Factory Man

SBA Dean Pyke is all business

Some people enjoy visiting museums or monuments while on vacation. Others relish amusement parks or quirky roadside attractions. David Pyke is partial to factories.

“My family jokes that we just go from factory to factory when we travel,” the School of Business Administration dean says with playful indignation. “That’s not exactly true.”

It’s not entirely false either. Pyke’s interest was first piqued on his own childhood vacations when his family would occasionally tour a paper-making factory or a Spalding plant churning out baseballs by the thousands.

“It’s something that was kindled early on,” he says. “I just loved watching the process and seeing how things were being made.”

Pyke’s office is a full-scale dio-rama of elegant academia – immaculate desk, large orderly bookcase, shiny plaques, awards and diplomas placed with tasteful restraint – all lofty hallmarks of a life of the mind.

There are two mementos, however, that hint at his appreciation for the tangible machinations of the business world.

One is a miniature replica tractor given by a colleague who’d visited a John Deere production facility. The other is a still photograph taken from an “I Love Lucy” episode – involving Lucy’s ill-fated tenure at a candy factory – that Pyke routinely uses in his signature factory physics lecture.

Convincing people that there’s “something kind of fun” about assembly lines would seemingly be a hard sell, but Pyke’s appreciation for the immediacy – and intricacies – of a bustling factory is illustrative of the intrepid spirit that led him to USD in the first place.

“I love being in an environment where people are constantly asking hard questions and trying to solve hard problems,” he says. “There should be a culture in an academic environment that welcomes challenging problems, exploring new ideas and learning new things. We have that here.”

If it’s a challenge that Pyke was after, he had impeccable timing when he took over the dean’s office in the summer of 2008, just as the country was sifting through the debris of economic collapse. Rather than wring their hands, Pyke and the SBA faculty sprang into action by hosting a panel discussion and integrating analysis of the financial meltdown into their classrooms.

“Turbulent economic times are actually exciting times to be in a university environment,” he says. “It’s intellectually challenging, you’re constantly thinking, looking for solutions and then communicating what you’re learning.”

Pyke credits his parents for helping spark his own inquisitive nature. His father was raised in China as the son of American missionaries and went on to become a theology
professor in Washington D.C.

Pyke himself grew up in a veritable Norman Rockwell painting – complete with sandlot baseball and a paper route – in suburban Maryland. He played basketball, majored in sociology at Haverford College and taught middle school math (while netting an MBA from Drexel University) before earning his PhD in operations management from the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School.

In 1987, Pyke joined the faculty at Dartmouth College’s Amos Tuck School of Business Administration and became an established professor, researcher and associate dean while also teaching at universities in Japan, Finland and Germany and working as a consultant for major companies like the Rand Corporation, DHL and Home Depot.

After being offered the dean position at USD, Pyke was faced with the difficult prospect of leaving the security of his East Coast roots: “It was a tough decision in many ways,” he acknowledges, “but in the end, coming to USD just felt like the perfect fit.”

Drawn to USD by its academic reputation and dedication to social responsibility, Pyke was also lured by the chance to help the SBA continue to emerge as one of the nation’s elite business schools. Among other things, he is focused on further developing the MBA program while also establishing an increased emphasis on “dual excellence” in both teaching and research.

In other words, the man who’s spent a lifetime watching things be built now has the opportunity to help build something himself.

“It’s definitely invigorating,” Pyke says. “When you have a high level of energy to go along with great minds and fascinating ideas, it’s exciting to be able to help nurture that.”