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New Rowe leader Benoit Aubert brings expertise in data science

Benoit Aubert is the new dean of the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie.

Robert Cross/Globe and Mail Update

Benoit Aubert's penchant for building things, often in collaboration with others, has landed him the top job at Dalhousie University's Rowe School of Business.

An announcement of his five-year appointment as director of the Halifax school, effective Jan 1, 2018, was expected Thursday.

"We are very lucky to have him," says Sylvain Charlebois, dean of Dalhousie's faculty of management, of which Rowe is one of four schools. He describes the Quebec-born academic, currently head of the school of information management at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, as "a strong scholar and a strong leader, and we are pretty excited."

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One reason for the dean's enthusiasm is that Dr. Aubert's expertise in data science and analytics fits with the ambitions of the management faculty to capitalize on industry demand for graduates, now in short supply, who can interpret and explain large volumes of information that generate big consequences for a company's bottom line.

In addition to his current school responsibilities at Victoria, Dr. Aubert was tapped to lead the university's digital futures strategy. One element is the promotion of what he describes as "creative collisions" between data scientists and other academics on campus. With funding from the university for the strategy, Dr. Aubert says, "we put together people who would not [otherwise] have worked together to do something that would not be funded by business-as-usual programs." For example, his school worked with Victoria's English department to develop new analytics tools to study the novels of Charles Dickens. "We are creating a totally new way for students in the literature program to interact with the novels using touch screens and apps," he says.

Dr. Aubert, who previously taught at Laval University and HEC Montréal, also has an established track record of working with industry.

Last year, in consultation with employers, his school introduced a one-year master of professional business analytics to teach non-information technology graduates to become business analysts in their own field of expertise. The three-trimester program combines in-class learning on data analytics and business processes with opportunities for students to work on actual problems posed by industry clients.

"Industry engagement has to be more than executive education," he says. "It has to be tied to our research."

As the incoming leader of Rowe, Dr. Aubert expects to intensify the school's commitment to research.

"It is a tough market for universities and I don't think there is much space in the middle," he says. "Either you are very good or you are an undergraduate factory. ... Research is our only true differentiator."

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Dr. Aubert regards the academic structure of Dalhousie's management faculty, with four schools and five research centres and institutions, as fertile ground for nurturing cross-disciplinary collaboration on questions relevant to the region's future.

"There are so many linkages we can establish," he says. "That is how we have to work, especially in Canada. In a big country with few people we have to collaborate."

Follow Jennifer Lewington via her RSS feed here or Twitter @JenLewington. She can be contacted by e-mail at jlewington@bell.net.

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