By Michelle Grainger
Dan McGurrin began his career tearing down walls. Now he’s spending his days building bridges. Metaphorically, of course, because McGurrin’s field is executive education. In this profile—one of a series on the staff, faculty and fellows of CIMS and its partner organizations at NC State’s Poole College of Management—he traces his journey from curious student to impassioned educator.
As a freshly minted MBA in the mid-1990s with a zeal for foreign travel, Dan McGurrin went to Eastern Europe to help businesses learn how to embrace a free-market system after years of communism. Today, he’s connecting companies with the resources, expertise and programs at the Poole College of Management that can help them rise above the competition.
McGurrin, who began work as Director of Executive Education at the College almost three years ago, joined the College at an exciting time. It had recently announced its new approach to executive education. The new model, Business Collaboratories, draws from a deep pool of faculty expertise and highly regarded centers of excellence. Business Collaboratories function as business clinics, each with a cross-disciplinary team of faculty and other subject-matter experts who work collaboratively with a company’s business leaders, using proven tools and techniques to diagnose an organization’s toughest problems.
Together, the team of experts and company leaders work through a wide range of operational challenges that may include technology evaluation and commercialization, new product and service development, supply chain operations, enterprise risk, and organizational behavior.
This approach resonates with McGurrin, who has long believed that template-based,
“me-too” executive programs don’t serve businesses well. Such an approach also failsto distinguish university executive programs from the services offered by consulting firms, which often compete in the same space.
“Over the years, executive education has been seen as a cash cow for business schools, and it’s been managed as a business separate from the school,” he said. “But I came to realize that executive education can be much more when linked to the unique research models being developed by the faculty and how these can be used to assess the needs of companies. Paul Mugge (Executive Director of Executive Programs at the time, and still Executive Director of CIMS) had the same thing in mind, which is one of the reasons I was excited to come here.”
Focusing on a research-driven, customized model of delivering executive education is something that, according to McGurrin, only a handful of major universities are doing. Given its status as technology-rich major research university, McGurrin thinks this emphasis is the right one for NC State. “We’re not interested in competing with Harvard or Wharton, we are carving out a new niche,” he said.
McGurrin came to Poole College from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he served as Program Director of Executive Development for eight years. During his tenure, he worked with a handful of companies on both short-term problems and long-term opportunities. He played a key role in the program’s evolution from mainly open-enrollment offerings to one today that focuses on custom programs.
He has also worked in executive education at Boston University and at Indiana University, his alma mater. Shortly after receiving his MBA in international marketing from IU in 1995, McGurrin was offered a once-in-a lifetime opportunity with the USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) to work in Budapest, Hungary, helping businesses transition to a market-based economy. McGurrin considers this his first experience in executive education. Among his accomplishments—which included learning passable Hungarian, one of six foreign languages he’s studied—was establishing a case study library targeted toward Eastern Europe. Prior to this, the only case studies available to executives in former Iron Curtain countries featured American companies, so a lot of situations weren’t applicable.
The USAID job wasn’t his first time in Eastern Europe. After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Richmond, he joined a student group studying and researching in Russia in 1992. And while getting his MBA, he interned at a pharmaceutical company in Slovenia.
McGurrin comes by his passion for education naturally. A native of a small town in upstate New York, McGurrin is the son of a librarian and math teacher. Tired of the New York winters, McGurrin’s parents relocated to the Triangle in 1988; his father is still active in education, offering private tutoring services to high school students. McGurrin’s younger sister also lives in the area with her family.
Now living in Cary with his wife, Michelle, and their three children, McGurrin still loves to travel. But given his work and family commitments, he is enjoying life in what is a surprisingly diverse community.
“Cary is a very multicultural place,” he said.
And with Poole College’s growing global emphasis—it has partnerships with schools in France, China, the Netherlands and Brazil—McGurrin will still get plenty of international exposure.