University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 150: History of the Walton College

November 24, 2021  |  By Matt Waller

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In this landmark 150th episode of Be EPIC, host Matt Waller takes us on a trip through the comprehensive history of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. 

Listen as Matt shares the unique story behind notable departments and programs, recent successful endeavors in entrepreneurship and research, and some of his personal favorite Be EPIC interviews.

Episode Transcript


0:00:04.2 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality and what those values mean in business, education and your life today.


0:00:22.5 Matt Waller: This is the 150th episode of the Be EPIC Podcast, almost three years. We publish one every Wednesday morning, so it's not quite three years, but 150 is a special number, because this is also the 150th anniversary of the University of Arkansas. The University of Arkansas was established in 1871 and there wasn't much around here in Fayetteville, in Bentonville, in Springdale in this area, when the university was established. Really, there wasn't a lot here in 1994 when I moved here. It was certainly more built up than it was in 1871, but we wanted to celebrate the 150th episode of the Be EPIC Podcast today. So we're gonna be talking about the Walton College, and we're gonna be talking about business in general.

0:01:20.7 Matt Waller: You know, as I mentioned, the University was established in 1871, the university wasn't established for over 50 more years, it was established in 1926. It was in the third floor of Old Main, if you're familiar with the University of Arkansas. Our most iconic building is called Old Main, it's a beautiful building with a nice bell towers. Then we had in 1930, just a few years later, something called the Master of Science and Business Administration, which eventually became the MBA. There weren't a lot of MBA type programs back then, and the other thing that's interesting is, we were accredited just five years after we opened our doors as a business school in 1931 by the AACSB, which is the gold standard for accreditation of business schools. Something that's interesting, but that is, we just recently went through our re-accreditation in October, so just a few weeks ago, we went through re-accreditation. We do that every five years.

0:02:34.1 Matt Waller: Back then, when the business school was first established, it was called the School of Business Administration, and the year that we were accredited for the first time, the business school was renamed to the College of Business Administration. And it's really interesting, because we have something called The Center for Business and Economic Research and it's pretty widely known. Every year we have the business forecast luncheon. But back then, when it was established in 1943, it was called the Bureau for Business and Economic Research. And back in 1944, World War II was going on and our enrollment went down from 500 students in 1941 to just 195 students. We had 195 students in the business school. Now, keep in mind, we currently have over 7100 students, so the size of the business school was so small back then and we had two female business students for every male, so it was a very different situation back then.

0:03:50.6 Matt Waller: The business school currently, the Walton College of Business, actually has two PhD degrees. One is the PhD in Economics and the other is the PhD in Business Administration. Now, the PhD in Business Administration has lots of different areas you can get your PhD within in business, but the first PhD we had was in Economics and that was in 1950 and that was the year that we renamed the Masters of Science and Business Administration to the MBA or Master of Business Administration. And in 1954, business professor, a law professor and an MBA student created the nation's first commercially viable annuity life insurance company. And it's very significant, because the values of the Walton College are represented by the acronym EPIC, excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality. And that innovation is really key to who we are as a university, as a college.

0:04:53.5 Matt Waller: Innovation is the key to economic growth, so it's very important to the college. And if you look at our mission, so not only is innovation in our values, it's also in our mission. To advance and disseminate business knowledge using a diverse, inclusive and global perspective and encouraging innovation in our primary strategic endeavors, which include retail entrepreneurship and analytics. And of course, when we say retail, we mean in the broadest sense, it includes Omnichannel, it includes e-commerce, it includes supply chain, consumer product. It's a broad concept. Then, as I mentioned in 1950, the PhD in economics was created. In 1959, we created our PhD in Business Administration. The primary purpose of our PhD in business is to create and produce research professors who will go to research universities.

0:05:51.1 Matt Waller: The other reason this is such an important milestone, this 150th podcast episode, is that not only is it the 150th anniversary of the University of Arkansas, it's the 50th anniversary of the portfolio management class. Professor Robert Kennedy started the portfolio management class with a $100,000 fund that was established by Raymond Rebsamen in 1971. It's one of the oldest and best funded and most comprehensive portfolio management classes in the country. We believe it was the third one created in history in a business school. In 1975, the Masters of Science and Accounting was established. And today our... It's called... It has a different name, it's the Master of Professional Accounting. It now has over 70 students. It's grown quite substantially, it's been redesigned too. In 1978, we moved from Ozark Avenue to the Business Administration Building. The main building that you see when you come to the Business School, it's called The Business Building, and it was built in 1978. It only cost $5 million to build, which is quite inexpensive.

