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Lei Lei
November 9, 2023

Lei Lei: 2023 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient

Written By: Staff


Lei Lei
PhDIE and CS ’89 (MSECE ’83, Dalian University of Technology)
Professor and dean of Rutgers Business School

Lei is an industrial engineer who attained academic excellence and exhibited visionary leadership to successfully guide one of the top-ranked business schools in the nation.

How did your engineering education enable your success?

Shortly before my graduation, I received an offer from Rutgers Business School as an assistant professor on tenure track. The rigorous training at UW engineering greatly supported my scholarly achievements during the early stage of my academic career, and the real life problem-solving skills that I gained from the labs at the industrial engineering department helped me make a smooth transition from an engineering student to a business school professor who had to teach business case studies for MBAs, advise PhD students on research relevant to the real life challenges encountered in industry, and communicate with business executives on company-sponsored projects.

The UW engineering education, through its academic environment, student activities and school culture, also prepared me to strive to be a person of good character—one who is willing to stand up and solve problems as an engineer, and who is also willing to go beyond the self and be responsible for others on the team, which I think is equally important for a successful career.

Which engineering professor made the greatest impact on you?

Arne Thesen was my advisor. His guidance and direction have been critical to my success as an academic scholar, and his innovative approach to the problem-solving process has benefited me over all these years.

Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?

As dean, my role goes beyond the chief academic officer. I must also be a thought leader for creating synergies among priorities across two campuses, a catalyst for change toward a more collegial and supportive environment, and a pathfinder who fosters innovation for business education amidst furious competition. My personal belief is that what a dean herself can achieve is very limited. When faculty, staff and alumni believe in what RBS aims to achieve and are empowered to share the responsibilities, we can together make many meaningful changes.

Large public business schools like Rutgers Business School (with 235 full-time faculty members and approximately 10,000 students) have faced many unprecedented challenges, especially since the pandemic. Internally, we are charged to achieve more and equitable student success with limited resources while assuring a high-quality learning experience and better ROI. Externally, we face a fast- changing world of technology which requires us to be agile, innovative and responsive to digital transformation and prepare students to be academically and professionally ready to take on challenges.

What do you like best?

It has been over 33 years since I left Madison, and most “fun places” have become kind of vague in my memory. However, the following three will continue to last:

Orange custard chocolate chip or anything else?
Babcock Hall ice cream — a big scoop was always a big treat to poor graduate students after the exams.

Memorial Union or Union South?
Union South was always a warm and joyful place for the gathering of engineering students during our studies at Wisconsin.

Flamingoes or Badgers?
Flamingos on Bascom Hill were beautiful and inspiring, but the Wisconsin Badgers have been, and will always be, my bonding with UW engineering.