New Deans, New Directions

By Fannin, Rebecca A.; Brown, Frank | Chief Executive (U.S.), September 2006 | Go to article overview

New Deans, New Directions


Fannin, Rebecca A., Brown, Frank, Chief Executive (U.S.)


Changes at the top bring innovation to the traditionally staid world of top business schools.

Business school deans once cloistered themselves in ivy-covered towers within serene university settings, isolated from real world pressures. But no longer. Today, the top job at the world's top schools presents challenges akin to those faced by corporate CEOs. Competition among schools has intensified, international curriculum and campuses are now de rigeur, and faculty recruitment and retention is more challenging.

It's not easy to simultaneously maintain high rankings in league tables, lure faculty from higher corporate paychecks and partner with schools overseas-not to mention beef up executive education programs and raise endowment funding.

The demands of these new responsibilities are, in turn, shaping a new breed of dean, as well as shorter tenures and higher turnover in the posts. The trend is evidenced by the recent "re-deaning" choices of Harvard Business School, INSEAD and Columbia, as well as the search for a replacement for Laura Tyson, who will leave her post as London Business School's dean this year. Under fire for curriculum that lacks real-life relevance and fails to instill ethical behavior, these and other top schools are appointing deans viewed as capable of bringing new thinking to the challenge of educating the corporate leaders of tomorrow-and charging them with doing just that.

Broader Is Better

The newly installed deans bring a broader range of backgrounds to the post, some with deep corporate experience and governmental roles. Consider Frank Brown. In May, the well-regarded International business school INSEAD named Brown as its first dean outside of academia. An American who previously headed up global services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Brown was a bold and controversial choice.

A 26-year veteran of PwC, Brown brings a corporate manager's perspective to running INSEAD. "Schools are capable of being well-run businesses," he says, adding that the job of dean carries the same responsibilities as that of a CEO, such as allocating spending to high-priority programs, managing cash flow, reporting to a board and recruiting and retaining talent.

The well-rounded career of Glenn Hubbard, who was named dean of Columbia Business School two years ago, encompasses government, business and academia. In addition to being a longtime faculty member at Columbia and a presidential adviser, Hubbard serves on the board of five major corporations.

Conversely, Harvard Business School Dean Jay Light is very much the academic, having spent his entire working life at his alma mater. Light began his doctoral program there nearly 40 years ago and became a faculty member shortly after that. Last August, he was charged with holding the fort until a new dean could be found. But Light won the post himself in April, after impressing the selection committee by steering a record $600 million fund-raising drive and a $25 million restoration of the school's Baker Library, all while keeping HBS near the top of the university rankings.

Already, the new deans at INSEAD, Columbia Business School and Harvard Business School are putting their stamp on programs and initiatives to update their schools' approaches to grooming tomorrow's corporate leaders. Initiatives under way range from global programs to groom young executives in multicultural skills to working toward bringing curriculum more in tune with the practical business-solving and team-building challenges of managing large corporate entities.

Countering Critics

Striking the right balance between educational coursework and more practical programs has become a major consideration for today's deans, says Harvard Business School Dean Jay Light. "It's a question of whether business schools can teach and do research that is both rigorous and relevant, or whether the pendulum has swung too far toward one at the expense of the other," says Light. …

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