0:07:15.2 Matt Waller: One other big milestone in the college was when we hired Doyle Williams to be dean in 1993. He really helped us move into a growth mode in enrollment, he also really helped us start getting entrepreneurship going to some degree. He wanted us to have more of a global perspective, more diverse global perspective. And he established many things, he established something we called the Honors banquet, where we recognize outstanding students and faculty and staff and alumni. He established what's called the dean's executive advisory board, which is very important to me and if you Google it, Dean's Executive Advisory Board, Walton College, you'll see it's an amazing list of people. In 1995, he established the Business Alumni Advisory Counsel or BAAC, another group of amazing people that's really important to the college. He also established in 1995, the Business Forecast Luncheon, it usually sells out with over a 1000 people, if you Google, business forecast luncheon, you'll see it's a huge deal and we're having it again, in February of 2022 this year.

0:08:36.5 Matt Waller: In 1996, we received a $6.7 million gift from The Reynolds Foundation to build The Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development, which still exists, is where The Reynolds Center Auditorium is. We have executive education in there and all kinds of special events, but I think the biggest landmark in the College of Business was in 1998. In 1998, a $50 million gift, the largest up-front cash gift ever given to a public business school at the time, was given to us by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation. It established many faculty chairs, research centers and other important aspects of the college, but the chairs were really important. We have an unusually high percentage of chairs compared to how many faculty we have, way more than most business schools and it's because of that gift, it allowed us to go out and find faculty, some of the best faculty in the country from many other universities. And in that year, the college was renamed to The Sam M. Walton College of Business Administration. We later dropped the word administration, now it's called the Sam M. Walton College of Business. In 1998, we also created the Graduate School of Business to oversee all of the master and doctoral programs in the college. In 1999, all of a sudden we were finally ranked by US News and World Report, prior of that, we weren't in the rankings, but in 1999, we ranked in the top 50, we were 48th for public undergraduate business schools.

0:10:24.0 Matt Waller: Just to give you an idea, today we are ranked 24th among public business schools and amongst public and private combined in the US News and World Report we're ranked 36. In fact, last year, we went from being ranked 44th, as for public and private combined to 36, so we had a huge improvement. As I mentioned earlier, 1998 was one of the most pivotal times in the history of the college, that's when we became The Sam M. Walton College of Business. One of the most pivotal times in the history of the university was 2002, when the University received a $300 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation and it was used as matching money, so many other gifts were given during that time. It had a huge impact on the university, but it also had a huge impact on the business school as well. Another important pivotal time in the history of the college was the hiring of Dan Worrell in 2005 as dean. He did a number of things that really helped us move forward as a college. One, we opened The Willard Walker Hall, which is right across the courtyard from the Business Administration Building. Willard J. Walker Hall has our financial training center and it also has a lot of graduate like MBA classrooms.

0:11:54.2 Matt Waller: That same year, the JB Hunt Transport Services Center for Academic Excellence was open. With a gift of $10 million from JB Hunt Transport Services, Inc. We don't use all the space in that building, it's also used by the College of Engineering. And then he established the Department of Supply Chain Management in 2011 and that was really a big deal, because in 2011, when we formed the Department of Supply Chain Management, we already had... Back in the early '70s, we had a few courses in transportation. We eventually changed the name of the marketing department to the department of marketing and transportation, it was then changed to the department of marketing and logistics, and that was eventually spun out of the department and we created the Department of Supply Chain Management in 2011, July 1st, 2011. What's interesting is, in less than 10 years, the undergraduate program and supply chain management was ranked number one by Gartner, so in less than 10 years, we rose through the ranks very quickly.

0:13:02.6 Matt Waller: Another pivotal point is 2012, when Eli Jones became the Dean of the Business School and he created... Under his watch, the business analytics certificate was created and the fully online program in Business Administration was created in 2014. He was here a short time because he went through to his alma mater to be Dean at Texas A&M, the Mays Business School, but those were two very important things, advancing business analytics and our online capabilities. I became interim dean in 2015 and I also became dean then in 2016. In 2016 the McMillon Innovation Studio was established with a million dollar gift from Doug and Shelley McMillan. Doug is an alum of ours, who is now CEO of Walmart. The CEO of Walmart US, John Furner is also an alum of our college as well. In 2017, the Brewer Hub was opened on the Fayetteville Square for collaboration and co-working space for early stage companies and entrepreneurs. Thanks to the Brewer family, Clete Brewer is still very involved in our college as an alum and he's on my advisory board. We also received a $7 million gift that year to help the Supply Chain Management Research Center include supply chain policy topics as a part of their mission.

