Ambassador and social justice entrepreneur to bring innovative business acumen to the role
St. Catherine University announced today it has named Benson K. Whitney its new Dean of the School of Business. Whitney brings 30 years of experience as an ambassador, venture capitalist, business attorney, community leader, and education activist to the role. He will officially join the University on January 21, 2020.
“When we began our search, we knew we wanted a leader with a wide range of experience in both business and education to inform the vision for the future of the School of Business,” said Anita Thomas, PhD, executive vice president and provost, St. Catherine University. “Benson’s background, and his drive to create outstanding educational experiences that support a culture of inclusive excellence, was exactly what we were looking for. I am thrilled to welcome him to St. Kate’s.”
Whitney’s extensive professional and volunteer experience in business, law, and public affairs made him an immediate standout for the position. He most recently spent the past decade as an education activist and consultant, dividing his time between Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., working on education reform efforts. In this work, he built an ecosystem of reform in Minnesota, helping establish and grow education reform nonprofits like Ed Allies, Education Transformation Initiative, MN Comeback, Leadership for Equity in Education, Prodeo Academy, and others. He helped found Great MN Schools, a $15 million venture philanthropy fund to develop high performing schools for low income children in Minneapolis.
Prior to that, Whitney served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway from 2005-2009, where he oversaw all aspects of bilateral relationship with Norway and managed the U.S Embassy in Oslo. He was awarded the Norwegian Royal Order of Merit by King Harald II and was a finalist for State Department Sue Cobb Award for exemplary performance by non-career ambassadors.
In his early career, Whitney practiced business law focused on regulated companies in healthcare and telecommunications at Popham, Haik, Schnobrich, Kaufman and Doty Ltd. He then became the managing general partner of the Gideon Hixon Fund, an early stage venture firm investing in medical and technology start-ups and served as President of the Minnesota Venture Capital Association. Whitney also provided management to several campaigns and was chief executive officer of Whitney Management Company, a private investment advisory firm.
“I am honored and excited to be selected for this position. St. Catherine University has a well-established reputation for educating students who become leaders in their fields,” said Whitney. “As a women-centered University, the School of Business is in the perfect position to redefine the standards set for preparing women to lead, developing their roles as leaders in corporations, and helping organizations to create inclusive and equitable systems where women thrive.”
In addition to his work in the business and education sectors, Whitney has served in leadership roles across a variety of other nonprofit organizations, including the Guthrie Theater, Wilderness Inquiry, The Minneapolis Foundation, Persephone Fund, Headwaters Fund, Minnesotans for Term Limits, and the Foundation for Afghanistan. He also is an active member of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. His passion and commitment to education, the arts, and serving others is grounded in his family’s history of giving back to others and serving the common good, helping to shape and influence many aspects of Minnesota history and culture – from sports and health to education, civic engagement, and philanthropy.
As the dean, Whitney will develop a strategic vision for advancing the School of Business and its reputation locally, regionally, and nationally to deliver a transformative education that develops students’ confidence, adaptability, and performance-ready expertise to become ethical, effective leaders in their chosen fields. He will lead initiatives to strengthen and expand academic program offerings that anticipate market needs, including internship opportunities, student showcases, and enhanced corporate partnerships.
Whitney graduated Magna cum Laude from Vassar College with a bachelor’s degree in history. He went on to earn his Juris Doctor from the University of Minnesota Law School, earning Magna cum Laude and Order of the Coif. He holds a Master’s in Public Management from Georgetown University with a focus on education policy.