La Verne Magazine
"The University of La Verne: A Day in the Life"
Dr. William Relf:
Building a Better Business
by Amy Borer
photography by Rhidian Maehl
Pausing on the steps of the Landis building dedicated to the School of
Business and Economics, Dr. William Relf, plans to guide the school into
the 21st century.
At 1:35 p.m. on a busy Thursday, Dr. William Relf, dean of the School
of Business and Economics, returns to his office on the second floor of
the Landis Academic Building. He checks the messages left for him by his
secretary and returns each call, setting up appointments and meetings for
later in the day.
"I typically have two or three scheduled meetings a day, and anywhere
from three to 10 additional unscheduled meetings," he says, explaining
his busy schedule. "I also spend a lot of time on the telephone and
going through the inches of mail we receive each day."
Dr. Relf, who has held his current position since August 1995, is responsible
for the School of Business and Economics in terms of managing and leading
it into the future. Part of the future planning for the School includes
the development of a strategic plan, which is part of a larger University-wide
plan to carry it into the 21st Century.
"I think the best way we can prepare for the 21st century is to
help in the development of personal competencies and personal values that
will equip them [students] for the rapidly changing world," he says.
Dr. Relf also believes that the school needs to create a uniqueness
that separates it from the other business schools in Southern California.
"I think the business education tradition has prepared students to
fit in large companies with a particular specialization," he says.
"For the 21st century, we will need to be more entrepreneurial, more
individualistic and rely upon our abilities to perform in different organizational
situations. The traditional corporate organization in the United States
is a dying breed.
"We're trying to find a new market niche for our on campus MBA
[Masters of Business Administration degree]. We have a number of well financed
new competitors moving into Southern California, and so we have to find
a unique way to serve students that is special to the University of La Verne."
Part of the plan for restructuring the School includes updating its
curriculum. "We're in the process of redesigning the traditional MBA,
which has been in the past for students with no business experience,"
says Dr. Relf. "We've begun the process of revising our undergraduate
curriculum to be more market sensitive and to give students more options.
A very important move that we are just beginning is to create new majors
that combine disciplines in arts and sciences with business."
According to Dr. Relf, this combining of disciplines would enable a
student, whose primary interest is in the arts area, political area or media
communications area to specialize in these areas while at the same time
gaining competencies in the business area to prepare them for management
positions. Classes in the combined disciplines will definitely be offered
in the fall of 1998, but there is a possibility that at least one program
will begin next fall.
"I'm frustrated that we haven't moved faster, but other challenges
in the School of Business have had to take priority," he says.
Not only does Dr. Relf envision expanding his School on the La Verne
campus, but also globally, including centers in Hong Kong and Zimbabwe.
"Within the United States we have an oversupply of schools offering
MBAs," he explains. "The fastest growing market for MBAs is the
international one. We are looking at the feasibility of entering those markets.
Our goal is to provide added opportunities for our students and faculty
for research and multicultural experience."
With a long career in business education, Dr. Relf also has a long history
with the University of La Verne. He served at the University from 1967 to
1972 as dean of curriculum and student development.
During that time, he also began playing tennis.
"I learned to play tennis at La Verne in 1967," he explains.
"My teachers were John Gingrich [current dean of the school of arts
and sciences], Dwight Hanawalt and Nancy Blickenstaff."
Dr. Relf left La Verne in 1972 and spent the next three years living
in Singapore, where he was a professor of management at Nanyang University,
a Chinese university. "I traveled through Malaysia, Burma, Thailand,
Laos, Indonesia and Brunei, where I taught, as well as consulted and conducted
In 1975, Dr. Relf returned to the United States and ULV for one more
year, teaching in the fields of business and American foreign policy and
serving as the chairman of the Business and Economics Department before
taking a post as a professor of management at Cal Poly, Pomona. He remained
in that position for 20 years, then returned to La Verne in his current
"I had close personal ties with people here at La Verne that go
back many years," he explains of his return. "It isn't so much
that I left Cal Poly, but rather I came back to La Verne. I wasn't even
looking for a new place."
In the nearly 30 years that Dr. Relf has been connected to the University,
he has seen a change in structure.
"When I first came, La Verne was a small, liberal arts, church
related college oriented primarily to traditional age college students.
We are now a university with professional schools, and these professional
schools serve about 70 to 80 percent of our students," he says.
Outside of business, Dr. Relf enjoys reading and playing golf.
"I started playing golf when I was a kid. Someone gave me a bag
of old clubs. I was raised in a mill town and used to caddie at a country
club. I never thought at that time that I'd be playing at one," he
says, referring to a country club in Glendora where he plays on weekends.
But right now golf is far from Dr. Relf's mind as he returns one more
phone call and prepares for an afternoon meeting with a couple of members
of his school's faculty, proving that the world of business is never ending.
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