Matthew B. Myers remembers when he got the big picture of business and economics.
He was serving as a paratrooper medic in the U.S. Army in Central America in the early 1980s. It was a time when expanding American business interests there were coming under criticism for disrupting local economies and social stability and for increasing those countries' reliance on foreign investment. "That's where I started to understand the concept of dependency and the concept of the impact of multinational corporations on the developing economic landscape," he says.
Mr. Myers retains that perspective as he prepares to become dean of the Farmer School of Business at Miami University, in Ohio.
Because developing nations are again under great pressure to provide more market access to multinational companies, he says, "it's very important that our students understand the impact, positive and negative, that their actions have" on local resources, labor markets, and sustainability.
One attraction of the job at Miami, he says, was that he knew the school had long emphasized business ethics: "We want to make sure that we put responsible decision makers inside the economy."
Mr. Myers, 54, remains associate dean of the Center for Executive Education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville until he takes office at Miami, in July.
He will also teach business leadership, at a time when industry loudly exhorts business schools to send them workplace-ready graduates.
Indeed, Miami administrators chose Mr. Myers in part because he came to teaching and research from business positions with Merrill Lynch and IBM, and is a leading scholar in real-business-world fields: global supply-chain networks, foreign-market strategies, and comparative-marketing systems. He has long taught courses and published papers on global marketing and business strategy.
With that background, says Bobby Gempesaw, Miami's provost, "he can be a good role model for our students." The Farmer School emphasizes providing students with exposure to business settings, both domestic and international, through internships, study-abroad opportunities, and projects in fund management.
"That is something that anybody would be happy to be a part of," says Mr. Myers. Successful business schools "look at businesses and economies as their laboratories," he says.
He is impressed by the extent of the school's efforts in that regard, given that it focuses on undergraduate education. Also appealing to him was Farmer's rise in rankings to the top 25 American business schools, on the strength of its dual emphases on scholarship and pedagogy. "It's very common to see an institution that excels in one area," he says, "but not both."
The school has been in the care of an interim dean since Roger L. Jenkins, its leader for 10 years, retired in December 2012 amid fallout from the conviction of an adviser and major donor to the school. Thomas J. Petters had been found guilty of running a $3.65-billion Ponzi scheme alongside his other, better-known businesses, and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
The university returned $5-million in donations from Mr. Petters, and Mr. Jenkins returned $1.25-million he had earned in consulting fees of a kind that senior business academics commonly earn. Many faculty members regretted his departure, noting that he had overseen an expansion of Farmer's campus and faculty, along with its programs' rise to prominence.
Determined to hire the kind of dean they thought essential, Miami administrators conducted two searches before selecting Mr. Myers. The idea was "to find someone who we thought could do the things Dean Jenkins did," says William Even, a professor of economics at the school and a search-committee member. "We think Matt can."
Mr. Myers says his knowledge of supply-chain management will help him as dean. In a business school, as in business itself, "you have everything from procurement to delivery. And in many cases, if you want to look at things like graduate education and executive education, there is a feedback loop: You have your graduate or graduates of other institutions coming back to retool and to re-educate," particularly now, when "the life cycles for business solutions are very short."
Before he went back to college for his master's, at age 30, Mr. Myers experienced something of the world—working briefly as a geologist, then as a stockbroker, and learning those lessons in Central America. He encourages students to consider that the "psychic income" of work can far outweigh the financial income.
A satisfying career in business can incorporate fair dealing and self-respect, he says, and that "is one of the most important things we can teach our graduates."