them to run their global practice in customer experience.

“At that point, I decided this was the time to go back into academics if I was going to do it at all. I talked to friends, thinking I might pursue an adjunct professorship and remain a consultant on the side, but a friend suggested I consider a position as a dean. I threw my hat in the ring and became the dean at the Spears School at Oklahoma State. After three years there, I was recruited to Drucker.”

The evolution of Larry’s interests has come full circle to his humble beginnings as a U-M undergraduate. Though his experience at U-M started in aerospace engineering, he’s drifted away from that field while always maintaining an interest in airplanes. He says, “At age 60, I finally got my pilot’s license. Now I fly to the mountains as much as I can.”

You’d be more likely to find him in the stadium seats one fall Saturday afternoon, but he has the capability now to pilot a flyover before the game begins. A versatile Rackham alumnus, for sure!