0:14:40.8 Matt Waller: And it's been extremely successful. We've had congressional hearings, publications, two special issues of academic journals and more on policy issues around supply chain. There have been a lot of organizations that are there that look at transportation policy issues, but not the broader supply chain policy issues. And so, that's been very successful. Also in 2017, we established two more online degrees, one in accounting and one in supply chain management. It's funny now, in 2021, to think back on 2018, that's the year that we created the blockchain Center of Excellence, and we hired Mary Lacity, who's an expert in robotic process automation and Blockchain to lead that Center of Excellence, which is extremely successful today. It's funny though, back then, people thought blockchain might be a fad, they thought we might be wasting our time and resources by creating that center. I don't think people think that today. Blockchain is a key part of new technologies and processes that are being created in industry. Blockchain really first came into being with Bitcoin, it's a part of Bitcoin, but now there's other types of crypto technologies like Ethereum, where they have smart contracts that enable really efficient business processes to be established.

0:16:13.4 Matt Waller: Now, we realize Blockchain is not a fad, it's very important, just like crypto technologies and crypto assets are quite important. So, we were kind of ahead of our time when we established that. The Department of Information Systems in the Walton College has been very entrepreneurial over the years and this was one of their important creations. We also created the Dean's Roundtable of entrepreneurs and market makers who are the dream board in 2018 and I felt like, you know, I had two boards already, the dean's executive advisory reported and the Dean's Alumni Advisory Council, but given the fact that entrepreneurship is one of our key strategic endeavors in our mission statement, I thought it would be nice to have a group of people I could call upon to help with entrepreneurial questions for the college. In 2019, we established the Executive Education in Little Rock, we call it Walton College at 2nd and Maine, and it's been very successful.

0:17:18.0 Matt Waller: And Brent Williams has really led the initiative to get Walton College at 2nd and Main going, and the purpose of it really was to provide more of a connection between the Walton College and Little Rock Central, Arkansas in general. And as I said, it's been very successful. In 2019, we also received another million dollars from Doug and Shelley McMillon to try to scale up the McMillon Innovation Studio, which we have done. Now, 2020 was a huge year for the Walton College. We developed a brand new department, it's called the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation. We call it SEVI for short. So keep in mind, the Department of Supply Chain Management was created in 2011. So nine years later, a new department, but before that, departments were not created very frequently, decades, many decades would go by. So, from 2011-2020, we established two new departments and it made sense to create this new department, especially again, given that the entrepreneurship is one of our primary strategic endeavours of the college.

0:18:26.0 Matt Waller: The university has the Office of entrepreneurship and innovation, or what we call OEI, which is led by Sarah Goforth and it's made tremendous progress. I'm very happy with what it's doing. But the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation is focused on delivering academic curriculum, as well as research in that field of... Those fields of strategy and entrepreneurship. The other thing that happened in 2020 that I mentioned earlier is that the supply chain management undergraduate program was ranked Number One in North America by Gardner. Another very, very pivotal event in 2020 was that Bill Dillard, the CEO of Dillard Department Store, gave us a gift of $10 million to create the William Dillard Department of Accounting, huge impact for that department. We also established five new Masters programs in 2020, the Master of Science and economic analytics, the master of professional accounting, the master of applied business analytics, the master of Supply Chain Management and the Master of Science in Finance and they've all grown rapidly.

0:19:40.9 Matt Waller: Just to give you an idea, the new professional master's of accounting started with 57 in 2020 and now has 70 students. The Master's of applied business analytics went from 10 students to 27 students in one year, from the first year to the second year. The Master's of Science and economic analytics went from 11-15. The Master of Science in finance went from 10-21, and the Master of supply chain management went from 13-40. Those are some of our new programs, we actually have other new Master's programs that will be coming out as well, but there's a lot more that was created in 2020. We started what was called the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative and that is headed up and formed by Cindy Moehring. Cindy was the Chief Ethics Officer and Senior Vice President at Walmart. She was at Walmart for almost 20 years, and.

0:20:42.9 Matt Waller: We started this business integrity leadership initiative because we realized that a small percentage of our students, under 20% of our students were receiving any substantive education in business ethics by the time they graduated through this new program, it's over 100% now, but in addition to that, they start getting education in their first semester in the business school. And we've also had huge outreach efforts to the community along these lines as well. Good thing that happened in 2020 is the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals located... Which is in Chicago, located their supply chain Hall of Fame to Rogers, Arkansas under the stewardship of the Walton College. So the largest professional organization in supply chain management located their Hall of Fame to Rogers, Arkansas, which is quite remarkable.

