Breaking the rules

A Silicon Valley outsider brings her perspective to the Leavey School of Business.

Caryn Beck-Dudley is bringing her outsider experience to SCU’s Leavey School of Business

Caryn Beck-Dudley has some experience as an outsider.

She was a nonpracticing Mormon in Utah—Mormon country. She was the first pregnant, pre-tenure professor in tenure track line at Utah State; that was in 1986. She is a lawyer who has built her academic career in business schools, which are typically run by men.

Now as a California transplant, Beck-Dudley calls Silicon Valley home as the new dean of the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. She is the first woman to head the B-school, as she was the first woman at the B-schools at both Utah State and Florida State.

She sat down recently to discuss her observations of the business community here, how the business school is changing, and the challenges students face in the fast-paced tech industry.

Q: What do you think of Silicon Valley so far?

A: The way I describe it to people who aren’t from here is that these are people who started businesses, ended businesses, failed at businesses, started another business, all before they were 40. You just don’t see that type of vibrancy in other places. The conversations are different, the pace is different. The tolerance for risk taking and the tolerance for failure is almost idiosyncratic to this valley. People give money to things they know won’t succeed. In other parts of the country, people don’t give you money if they (don’t) think you were going to be successful and if you haven’t proven you will be successful. This is the bleeding edge of technology—they don’t know if it will work tomorrow or in five years or 10 years. I like being in that kind of environment, and I like training students to be in that kind of environment.

Q: Does that go-go energy ever seem too much?

A: It’s incredibly competitive. I don’t know if people have down time. Don’t you do anything that’s not competitive? Do you do it just for fun?

Q: When you talk to Silicon Valley leaders, what do they want from Santa Clara business students?

A: Before I got here, the university was looking at its masters programs. What I brought is that you need industry boards. What businesses tell us is that what students need is not a series of courses taken in a certain order but to treat each class like (it is) part of a consulting firm. For data analysis, for example, the business community wants to see that students can look at data and solve a problem. The curriculum will be redesigned so that it will be project-based in all quarters.

Q: Silicon Valley workers struggle to keep their skills fresh. How do you educate people in that kind of environment?

A: It’s very hard to keep up skills and even the faculty here talks about it. One of the advantages of being here is you see the shift. If you are sitting in Florida or Iowa or Utah, you may miss it until it’s too late. Here, since everyone talks about it, you see the shift. You might not be able to stay on top of it, but you can see it is occurring. One approach: give students specific skills to get their first job, but also general courses, on topics such as innovation.

Q: Silicon Valley is engaged in a discussion about diversity in tech. What do you tell students who are worried about the barriers they may face?

A: About 10 percent of business deans are women. Law has made huge strides, medicine has made huge strides. I’m not sure why business hasn’t. I plan to develop a Women in Entrepreneurship club at the university. We have a lot of women students, and they need to see women role models in the tech industry.

I tell them that laughter is very good medicine for both men and women. You have to be really good at your work. You can’t use your gender not to be good at your work. It is what it is. You may have to be better than others.

Q: Some of your early work was looking at ethical organizations. What makes an ethical organization?

A: My hypothesis is that they can’t be rule-based. If you have a lot of rules, then people find a way to break the rules. You have to have a virtuous organization. My least favorite sentence is, “We have a workaround for that.” Why don’t we change the rule?


Born: American Fork, Utah

Age: 57

Career: Dean of the College of Business at Florida State University; dean, department head and professor of management and human resources in the College of Business at Utah State University; an attorney in commercial and corporate law with Van Cott, Bagley, Cornwall & McCarthy

Education: Utah State University, graduated magna cum laude in political science; University of Idaho College of Law, J.D.

Family: Widowed; two grown children who live in California

Home: Santa Clara, CA


  1. She likes to fly-fish.
  2. She has a ranch in Utah with no Wi-Fi.
  3. She doesn’t like marshmallows unless she is camping and puts them on the stick herself.
  4. Her first job was as a “counter girl” at a golf course.
  5. She is on the board of an organization in Tallahassee, Florida, that serves the homeless.

This article first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News under a different title.

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