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hristmas came early for Joan Gabel last year. A bit restless after 14 years in academia, she was looking for a new challenge in her career. She found it last spring in Columbia, all tied up in a bow. “I was a department chair and the next level was dean,” she says. “I was ready to take that next step — I thought it would probably take a few years.” In fact, Gabel’s leap to that next step took only a few months. Contacts at a search firm referred her to a vacancy posted at the University of Missouri, in the market for a new business school dean to replace Bruce Walker who was stepping down after 20 years. “Missouri looked very good on paper,” she says. “But you don’t marry the first person you date.” Her reticence was no match, though, for the effusive recruiter who wrapped up a glowing list of Mizzou and Columbia attributes with a catchy little phrase that caught Gabel’s fancy. “This place has everything you could want,” the recruiter told her, “all tied up with a bow.” “And she was right,” Gabel says with a ready smile. “ ‘Tied up with a bow’ is a good thing.” Gabel’s inquiry quickly put her on the fast track to upper administration. Just six months after Walker announced his plans, the university had three finalists to interview. By May 24, Gabel had been hired as dean of MU’s Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business. She moved to Columbia in late August to take over the school on Sept. 1. She is the first woman, and the first lawyer, to lead the business school. Hers has been a nontraditional journey for the 43-year-old dean. A New York City native, Gabel grew up in Atlanta. She earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Haverford College in Philadelphia, and then returned to the South to get a law degree from the University of Georgia. After graduation, the newly minted attorney entered practice in Atlanta where she specialized in insurance law, representing carriers and defending insureds. She joined the faculty at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business in 1996 to teach risk management, legal issues and ethics. She racked up awards for teaching, service and research, and served as editor-in-chief of the American Business Law Journal and the Journal of Legal Studies in Business. Her expertise in risk management, corporate governance and employment law issues has

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yielded articles in National Law Journal, The American Business Law Journal and The Journal of Business Ethics. Gabel’s interest in international issues, sparked by an undergraduate year spent at Montreal’s McGill University, led her to expand her teaching repertoire to include graduate business seminars in Chile, Australia and Argentina; she also taught in Italy, France and Egypt. In 2005, she became interim director of GSU’s Institute of International Business and faculty director of the Atlanta Compliance and Ethics Roundtable. “I reached that fork in the road in 2005,” she says. “A former professor who had become a mentor — he’s now provost at the University of Georgia — told me I was well-suited to academia.” She reports the compliment with a roll of the eyes, but it’s clear the advice of Jere Morehead stuck. Two years later, she had moved on to Florida State University to chair the Department of Risk Management, Real Estate & Legal Studies. Gabel also was director of International Relations for the FSU College of Business. The move from Tallahassee to Columbia last summer produced another fork in the road for the Gabel family — this time it was husband Gary’s time to choose. An educator who had spent years

training teachers, Gary Gabel left his job as early field experience coordinator in FSU’s College of Education and sought a return to the schoolhouse. He is now an assistant principal at Gentry Middle School. The couple has three children: a daughter at Rock Bridge High School, a son at Gentry and another son at Mill Creek Elementary School. “We love Columbia already,” Gabel says. “The people here are friendly and interesting, and they’ve made us feel very welcome. It’s very easy to live here.”

It has been an easy transition from department chair at Florida State University to dean at Trulaske, a rising business school reaping the rewards of Walker’s two decades of leadership. “She definitely hit the ground running,” says Allen Bluedorn, associate dean for graduate studies and research. “The possibilities for new programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are already being considered seriously — and we are only months into her tenure as dean. Her enthusiasm has proven infectious.” Gabel credits her predecessor’s management skills for the stability that grants her the luxury of considering innovations. “With a dean like Bruce Walker, this school has had 20 years of continuous upward progress,” Gabel says. “He set the stage for national and international excellence.” A sweep of her arm takes in the expanse of her view from her fourth-floor corner office in Cornell Hall. “Under his watch, we got this beautiful building with all of its great learning space for classrooms, offices and meetings. It’s more than lovely … but you still have to fill the building, and he did that, too; he hired 80 percent of the current faculty. He attracted the support of successful alumni, whose gifts built Cornell Hall and resulted in the naming of the school. Our rankings have climbed steadily, and our School of Accountancy is a top 20 program.” She pauses in her checklist of praise

Inside Columbia's CEO Spring 2011  

Joan Gabel prepares MU business students for a bright future; the Renaissance Awards celebrate local art's biggest fans; and Columbia's busi...

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