0:21:40.5 Matt Waller: But the physical space is beautiful, and it was provided by support from John L Hunt and the Blast family. Also in 2020, we started the Blockchain Enterprise Systems Concentration. And in 2020, JB Hunt Transport Services, Inc gave us a $2.25 million gift for collaboration to increase inclusion diversity in logistics and explore new sustainable solutions. I wanna say a little bit more about the Be Epic podcast. As I said at the beginning, this is our 150th episode. And when we started it three years ago, the primary target market were students in the Walton College, that's still the primary target market, but many, many other people listen to this podcast beyond students, alumni, faculty and staff, companies that recruit here, benefactors and many others.

0:22:42.6 Matt Waller: And I've had a wide variety of guests on here, I've interviewed students, faculty, staff, alumni, leaders in the community, authors, etcetera, etcetera. For example, the 149th episode, I interviewed Jeff Simmons, who's president and CEO of Elanco, and they're a leader in farm, animal, and pet health solutions, an amazing company. It's doing quite well. I've interviewed people like Janis Kearney, who was the presidential diarist under President Clinton. I've interviewed entrepreneurs, I interviewed law professor, Carol Goforth, who is one of the top experts in the world now on regulatory and legal issues around blockchain and crypto assets. One, I interviewed Charles Morgan, who is CEO and chairman of First Orion and former CEO of Acxiom. I've interviewed Warren Stephens who is the chairman, president and CEO of Stephens Inc, one of the largest independent financial services firms in the country. I've interviewed the VP of Data Science at Starbucks, who is an alum of our college, and was also involved in data analytics at Walmart, especially in the area of human resources for many years. I interviewed Sarah Langham, who is a partner at HoganTaylor. And one of the interesting parts of that story is that, she talks about in that episode, about a student she hired as an intern that came up with an automated way to do some tasks that used to take hours down to just a few minutes, and the company is still using them.

0:24:37.2 Matt Waller: And it basically... It's an interview about innovation and about how students, when they're willing to step out and question how things are done, even if they're interns, can have huge contributions to businesses. I interviewed Claiborne Deming, the former CEO and current chairman of the board at Murphy Oil, and he's also an inductee to the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, but it's a really interesting episode. If you listen to it early in the episode, we talk about the Katrina disaster in New Orleans and Louisiana, and how it affected their company, how they responded, very interesting story. I've interviewed Bob Sauerberg, who is an alum of the college and former CEO of Conde Nast and current chair of the board of Reddit. Ben Hasan who's senior vice president, chief culture diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Walmart, had a kind of an unusual interview.

0:25:39.1 Matt Waller: I interviewed a young man named Joseph Sinay, who had been an investment banker and he was in... While I interviewed him, he was in the business school at Columbia University, and he had done a research project on JB Hunt Transport Services, Inc. It's very interesting, it talks about how JB Hunt has done so well in terms of profitability as a company. I've interviewed students that were co-founders of companies that came out of the University of Arkansas, like MORE Technologies. One of our alums is President and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association, I interviewed him, but there is a lot of material, if you type in Be Epic podcast, Walton College, you'll find it. All 150 episodes at this point are listed there as well as transcripts.

0:26:34.4 Matt Waller: One of the things that we did that was quite significant, I think... Again, if you look at our mission statement, our mission statement is to advance and disseminate business knowledge. Well, one of the ways we do that is through our teaching and research, but it really seemed insignificant in some ways. In some ways, it's very significant, the content's very significant, especially the research, but most of the research is published in academic journals that only academics read because they tend to use methodologies that are rigorous and not easily accessible to people in general. So we created something called Walton Insights. Walton Insights is a blog on the Walton College website, it's a combination of just playing plain thought leadership pieces, but we also have quite a few articles on this blog site where we've taken research that was published by our professors and refereed academic peer-reviewed journals and turn them into blogs that are easy to read and understand. We started doing this in November of 2018. So one thing that's interesting is November of 2018 is when we started the Be Epic podcast. It's also when we started Walton Insights, our blog site.

0:28:06.6 Matt Waller: So I encourage you to check it out. As I said, it started in November. Now, we've published a lot more than just... We don't publish just one per week, we publish more than that, and in fact, Walton Insights has about 300 blogs. But over 23,000 users of our website who had never been to our website prior to Walton Insights came to the website had about 50,000 views since we started, and there's a lot of interesting articles and blogs on there. So for example, one was written by one of our former doctoral students called "7 Ways Network Theory is Reshaping Supply Chains". It's an academic piece that was turned into something that was easy to consume, and we have thought leadership pieces like one's called, "Interoperability; A Big Unanswered Question in Blockchain". But just to give you an idea, for example, the 7 Ways Network Theory is Reshaping Supply Chains, it has been viewed by 770 different users, and they stay on the page, reading it on average for about five minutes, which is about what we want.

