UTRGV business dean shares vision and motivation

EDINBURG – Lance Nail keeps a personable approach in leadership, listening for input before making decisions as dean at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley.

Nail took the helm as the dean of the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship in August. Yash Gupta previously served in the position in August 2018. With a month into Nail’s leadership of the college, he is currently undergoing a “strategic listening tour” process, hearing out the concerns of faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders.

This “strategic listening tour” will take about a year and finding the resources to implement those plans would be the next step, he said.

“We can go in so many different directions, but we don’t have unlimited resources, so we have to figure out how we marshal those resources to be the most effective in achieving our vision, and we’re trying to kind of, narrow that down right now,” Nail said.

He said he wants the business profession to make a positive impact on society.

“Business interacts with every facet of society, and we can improve it and that’s the thing I noticed with business is, we think about how we go forward,” Nail said. “We can actually have the most positive impact on society as we interact with our different disciplines.”

For instance, research in business can contribute to solving local issues.

“We might find ways that address the problem with diabetes in the Valley, that wouldn’t happen otherwise,” Nail said.

Although his background is in finance, his view on the business field has changed to be more collaborative with other disciplines. The college shouldn’t work in silos, as it impacts other professions, such as health and the fine arts, and vice versa.

“It makes us all better,” he said.

When he first started, he saw things from a “finance professor lens,” looking at corporate finance and investments, but now currently sees the profession “more holistically.”

As he collaborated with faculty from the health care side of a previous institution he worked at, it made him more open in interdisciplinary work.

“We were looking at different ways that we could use economic theories to have better healthcare outcomes for all of our citizens…,” Nail said. “I never really thought about those things before, so that kind of started changing my thought process.”

Nail said he hopes students can graduate with an understanding of what it means to be ethical, which is a necessary component for being successful leaders.

He previously served as a dean for business schools at San Diego State University, Texas Tech University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

UTRGV’s friendly environment, speaking with faculty invested in their students and potential projects all drew him to the position, he said.

“It felt like a family environment, where everybody really cared about the college and its students and each other, and that’s what I was hoping to find,” Nail said.

Having students engage with their faculty and make a connection is important and is one of the university’s strengths, he said.

For Nail, he had a college professor who got to know him and encouraged him to go into academia. This also carries into Nail’s current position at UTRGV.

“But him taking that time to direct me, got me to where I am today, and I wasn’t the only one he did that with, he did that with hundreds of students because he cared,” Nail said. “And I think about the impact that he had, you just think about that with a whole college of faculty like that, the impact we can have on the students of the Valley, it’s incredible.”

Investing in student success and ensuring they have the support they need within the college is another one of the dean’s goals.

As a former student with a first generation in college background, he said he can relate to many students who are in a similar place as he was.

Nail said as a dean he represents the college to the external community as part of his duties. The business school is an applied discipline that has a presence in the private sector. The campus is undergoing rapid growth and to plan how to accommodate students in the region, he said.

“I want us to be known as a national university, with a top business school that is producing graduates who have (an) immediate impact on their organizations in society,” Nail said. “That won’t happen overnight, so that is a long term goal.”

His office in Edinburg campus is decorated with over a hundred coffee cups collected from different places he has visited, along teaching awards and memorabilia from his career. Being personable is important to his approach.

“I will listen, and I’m here to make this college the most impactful college for the Valley,” Nail said. “Because if we don’t serve the local area that we’re in, we’ve missed our mission.”