Alex Dickey (BSBA ’87) keeps coming back home to Carolina.
The first time was in 1983 when he was seeking his first taste of freedom and a bit of distance from his family home in Georgia. His decision to attend college at UNC-Chapel Hill instead of nearby Georgia Tech shaped the rest of his life.
Once at Carolina, he was “barely” accepted into UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, he says.
“It was a lot easier back in those days,” says Dickey. “My grades were decent but not as good as they are for students today.”
“I absolutely loved my experience. I’m a big believer in mentoring and guidance. All it takes is somebody to put you on the right trajectory,” says Dickey. “And that’s true of kids. That’s true of adults. And UNC Kenan-Flagler put me on the right trajectory.”
Today Dickey is a professor of the practice of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler. He found his way back to Carolina after working 30 years of managing and growing consulting firms and implementing solutions for leading financial institutions.
He has tapped the foundational skills he built at UNC Kenan-Flagler in his career and values the relationships he started there and have lasted a lifetime, from his roommate who is still his best friend to classmates and professors.
He worked as a consultant in financial services at Accenture, where he met his future wife, Christa Dickey (BSBA ’89), also a UNC Kenan-Flagler graduate.
After 21 years at the firm, he retired as a managing director in 2008. He was spending so much time working and traveling that he worried he would miss out on spending time with their kids, who were 8 and 10 at the time. He thought he would stop working and go fishing, camping and skiing during his first attempt at leaving consulting.
During this semi-retirement, his wife insisted he find something to do. He called on his friends at UNC Kenan-Flagler, which gained him entry into another phase of his professional development. Barry Roberts, then a business law professor, offered him the chance to teach a business class for non-business majors in the College of Arts and Sciences and provided the materials to teach the class.
“I came here and taught for three hours on a Monday and had a great experience going back into Gardner Hall and all the other places,” he says. “I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t very good at it. I was used to teaching partners and senior managers, not undergraduate students. But I learned a lot and still have a couple of students with whom I keep up.”
The next year, Dickey planned to teach again, but a friend asked him to help scale a consulting business. He agreed to do it and it was one of the greatest professional decisions of his life.
“We grew what was a pretty small firm to about $150 million in revenue and 1,200 employees, and then we sold it to a company called NTT Data in 2015,” says Dickey.
After he left the consulting profession a second time, Dickey devoted even more time to the Business School.
Already on the UNC Kenan-Flagler Board, Dickey wanted to dedicate himself fully to STAR (Student Teams Achieving Results). In the program, talented MBA and Undergraduate Business Programs students work on a real project for an organization, and they gain real-world experience and skills that can be transferred to other industries and a variety of roles.
It’s not a virtual project, simulation or case study. “This is as real world a consulting project as you can get,” says Dickey.
“It’s the best experiential learning program in the U.S.,” says Dickey. STAR also includes some fundamental elements I believe in, including you have to charge for work. If people don’t pay, they don’t pay attention.”
During this time, Dickey linked up with his friend Steve Jones (BA ’74), former dean and a professor of the practice of strategy and entrepreneurship. Jones encouraged him to teach a consulting class while he was working on STAR.
Dickey was excited by the opportunity to maximize the success of students.
“We had an excellent opportunity to transform what we were teaching and help students thrive so that they graduated with a job at the right consulting firm for them, the right fit for them,” says Dickey. “I worked closely with Steve as well as other industry veterans – Stevie McNeal (MBA ’87), Bill Carter and Karin Cochran (MBA ’99) – to transform a lot of the content we teach in both the consulting framework (CSF) courses and STAR. When you’re a consultant by trade, you almost can’t help sticking your nose into improving lots of things.”
Dickey has had an impact on the consulting program, which includes a growing and impactful MBA Consulting concentration, and he remains a STAR faculty adviser.
He teaches three courses in the Full-Time MBA Program: Foundations and Structured Problem Solving, Introduction to Consulting Skills and Frameworks, and the Advanced Consulting Skills and Frameworks, which is for MBA students who definitely plan to go into the field. He’s also teaches the online MBA CSF course and is set to teach in the new Charlotte Executive MBA Program in the city where he lives.
“I’m teaching the skills that I think they’re going to need to succeed in the consulting industry, or frankly any executive level position,” says Dickey. He is a big believer in experiential learning, where students immediately test their skills and put theory into practice.
Dickey is happy he’s reconnected with UNC Kenan-Flagler time and again.
“My passion is around the students,” he says. “I wouldn’t have invested so much time and treasure into it if it weren’t my alma mater. I believe in the mission and promise of the Business School. I experienced it first-hand. My focus is on passing it on to the next generation of Tar Heels!”