We have a few more thoughts to add to our musings and wild predictions about bschool leadership from yesterday.
First off, despite what we said yesterday, the real answer to the question of “Does the dean matter?” is NO.
If you’re thinking about getting an MBA today, then whoever is the dean should not impact your decision-making (with the one outlier case of Cornell which is an odd situation right now as we discussed yesterday). The school you’re applying to is the school you will go to. It’s like deciding to visit a country based on who is the president. There are many significant reasons for why you would choose to travel somewhere and who holds the top office in that country simply does not factor in (at least, for most travelers, and to most countries, though we’re in a weird world right now you could say).
If a new dean comes in today, or at any point during your pursuit of your studies, there will be no impact on you whatsoever. There will be announcements and parties and he or she is likely to host a coffee chat or happy hour or whatever and try to get to know the students. They’ll go on a listening tour and spend lots of time huddling, and send out surveys and such. But there will be few to no changes that will impact your life or the experience of the MBA.
If a dean came in within the last two years, then it’s different. In that case, it’s no longer a “new” dean — you won’t see articles in the news about the change in leadership on campus — but you are DEFINITELY likely to experience their ideas in action in what happens to you in the course of your education. In this case, the dean does matter. You’re going to be the guinea pig who is in the experiment that they’re running for how to reinvent their school for the next era (and definitely, these schools are in the midst of transformation, whether they’re actively embracing it and becoming proactive change agents or the opposite).
We have already seen that with the “new deans” (in the last two years) at Darden most prominently, and to a slightly lesser degree at Tuck. We have appreciated the much higher visibility presence of Dean DeRue at Ross, and we’re aware of some changes that are underway there now too. Can’t say we’ve seen it at Stanford.
What we hope to see with the upcoming announcements of new appointments that are expected at Kellogg and Berkeley-Haas and also UCLA (Dean Judy Olian is also stepping down) and Cornell (?) is diversity.
As of this writing there are no female deans at any top bschools. Kellogg, Ross and UCLA all had female deans; all of those women have left or are leaving those positions. Alison Davis-Blake at Ross was replaced with a white man.
As of this writing there are no deans from underrepresented minority groups at any top bschools. NYU Stern had an African-American dean; he left and was replaced with an Indian man.
We would be SHOCKED if Berkeley-Haas did not find a woman — or possibly even an African-American or a Hispanic woman — to take over from Rich Lyons. (UPDATE: THEY DID HIRE A WOMAN!) If they replace Dean Lyons with another white man, well….. that just would not be the Berkeley that we know today. Haas has put gender issues front and center earlier than most schools and they will be under enormous pressure to make diversity a priority in their hire. We also wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled in someone from the tech industry. There’s currently a debate in academia (most prominently at bschools) whether an academic dean or a professional manager dean is ideal or appropriate, and it’s largely a function of the type of school that you’re talking about. At a public institution like Berkeley, it may make sense to have an academic take over, rather than someone from the private sector who may not understand the dynamics that go into this type of organization. Or, the opposite may be true. We’re betting that the search team at Berkeley-Haas has been speaking with people at UVA Darden to learn how their transition has gone (current dean Scott Beardsley came in from McKinsey, and UVA is a state school so there are many parallels to the UC situation). Perhaps Marissa Mayer is looking for an entirely different role, now that she’s out of Yahoo? (Though it’s unlikely that the UC system can afford a profile like that.)
There will also be pressure at UCLA to replace the female dean with another woman, or if not a female, then a minority. Ditto Kellogg. We had expected the same at NYU Stern but that’s not how it turned out (there are a number of Indian men running top schools both here and in Europe so while yes, NYU technically has a minority, it’s not exactly one adding to the diversity picture of this landscape of top schools.
So, does the current dean matter? You betcha. It lets you know where your school is at and what you might expect in the coming years of your time there. If you have a newer-appointed dean who’s still in the early stages of his or her tenure it’s more likely that there will be visible and obvious changes happening at your school. If the dean has been in his role for awhile, much less likely (with some exceptions like MIT notably). Studying the profile of the dean can give you some insights into the type of place you’ll be walking in to.
And, does it matter who a school appoints if they have a vacancy pending? You betcha. You can look to the announcement of a new appointment to understand a school’s priorities and values. Do they put their money where their mouth is? Or are they all lip-service instead?
We’ll be watching this space with interest as 2018 unfolds.