Skip to main content

From Brazil, Around the World and to WVU

The secret to running a top-ranked business school is engrained in working on a farm, growing and picking tomatoes and watching cows be milked.

Jose V. "Zito" Sartarelli

Farm life can even pave the way to a fruitful career with Fortune 500 companies.

Such are the roots of  Jose V. “Zito” Sartarelli, the Milan Puskar Dean of the  College of Business and Economics at  West Virginia University.

As a farm boy in Brazil, Sartarelli learned the intricacies of a humble, backbreaking lifestyle. These lessons ultimately propelled him through 30-plus years as a global pharmaceutical bigwig at three Fortune 500 companies: Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Eli Lilly and Co.

Those same skills he acquired on Brazilian farmlands now shape his decisions more than 4,000 miles away at WVU.

Sartarelli assumed the position of College of Business and Economics dean in August 2010. Within a year, the school has reaped what he’s already sown.

Among Sartarelli’s accomplishments so far: Adding a Ph.D. program in business administration, helping land two of the largest gifts in the College’s history, and having it reach its best national rankings ever … at this, he acknowledges that he is standing on the shoulders of many who built the quality that the College is today.

The harvest is budding nicely.

Sartarelli attributes his savvy approach to enhancing the College to those sweltering days planting rice, corn, cotton, coffee and other crops as a young lad.

“When you’re a farm kid, you learn the basics of how things work,” Sartarelli said. “You know where milk comes from. Someone from the city may go to the supermarket and look at cheese and say, ‘Where does this cheese come from? Well, I don’t know.’ The farm gave me a sense of reality and an understanding of the cycle of life. From birth to death, it’s right there in front of you. The character you develop is very substantial.”

Education took a backseat to grueling farm work where Sartarelli grew up. He slowly emerged from that bubble beginning with his family’s move to a larger city in the late-1950s. This relocation afforded him a better education and piqued his intellectual curiosity so much that he read newspapers from front-to-back for fun.

Fast forward five decades and Sartarelli has lived, learned and worked on several continents – mostly in megacities bursting with enterprise.

As an individual, Sartarelli grew, much like his plans for the College.

“My vision for B&E is simple,” Sartarelli said. “Bigger. Better. Ranked.”

Real world experience 
Sartarelli seized the reins of the College as a non-traditional dean. Sure, he earned an MBA and Ph.D. in business administration from Michigan State University and worked at the university as a research/teaching assistant, but did not climb the ladders of academia like so many deans have.

WVU banked on his wealth of experience in the private sector as a pharmaceutical executive. He oversaw a business of more than $3 billion in annual sales and 9,000 employees in over 50 countries as chairman for Asia-Pacific, Japan and Latin America at Johnson & Johnson. His positions at Bristol-Myers included president of two international groups and senior vice president of franchise management, business analysis and planning. At Eli Lilly, Sartarelli ran operations in Asia-Pacific, Brazil and Chile, and held senior positions in marketing and management in the United States, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

He retired March 31, 2010, but that didn’t last long.

At the urging of a friend and former colleague, Sartarelli threw his name into the hat for the vacant dean’s position at the College of Business and Economics. Sartarelli had never been to the Mountain State before, yet his eyes were locked onto this job. Christine Poon, dean of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, recommended Sartarelli try his hand at being a dean. The two worked together at Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers.

The search committee charged with finding a new dean was impressed with Sartarelli, to say the least. By May, they chose him to lead the school.

“What made him stand out was his global experience,” said Kim Craig, a search committee member and president and CEO of First National Bank Wealth Management. “He brought a global perspective on business and knew how to apply it to an academic setting.

“I can’t say enough about what he’s accomplished so far. He’s been remarkable and exceptional, based on the way he’s been embraced by professors, peers and alumni. The testimony to that is his accomplishment in garnering additional funding for specific improvements to the curriculum.”

Under Sartarelli’s watch, he helped land the school two very substantial gifts – one being the largest single donation ever to the College of Business and Economics.

In November 2010, investment expert and business school alumnus Fred Tattersall presented a $3 million donation to the College. The gift created a distinguished endowed faculty chair position in the College’s Finance Department.

Tattersall, chairman of 1607 Capital Partners in Richmond, Va., always knew he wanted to contribute to his alma mater. But the arrival of Sartarelli quickened his decision to give.

“When I realized we had a very talented dean and a very talented president (Jim Clements) now leading the charge, the timing of my gift was accelerated,” Tattersall said. “It felt like the right time. From my perspective of a  WVU Foundation board member and someone observing the school, I’m very impressed with what both men bring to the table of the university.”

Much like the search committee’s initial impression of Sartarelli, Tattersall views the dean’s global business experience as a sizeable benefit to WVU.

”He’s now in the second inning,” Tattersall said. “It’s going to take hard work, money and more money to continue. He has to be a cheerleader for faculty, students and alumni. But he has the vision to move forward. It’ll be interesting to look back three years from now and see where the school is.”

