We last blahgged about bschool deans and changes of leadership back in January 2015 when we talked about Geoffrey Garrett taking over at Wharton in July 2014, Matthew Slaughter taking over at Tuck in July 2015, and Scott Beardsley taking over at Darden in August 2015.
Since then, there has been another round of transitions in the top position at these schools:re
- Stanford’s embattled and scandal-weary Garth Saloner stepped aside and insider Jonathan Levin took over September 2016 (dang was it really that long ago?!)
- Michigan Ross’s dean Alison Davis-Blake resigned and they promoted from within by appointing professor Scott DeRue into the post in June 2016 (ditto the long-ago exclamation!)
- NYU’s well-regarded Peter Henry handed the reins over to Raghu Sundaram in January
- Berkeley-Haas’s beloved Rich Lyons will be stepping down in June and as far as we know, no replacement has been announced.
- Kellogg’s Dean Sally Blount has also announced she’s stepping down at the end of this academic year.
- Cornell Johnson is experiencing some turmoil. They underwent some radical transformation (for an academic institution) in 2016 where they merged three of their graduate schools under the umbrella of one. The Johnson School, where you would go if you were getting an MBA, joined with their world-renowned hospitality school and the Dyson School (economics) under a newly-named College of Business. Their Johnson School dean Soumitra Dutta took over as dean for this merged College of Business entity. But then Dean Dutta suddenly resigned at the end of January. They appointed an interim dean (Joe Thomas), but now it looks like they have promoted the Johnson School (MBA) dean (Mark Nelson) to permanently lead the merged College of Business… but we’ve honestly lost track of the plot.
So to discuss the question posed at the top of this post:
Does the dean matter?
In light of that convoluted web of Cornell confusion we just tried to summarize for you, we’ll have to say, yes it does.
But only to an extent.
We have yet to learn the circumstances around Dean Dutta’s sudden departure from the dean position at Cornell (supposedly he’s still on the faculty, but he’s never taught a class, so it sounds like a case of a golden parachute to us). We do know that the merger into the College of Business was not sold well to internal stakeholders and there were many protests and lots of dissension when it happened. We heard that the hospitality folks especially were unhappy. So as outsiders going on these two datapoints alone, all we can say is that there were issues with the way leadership has been done there. Is that enough to stop you from applying to Cornell? No, it shouldn’t be — but you DEFINITELY should travel to Ithaca and learn what you can from current students and ask direct questions of admissions folks to discover what type of impact there might be. There will still be professors showing up to teach classes and you still will be able to earn an MBA there. But innovate? No, that’s not going to happen. This place is going to be stalled out for the foreseeable future until they get their house in order…. and obviously when a school that’s supposed to be teaching you leadership demonstrates such an epic #leadershipfail then it does call some basic assumptions into question.
So that’s a cautionary tale, and we acknowledge that we don’t have all of the data, mostly because the school itself is playing very hush-hush. If we hear back from our on-the-ground sources we will update this post (or if any of you have actual knowledge of the situation — not more rumors and gossip but concrete facts — then we’d love to hear them!).
On the opposite end of the examples-of-leadership spectrum, we have a separate case:
We just learned yesterday that rockstar dean Ted Snyder will be stepping down from his leadership of Yale SOM next year. Our understanding is that he’s on sabbatical this year, so is already not on campus, and he’ll return to the deanship next year but thereafter will move back to teaching, which is what many deans do when they leave their deanship. Traditionally, deans were academics who started off as PhDs doing research and teaching classes, and eventually took on more and more administrative responsibilities in running their school before getting the top spot. Those people often are academics at heart and they may long to go back to their roots. Stepping down from the leadership position often means staying at the same institution and just moving out of the spotlight to resume a faculty role. Sometimes a dean “stepping down” means that they are resigning from the workforce entirely, or that they’re going to leave that school completely and go somewhere else, but often it means that they’re sticking around and just will no longer be the dean at their campus.
We’re going to make a wild prediction: Dean Snyder may initially take up a faculty role at the SOM but there’s a school that REALLY is overdue for some new blood in the high office and we’re going to place a bet that Ted Snyder eventually ends up at Columbia. This is total guesswork in looking at the graduate school landscape from a complete outsider’s perspective. If there were a school that could benefit from a makeover right now then Columbia is it, and if there were a dean who could do it then Ted Snyder is your man. Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard has been serving as dean since 2004 which by our count makes him the longest-serving dean at any top school. If it ain’t broke, then why fix it, but…….
So does the dean matter?
If you’re Chicago Booth in the first decade of the 21st Century, or Yale SOM in the second, the answer to that is h3ll yeah.
Ted Snyder made Booth into the school that it is (we keep waiting for current leadership to do more) and then after that, Ted Snyder worked his brand of magic again at Yale. Chicago and Yale were both excellent schools before he arrived but his tenure at each respectively made them more than excellent.
MIT and HBS are the other schools with a long-running dean. At MIT, Dean Schmittlein has been quietly creating a success story since 2008. Across the river, Nitin Nohria has been running the show since 2010. Duke’s Dean Boulding has been there since 2013 and was just reappointed to another five-year term. All of those schools seem to be doing fine (not necessarily seeing bold innovations of late from the latter two, but they’re both in good shape — no scandals!! — and no threats to their relative positions in the rankings, and MIT is doing just fine, thank you). We don’t expect big changes at any one but who knows. If Ted Snyder isn’t ready to retire yet (he’s only like 65 right now) then perhaps Harvard might try to lure him. But we doubt it. If he lands at another top bschool then we’re just wildly flapping our gums and crystal-balling that it would be at Columbia.
This has grown long. We have more to say. We will pick up with it again on the morrow (which is now posted HERE).