Dean Sharon Matusik has led the University of Colorado Boulder’s esteemed Leeds School of Business for five years, but when she learned she was being recognized by the CU community with the Excellence in Leadership Award, it came as a surprise.
“Oh my gosh, I fell out of my chair,” Matusik said, laughing. “I was so honored to be recognized like this.”
The Excellence in Leadership Award recognizes an Excellence in Leadership Program alumnus who has shown exemplary leadership at the university in one or more areas: leadership of organizations, departments or teams; leadership of projects, programs and/or research; fiscal management and/or fundraising; or student instruction.
Each year, the award recipient is recognized at a luncheon ceremony, which features a lecture on a key leadership topic, at Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel. This year’s event is set for April 22.
For Matusik, the path to a deanship was never a conscious goal. As a first-generation college student, her focus as a Colby College undergraduate was to complete a degree that would give her job opportunities.
“I don’t know that I had especially high aspirations. I wanted to be able to get a good job so I could support myself,” she said. “I didn’t have financial support from my parents as a safety net.”
She chose to double major in Economics and English, a track she felt would empower her to earn a living and nurture her interest in business and love of literature.
After graduating, she worked for seven years in consulting before returning to school to earn her Ph.D. in strategic management from the University of Washington. Her decision to enter academia was informed by a confluence of factors.
As she looked over her career, she discovered a deep curiosity for understanding why some businesses succeeded and others failed. She also enjoyed conducting trainings whenever she had the opportunity, making teaching a natural draw. Underlying all that was a hard-fought respect for the opportunity and challenge of earning an education.
“It was hard for me to afford a college degree,” Matusik said. “I had to drop out for a semester to work, so I think because of that I have always valued education very highly.”
After earning her Ph.D., Matusik taught at Rice University in Houston before coming to the Leeds School as an assistant professor in 2004.
For CU Boulder Provost Russell Moore, who nominated Matusik for the Excellence in Leadership Award last fall, her commitment to students, faculty and staff is clear.
Moore eagerly pointed out that, in addition to her duties as the Leeds School dean and the numerous initiatives she has led, Matusik co-chaired the systemwide strategic plan process and is currently co-chairing the search for a new dean for Boulder’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“She has shown to be really, really effective under incredibly trying circumstances,” Moore said. “She does it all, and she does it spectacularly.”
That’s exactly what Moore saw when he selected Matusik to serve as the Leeds School’s interim dean in January 2017. The school was undergoing a turbulent transition, and Matusik’s dedication to learning combined with a clear commitment to openness and adaptability were the exact qualities Leeds needed at that time.
“What Sharon did is she, by brute force, led the school with kindness,” Moore said.
Her first order of business was to find out what the school needed from the people who had the most experience.
“She was intensely focused and organized, going on a listening tour and listening to the concerns of the students, faculty and staff in the Leeds School of Business,” Moore said. He explained that Matusik set up “office hours” in the school’s common areas, where anyone could sit down and talk to her about their challenges and concerns.
With these insights, Moore says she identified the common values among the stakeholders and the most pressing pain points. This information empowered her to steer Leeds in a constructive direction and create an environment where students and faculty could be heard and thrive.
“There was this incredible blend of kindness, compassion and strength of leadership — which, that’s a very rare quality to have in a leader and I think she exemplifies that.”
After five months as interim dean, Matusik was officially named dean of the Leeds School. During her first year, she set out on three large-scale initiatives.
First, she proposed partnering with CU’s College of Engineering Applied Science to create physical space and curricular opportunities to collaborate their knowledge and experience.
This partnership was about more than adding bells and whistles — both schools had pressing needs that required focused solutions. Among them, Leeds was running out of space and the College of Engineering needed auditorium space to accommodate large classes and presentations that draw wide audiences.
Additionally, the partnership created new opportunities to broaden each school’s curriculum, combining emerging technology with business know-how, as well as peer-to-peer learning and networking opportunities to overcome the barriers of unfamiliarity and misunderstanding between the disciplines.
“It’s sometimes referred to in the innovation literature as ‘productive collisions,’” Matusik said. “On the one hand, we had this set of needs; on the other hand, they had this complementary set of needs.”
Last year, the newly constructed Rustandy Building connecting Leeds with the College of Engineering celebrated its official opening. The building is named for Leeds alumnus and contributing donor Tandean Rustandy, an Indonesian businessman and fellow first-generation college student, who values the opportunities offered by Leeds and its mission to align business with new technology.
“He’s incredibly thoughtful about integrating economic and social values through his company,” Matusik said. Rustandy, whose company manufactures ceramic tiles, has made it a point to establish work sites outside the population hub of Jakarta, bringing work opportunities and government infrastructure to less-populated regions.
Perhaps most astounding, the $43.5 million project is being largely funded by donors like Rustandy. Trisha McKean, assistant dean for advancement at Leeds, has worked alongside Matusik to conduct this massive fundraising objective, and said she respects Matusik’s ability to engage with people on a personal, practical level.
“She stands out just in terms of her ability to connect with all sorts of people,” McKean said, explaining that Matusik meets people where they are, demystifies academia’s issues and processes and builds informed confidence in the projects and initiatives they’re seeking to fund.
Matusik’s second priority focuses on addressing the core professional skills — communication, emotional intelligence, critical thinking and more — that lead to long-term career success but can be overlooked in academic programs that focus exclusively on content knowledge.
Third, she put deliberate emphasis on gender parity issues in business by attracting and developing more women leaders at Leeds, through special programming and events for prospects, students and alumnae. As a result of Matusik’s efforts, applications from women have increased, and these women go on to create demonstrable impact at work through the world-class education they receive at CU Boulder.
In addition to these initiatives, she is focused on the fundamentals; she improved student success measures such as retention and four-year graduation rates at the Leeds School, and also is looking long-term to develop the pipeline of faculty who will lead our institution in the future. For example, her collaboration with the university’s Denver and Colorado Springs business schools to introduce first-generation and underrepresented undergraduate students to what a Ph.D. is — and what they can do with it — aims to bring new perspectives to business scholarship. “It’s so important long-term for the development of higher ed,” Matusik said. “We need all sorts of people in higher ed, including people who are coming from underrepresented and first-gen backgrounds.”
Together, these initiatives and accomplishments are strengthening the Leeds School, as well as its ties to the Boulder campus and the entire CU system.
“She has been able to incorporate the Leeds School of Business into the fabric of the campus, even more than it was before,” Moore said, explaining that many prestigious business schools at public universities work to distinguish — even separate — themselves from their home campuses. Leeds doesn’t do that.
“As an integral piece of the fabric of the campus, I think the campus is better off for it, and the business school is much better off for it,” he said.
Beyond these foundational priorities, Moore and McKean keep coming back to the common thread in Matusik’s leadership style. From the listening sessions she engaged in at the beginning of her tenure to her commitment to securing scholarship and research funding, she prioritizes the students, faculty and staff of Leeds.
“Really, the feeling from her is, if you can get into the Leeds School of Business, we want to figure out how we can make it financially feasible for you,” McKean said.
Speaking to her now, it’s clear how energized Matusik is by being around students and faculty — and being in a position to address their needs.
“I feel very grateful to be part of a university where I feel like there’s very deep levels of care and commitment for each other,” she said. “I think we’ve seen that more than ever over the last 24 months.”
Matusik joins the ranks of many esteemed CU leaders who have received the ELP Award over the years. She will be honored at an award ceremony attended by her fellow Excellence in Leadership Program alumni and CU leadership April 22 at the Brown Palace in Denver.