So far…so good
The number of improvements Sartarelli has brought to the College of Business and Economics is already as long as his resume. Here’s what he’s helped accomplish so far:

  • Implementation of a four-year college system: This allows freshmen to be directly admitted to the College, whereas previously, only juniors were admitted. The new system, which goes into effect this fall, will provide students with more opportunities for internships, as well as better access to advisors and counselors. Sartarelli estimates students will now have three shots at internships throughout their undergraduate career. With the old two-year system, a student might get only one opportunity at an internship.
  • Approval of a Ph.D. program: Beginning this fall, a new doctoral program will be phased in over four different majors. Management will be the first offered, followed by accounting, finance and marketing in 2012. Adding a Ph.D. program raises the profile of the College and keeps it in contention for top-ranked programs, Sartarelli said. “The approval of our Ph.D. program will assist in increasing research within the College, but will also help us attract top-notch faculty and graduate students,” he said.
  • Getting ranked:  Bloomberg Businessweek ranked the College as one of the top 100 best undergraduate business schools in the nation for 2011. The College was also ranked in the top 100 business schools by  U.S. News & World Report in four different categories. Instead of looking internally and pounding ourselves on the chest saying, ‘We’re great,’ rankings force us to compete with other top schools, to look externally beyond our four walls,” Sartarelli said. “It allows us to compare and contrast. In addition to that, a lot of major companies will not hire people unless they graduate from ranked schools.
  • Fundraising: In addition to Tattersall’s $3 million gift, the  College received $2 million from alumnus and retired financial industry executive Stuart M. Robbins and his wife Joyce. Their contribution will establish the Center for Global Business and Strategy 20/21 within the College.

Sartarelli recognizes the importance of fundraising in a time of economic downturn and reduced government funding.

“Going forward, our subsidies may not continue growing,” he said. “We have to do a lot more with less money. It’s crucial to seek help from our friends and alumni.”

One way of reaching out is through the College’s biannual magazine and monthly newsletter, which are sent to 11,000 alumni. These publications keep an open line of communication between alumni and the school, the dean said.

Going Global 
Sartarelli isn’t limiting his vision to alumni when it comes to outreach. The dual citizen of the United States and Brazil sees the world as a playground for the College. 

One of his top priorities is expanding the school’s global efforts – he wants more international students studying here and more of our own homegrown students studying abroad. His focus is on the G-20 countries, within those are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Of WVU’s 32,000 students, about 1,400 are international students. While a fair number, Sartarelli believes there’s plenty of opportunity to boost that figure. His alma mater, Michigan State University, has 5,500 foreign students out of 47,000.

Sending domestic students overseas is just as important, he said.

“Not only are we not receiving as many international students, we’re not sending as many of our domestic students overseas to learn,” Sartarelli said. “If we’re going to grow, we need that greater connectivity with the outside world.”

Sartarelli traces this logic back to his own experiences. As a teenager, he applied for a high school exchange program that landed him in Dimmitt, Texas – an hour south of Amarillo – for a year.

That year changed Sartarelli and marked a second crossroad in his life, one that followed his family’s move to a larger city.

“If we send American students to live overseas for two weeks or two months or a semester, it’ll change their lives, too,” he said. “There’s more value in having classrooms made up of diverse backgrounds. The discussions are richer and the lessons are more valuable.”

Sartarelli returned to Brazil after his year in the U.S. and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the Sao Paulo School of Business Administration, Getulio Vargas Foundation, Brazil. He then returned to the U.S. to obtain his advanced degrees at Michigan State – the MBA on a Fulbright Scholarship and the Ph.D. on a research/teaching assistantship.

After graduating with a Ph.D., Sartarelli sent out 141 resumes. He interviewed with 20 companies and received two good job offers. He went with Eli Lilly.

“I got a job, got married and moved from a university setting to Indianapolis to be part of Eli Lilly,” he said.

This decision ignited a series of relocations and employment opportunities throughout the world. He went on to work in the U.S., Venezuela, Chile, Brazil and Singapore, among other countries in North and South America and Asia-Pacific.

Throughout his journey, he learned how to relate to people across distinct cultures. In 1993, he helped Eli Lilly set up pharmaceutical joint ventures in China and India, and opened up operations in Indonesia and Vietnam. This initiative forced him to adapt to their culture.

“I went from working in a Western culture an Eastern one,” Sartarelli said. “To work in North or South America or Western Europe is one thing. The doctrines are well-known. When you go to Asia, you’re met with different philosophical, cultural and social backgrounds. It attested my ability to manage cross-culturally.”

Engaging in this type of global approach can only push students to become dignified leaders of tomorrow, he added.

Looking ahead 
When Sartarelli pondered leaving Brazil for the U.S. to further his education, he had a talk with his father – a lifelong farmer.

“He said, ‘Son, I don’t know why you would think about this. You could get your education here,’” Sartarelli recalled.

His mother doled out a different response.

“She said, ‘I’ll cry a lot for the next 12 months, but one day I won’t be here and I want you to be happy. If you don’t want to be a farmer, that’s great. Go seek your future,’” Sartarelli said.

Receiving his mother’s blessing thrust him into the future.

His ability to move ahead and make crucial decisions has opened countless doors for him.

“Sometimes when you make a suggestion, it changes lives,” Sartarelli said. “I don’t know what would’ve happened if I stayed on the farm.”

Sartarelli has plenty of suggestions for the College. He keeps five strategic priorities in mind when furthering its progress. He aspires to recruit and retain the best (students, faculty and staff), educate, offer students valuable opportunities and place them in successful careers, organize the school for success, and fundraise.

The dean is also working on revamping the MBA program and collaborating with other schools on potential joint programs, on campus and internationally.

The College already has joint programs with  sports management and  law, and would like to offer joint programs with the engineering,  medical and pharmacy schools.

The College of Business and Economics has more than 60 full-time faculty members and nearly 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students. By 2015, Sartarelli expects the College will have around 3,000 students.

Because of this likely increase, Sartarelli is looking to expand the school’s infrastructure.

“We may need an extra building,” he said. “We’re already bursting through the seams here.”

Throughout his storied life, Sartarelli has reinvented himself. He’s steering the College with a similar, steadfast approach.

“The ultimate vision is that five or 10 years from now, people will come here and say, ‘Wow. West Virginia University has a great business school.’”

By Jake Stump
University Relations/News