When he decided to leave his hometown of St. Louis to become the new Dean of the Williams School of Business at Xavier University earlier this year, Brian D. Till figured he would face a lot of changes.

What he didn't count on were the similarities.

"They are kind of eerie, in fact," said Till, 51, who left St. Louis University after 17 years on the faculty of its John Cook School of Business, the last seven as chair of its marketing department.

Till succeeds Ali Malekzadeh, who left Xavier last year to become the Dean of Business Administration at Kansas State University.

"People told me Cincinnati and St. Louis are pretty similar," Till says. Since starting his new job at Xavier in July, he tends to agree.

For example, he says, both are river cities with heritages as old industrial towns, and they each border a neighboring state.

"Both are cities of neighborhoods," he says, where people tend to be identified by where they grew up and the high school they attended.

"They both have a German-Catholic heritage," he says.

"There's a political split between city and county government."

And Xavier, like St. Louis University, is an urban, Jesuit institution.

Strategic Blueprint

While he finds his new school and city comfortable, Till said he's not coming in with pre-conceived plans.

"It would be kind of presumptuous," he says. "Second of all, nothing turns people off quicker than somebody from the outside coming in with their predetermined programs."

The Williams College, with 1,100 undergraduate students, 800 graduate students and a faculty of 70, is ranked among the nation's best business schools. For example, U.S. News and World Report ranks its executive MBA program 17th best in the nation, and Bloomberg Business Week ranks it 10th in business ethics.

Till said he is committed to developing a strategic plan as a blueprint for the future of the college.

A 20-person strategic planning group composed of faculty, staff, students and alumni will begin deliberations in October, and Till hopes it can complete its work by the end of the fall semester in December.

He won't discuss his views on the school's strengths and weaknesses for fear of prejudicing the group's deliberations, but he says he expects the process will focus on several areas.

Branding the College

One is refining the William College of Business brand.

As a former brand manager for Purina Co. in St. Louis, who has written about and taught what constitutes an effective brand strategy, it's a subject near and dear to Till.

The four keys to a successful branding strategy, he says, are that it differentiates the product, is relevant to the market it's trying to reach, is simple and consistent.

"We really want to clearly articulate what is special about the Williams College of Business . . . what is special about being a student at Williams College," he says.

"As I've talked to people in the business community here, there is an enthusiasm for the College of Business. There's an appreciation for the quality of students we graduate from the College of Business. In terms of what it means and represents, that's not as clear to me," he adds. "I think coming out of the strategic planning process, we'll have a clear sense of what we want it to mean."

A second focus of the process will be on the value of experiential learning.

"The idea here is we want students to study not just about business, but to be involved in things that give them the experience of business, whether in class or out of class," he says.

A third focus will be how to emphasize community engagement.

"It's looking at how can we, as a business college, as students and as faculty, be immersed in the Cincinnati region in a way that provides value for ourselves and the region."

ATTENDED PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Till attended public high school in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.

He earned a bachelor's degree in marketing and an MBA from the University of Texas in Austin before earning a doctorate in business administration from the University of South Carolina.

But his years at St. Louis University, Till says, have impressed on him the value of Jesuit education.

"Jesuits are strong advocates of educating the whole person," he says.

"It not just a student's intellectual development. It's also about their emotional, physical and spiritual development."

Additionally, he says, Jesuit institutions emphasize values and ethics in the decision-making process.

"As we've seen with some of the missteps in business over the last decade, we could use more of that," he says.

flying put on hold for now

Away from school, Till, who is single, enjoys running and living in downtown Cincinnati.

"I love the energy downtown. Cincinnati has gone further than St. Louis has in creating a downtown with a residential feel to it," he says.

Another passion is flying. He earned his pilot's license while at St. Louis and has accumulated about 250 solo hours. But he sold his ownership share in a small Cessna when he moved here.

"I enjoy the challenge of flying. There's something about being up there and being unfettered," he says.

For now, though, flying will have to wait. Till says he's focused on his new job at Xavier.

"I'm excited to be here and looking forward to the journey ahead," he says.