Bruce Rosenthal, business school dean at Our Lady of the Lake University teaches a class based around classical ballet and modern dance.
Bruce Rosenthal, dean of the business school at Our Lady of the Lake University, came to San Antonio last June. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

When Bruce Rosenthal was an artist living on the Grecian island of Crete, he sported shoulder-length hair and round glasses. Someone told him he looked like John Lennon. Rosenthal responded by introducing his wife, whose name happened to be Yoko.

That was almost two decades ago. Now, Rosenthal wears a more cropped haircut and black horn-rimmed glasses. He lives in San Antonio and is in his first year as the dean of Our Lady of the Lake University’s business school. Even though he’s about 20 years and more than 6,000 miles away from his former life in Greece, Rosenthal keeps his experience as an artist in mind when thinking about the future of OLLU’s business school.

His lifetime of eclectic experience influences all of his current and past work in academia. When designing classes for traditional business students, Rosenthal infuses artwork and creativity into the curriculum, showing videos of operas and ballet.

“Training in art teaches you to use the right side of your brain, and too few people use the right side of [the] brain in business,” Rosenthal said. “At some schools, if you can’t quantify something in numbers, it isn’t worth your day. Of course, things have value outside of numbers.”

It’s evident that Rosenthal isn’t your typical business school dean.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Syracuse University, then moved to Japan to teach English after struggling to find work as an artist. He later returned to the United States to work for a Japanese company. He obtained his MBA from Rutgers University and worked on Wall Street, then returned to Japan before taking a hiatus to create art in Greece.

After eight years in the art world, and with a 4-year-old daughter about to enter school, Rosenthal and his wife decided to move back to the United States. His background in teaching and experience abroad helped him land a job with the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia as its director of international programs. From there, Rosenthal worked at business schools at Chatham University in Pittsburgh and Alfred University in southern New York before becoming the founding dean of the school of business at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Last June, Rosenthal came to San Antonio, a place he and his family never envisioned living.

“I thought it was a cowboy place,” said Yoko Rosenthal. “I thought people rode their horses everywhere.”

Rosenthal, however, was surprised by how quickly he adapted during the transition.

“It never occurred to me that one day I would root for Texas sports teams, but now I’ve been up to Dallas to see the Stars and seen Rampage games here in town,” said Rosenthal, an avid hockey fan.

At Our Lady of the Lake University, Rosenthal leads a school that offers two of the university’s most popular majors: management and leadership studies.

Our Lady of the Lake University.
Our Lady of the Lake University is located across from Elmendorf Lake Park, west of downtown. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

When thinking about essential lessons for budding business school graduates, Rosenthal quickly recalls working during his second stint in Japan and having a hard conversation with the head of a trading floor that used his company’s product.

“After all of this small talk, he said, ‘We are using this product now for six months, and it is complete crap. Get it out of here,’” Rosenthal said. “This was not something [Rutgers] taught me to prepare me for this moment. Why wouldn’t they have taught me that?”

Now, Rosenthal wants OLLU’s School of Business and Leadership to offer a course in negotiation and persuasion in which students act out scenarios with dissatisfied clients. Students would be able to test potential responses, with the worst possible outcome being a bad grade or negative feedback. In the corporate world, those students could be fired, so Rosenthal argues that business schools should offer a safe environment for these lessons.

Another addition Rosenthal made at OLLU was a class titled Creative and Innovative Thinking, which he teaches.

On a recent Tuesday, he loaded YouTube videos before his six students arrived for the day’s lesson. The class focused on how artists take rules that are typically applied to their form and break them.

First, Rosenthal showed a video of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. He asked the class to observe the qualities of the classic ballet – the ballerina danced en pointe, moving gracefully in concert with the music.

Then Rosenthal showed a clip from the Joffrey Ballet’s Ballet Russe – a production that defied all the classic customs of ballet. The video depicted a large number of dancers on stage, moving erratically to jerky music, at times throwing themselves to the floor. Most were flatfooted and stomping.

Rosenthal used this video and a few others to set up a conversation about how you can take a concept that already works and use it to craft a seemingly new idea.

“These are some really, really creative people,” Rosenthal said. “These are people who have been faced with a problem and come up with a very creative solution to how it is going to look.”

Later, Rosenthal’s students will apply this concept to a project they are working on with the city’s Office of Historic Preservation. Students have been tasked with finding a better way to collect and preserve community stories and traditions. At the end of the semester, students will present their ideas to OHP.

Rosenthal’s students can at times look puzzled or like they are intently processing a lot of information. But during individual presentations, each student appears confident. At the end of a recent class, Michael, an OLLU business student, stood before his class of five peers and Rosenthal and explained the mind map, a process he uses to solve problems.

Drawing misshapen circles across a whiteboard and connecting the bubbles with skinny lines, Michael explained how a gaming company might drum up demand for a less popular fighting game.

At the end of five minutes, the mind map looked disheveled and challenging to follow had the students not witnessed the process from its starting point.

“Everything is connected, and that’s the point,” Michael said. “It’s a different way to look at the problem, but it helps to think of different solutions.”

That’s also the point for Rosenthal: to help students find new ways to tackle problems they might be faced with in the business world. He dreams of courses that address new technologies and sustainability. In shaping OLLU’s business school, the dean envisions it becoming known for having a “thumb on the pulse of the 21st century.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.