New MSIM chair brings business acumen to classroom

Sean McGann’s business smarts were evident at an early age. He ran lemonade stands and paper routes, organized yard sales, and, by age 12, had set up his own lawn-mowing business. He was a young entrepreneur, advised by a father who continually reminded him that no one goes anywhere in this life without hard work.

“He was old school,” says McGann, new chair of the iSchool’s Master of Science in Information Management program. “He said, ‘If you want money, you’re going to have to earn it. If you want to succeed, you’re going to have to go out there and work hard.’ That work ethic is an important part of what’s gotten me where I am.”

Where he is — at the iSchool, in charge of not only MSIM but also the iAffiliate program — is a dream come true, says McGann. Now, as a senior lecturer at the school, he can follow his first passion: teaching.

As MSIM chair, he puts his practical skills to work, creating and improving programs. And as director of iAffiliate, he keeps in touch with business practitioners, deepens external partnerships, makes connections for student internships and jobs, and stays on top of what’s going on in the field.

‘It doesn’t get much better than this,” says McGann, whose wife, Hala Annabi, is also joining the iSchool, returning as an associate professor in the MSIM program.

One aspect of the school that especially impresses McGann is its dedication to social good.

“People here are looking at how what we do contributes in a positive way to society,” he says. “There’s lots of discussion about why social good is important, what it means, how it impacts research, how it impacts students. I’m fairly astute at the business part, but I have not been in a culture where this is emphasized. It will create a lot more meaning for me in my work and my life.”

McGann’s career path evolved from blue-collar to white-collar work and into life in academia, where he conducted extensive research on the ways ad-hoc systems improvisations in the workplace can lead to an organization’s transformation.

After earning two degrees in electronics engineering, he decided to get his MBA – a move that launched a long career in information systems advising, including almost five years as a manager for Arthur Andersen Business Consulting.

After his time at one of the big three consulting firms, McGann returned to his alma mater, Ohio University, this time as a lecturer. There, he found and directed a center for strategic leadership after securing a $3 million alumni gift to name the center, as well as architected and implemented the college’s career management strategy.

This stint as a lecturer led him into the academic world and toward a Ph.D. in management information and decision systems. The hook was teaching: he had found his calling.

“I absolutely loved every day of teaching. It was an epiphany for me,” says McGann, who’s interested in teaching data analytics, consulting, program management, and systems analysis and design. He’s praised for not only engaging students in the classroom but also coaching them into and through their careers.

McGann’s No. 1 rule is that classrooms connect to the real world. One way he does this is by telling “war stories” from his high-profile white-collar days – like the time he had to aggregate data from 300 separate systems for use in a single, powerful new database, and made a critical decision at launch time that led to program failure.

“Students really enjoy hearing about mistakes their professors have made,” he says, smiling.

Students give McGann high marks.

“Professor McGann’s classes undoubtedly gave me the best idea of what to expect in the ‘real world’ after graduation,” says Dana Householder, McGann’s former student at Ohio University.  “He was one of the most engaged professors I worked with there, both in the classroom and within student organizations. He was adviser for my business fraternity and also one of the founders of a new leadership development group within the college of business.”

McGann comes to the iSchool from Appalachian State University, where he served as department chair for computer information systems and supply chain management for two years. During his tenure, he helped update curriculum and create new courses, added new degree programs, and took on thorny personnel issues. Professor Michael Mayfield, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at the university, describes McGann as a leader with a good listening ear, a keen sense of direction, and a solid foundation.

“I believe that Sean's rich, diverse work history has given him a variety of experiences that are well beyond what most university faculty members have,” says Mayfield.

At the iSchool, McGann has been working with other faculty on strategic planning. Goals for the MSIM program include diversifying its student base and clarifying its specializations, such as data science analytics and information architecture.

“We want to make sure we have the right courses and content in place to make the specializations everything they can be and also do a great job understanding what each specialization entails. Then we can use the specializations to effectively market our program.”

At one point in his career, before delving into teaching, McGann helped launch a venture capital start-up, serving as CEO. It was the ‘90s, the rise of the dot-com bubble. By the time that bubble burst, he was burned out.

“I had been running hard for 20 years, so I took a year off and caught my breath,” says McGann. “I slept the first six months. Then I came out to the Northwest and climbed Mount Rainier. I started jumping out of planes, I got my skydiving license, I traveled.”

That 14,410-foot-high mountain is still calling the avid outdoorsman. So is Mount Baker, and so are the Northwest salmon — he has a new Spey fly rod he’s anxious to try out. He’s also a dedicated racing cyclist and is looking forward to plugging into Seattle’s biking community.

For McGann, it’s all systems go.

“My wife and I wanted to live in a place where we were thrilled to be in it each and every day. This is it.”