0:29:32.3 Matt Waller: But we also have other kinds of thought leadership pieces, for example, we have one that's Under the Rubric of Confessions of an Entrepreneur by Mark Zweig. That's a regular column. And one of his is called, Is Lack of Capital The Real Problem? Real interesting article. It has over 1400 views. People spend an average of seven minutes reading that. The research in the Malton Walton college has really taken off. If you go to Google Scholar and you look at the University of Arkansas, you find that nine of the top 20 most cited researchers from the University of Arkansas are in the Walton College of Business. The second most cited author at the University of Arkansas is in the business school, in the Walton College Information Systems Department. He holds the David Glass endowed chair. It's Varun Grover and he has been cited over 44000 times and he has something called an i10-Index of 205, that means that he has had 205 papers that have been cited more than 10 times each. He has a paper that was cited 3600 times, and his h-Index is 96, that means that 96 of the papers he's published have been cited over 96 times. So now you know about the Walton College and you might say, Where are we going in the future? That's answered by our vision statement and the vision says that through teaching, research and service, the Walton College will be a thought leader and a catalyst for transforming lives.

0:31:20.8 Matt Waller: And the specific strategies we use to do that will change over time. We'll have new strategies on a regular basis, but the key is the vision. We're gonna be about thought leadership and serving as a catalyst for transforming lives. And you might say, Transforming lives into what? Well, into business people that have epic values. So we want to turn out business people who exhibit excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality and in how they operate as a business person. One strategy that we've had and continue to use, is our strategy of revenue diversification, we've diversified our sources of revenue quite dramatically over the years, in fact, over the past five years, we've increased the revenue of the college by 13 million, and we're now up to 56 million, is our budget. But we've diversified our sources of revenue, we've increased different kinds of sources of tuition as well as new programs like online program, new master's programs, executive education, etcetera, etcetera. One of our key strategies as well in the Walton College has been and continues to be around student success and career readiness. And we have done a number of things, this is led by Karen Boston. We've done a number of things to make sure that our students are successful and that they're heading in a direction that they want to and need to go.

0:33:01.0 Matt Waller: And if you Google, student success Walton College, you'll see some of the things that we're doing. The Walton College has long been working to diversify our college and make it more inclusive, and to make it be a belonging kind of environment. And we have the Barbara Lofton Office of Diversity & Inclusion, which is a key part of that, but it certainly extends beyond that to the whole college. In fact, one of our new strategies is diversifying how we actually go about doing that, in fact, we created a standing committee in the Walton College to focus on the topic. And the purpose of standing committees, by the way, in an academic institution, is to increase what we call shared governance, in other words, the college is governed by administrators, but it's also governed by the faculty.

0:34:00.3 Matt Waller: And that's called shared governance, but standing committees are a way to accomplish that. One strategy we are using to bring about more diversity, inclusion and belonging is the Fleischer Scholars Program, if you Google Fleischer, that's F-L-E-I-S-C-H-E-R Scholars Program, Walton College, you will find their web page and there's a video there that explains what this program is. For example, in summer of 2022, we will have a five-week virtual program that we hold on Tuesdays and Thursdays to help diverse students from all over Arkansas discover career paths in business, develop an entrepreneurial mindset, practice communication skills, network with Walton College students, faculty, staff and alumni and engage with business community leaders.

0:35:04.4 Matt Waller: But we have a really nice website that explains all of this. The deadline for applying is March 1st, 2020. But this is one of our key strategies, and anyone who's a rising high school senior is encouraged to apply. And you can go to the website and learn more about that strategy. I'd like to mention a couple of new things in 2021 that have happened. I mentioned earlier that we have grown a lot, we're now over 7100 students, just to give you an idea, our freshman class, and our biggest freshman class ever was, I believe in 2016, and in the business school, and we had 1400 students. This year, our freshman class in the Walton College was 1900 students. We've had huge growth. Also in 2021, this year, we received a multi-million dollar gift from Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation to help us create an entrepreneurial culture surrounding the outdoor recreation for students, innovators, startups and small businesses. And that is moving forward quickly right now. And it really coincides with the development of our new department, our new savvy department I mentioned earlier.


0:36:42.5 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of The Be Epic podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching, BeEpic podcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, be Epic.


Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

Be Epic Podcast

We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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