Dr. Altaf Merchant, the now-interim dean of the Milgard School of Business at the University of Washington Tacoma (UWT), thought he would become an accountant, like his father. He tried it for about six months until he realized, “That’s not my calling.” He then got a master’s degree in marketing from the University of Mumbai in India and went on to work as a brand manager for products like Lysol, Aquafresh, Sara Lee, and more.
Merchant credits a moment in 2004 for providing that spark during a lecture he gave at the University of Delhi’s Faculty of Management Studies Program. “I was fascinated by my interactions with students,” he said. “I decided it’s now or never.”
Within a year, Merchant had begun his journey by pursuing a doctorate from Old Dominion University in Virginia. He later filled roles at many universities across the globe before finally alighting on the UWT campus in 2008.
Through collaborative programs, such as the Sports Enterprise Management Program — which is conducted in partnership with the Tacoma Rainiers — the Milgard School connects the classroom with the real world.
TO RELAX I love taking walks at Chambers Bay and at the Thea Foss Waterway.
FOR DINNER The duck breast with apples at Over the Moon Café
TO BE INSPIRED Hiking at Mount Rainier National Park and watching the many glows of a Pacific Northwest sunset.
CURRENTLY READING Sultans of Deccan India: 1500-1700 Opulence and Fantasy, Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2015
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO “Visions of Gideon” by Sufjan Stevens
BEST PROFESSIONAL ADVICE YOU’VE RECEIVED “The journey is more important than the destination; don’t forget to pause and smell the roses.”
MANTRA YOU LIVE BY “Invest in people.” “Be courageous to do what’s right.”
HOBBIES Working out, grilling, and gardening
WHAT DREW YOU TO TACOMA, AND TO WORKING AT UW TACOMA, INITIALLY?
I was considering many offers, including a Research Fellowship at the Kellogg Business School (Northwestern University). I was attracted to Tacoma because of the beauty and diversity of the Pacific Northwest, and the opportunity to work with some of the finest minds in the world at the University of Washington. I was convinced that joining a small and growing business school would result in new opportunities for me and for serving our students and the community.
AS INTERIM DEAN, WHAT IS THE SCOPE OF YOUR WORK? WHAT PIECE IS MOST FULFILLING?
As the dean of the Milgard School of Business, I am the chief administrator of the school. We serve 856 students across undergraduate and graduate programs and over 4,500 alumni. My focus is to provide strategic leadership to my team to achieve our mission, which is to deliver cutting-edge education; create a culture of scholarly exploration and intellectual curiosity; and, most importantly, engagement with the community.
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF SOMEONE WHO HAS LIVED IN MANY DIFFERENT PLACES AROUND THE WORLD, WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THE SOUTH SOUND?
My family and I have been living in Tacoma for the last 12 years. Of all the places we’ve been, we love the South Sound for its friendly, genuine, and embracing community; natural beauty and proximity to adventurous and exciting outdoors; fresh and local foods; and the diversity and vibrancy of its economy. After living here for so many years, we would not dream of living anywhere else.