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A Fresh Face for Yale

By Francesca Di Meglio Joel Podolny, the youthful new dean of the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Conn., likes to hit the ground running.

Shortly after the Apr. 25 announcement that Podolny, 39, had gotten the job, he wanted to start calling newly admitted students who have just a few days to decide whether to attend Yale or another school this fall. Although he won't take over until July 1, he spent two days on campus meeting with faculty and students. "He asked us questions about what we want to see change because, he said, 'This is your school, too,'" remarks Anne Coyle, director of admissions.

A Harvard Business School professor, Podolny received his PhD in sociology from Harvard in 1991 and returned to the university as a professor in 2002 after having taught at Stanford Graduate School of Business) for 11 years.

LOW MARKS. As the Novartis professor of leadership and management at Harvard, he holds a joint appointment between the business school, where he teaches organizational behavior, and the faculty of arts and sciences, where he serves as a professor of sociology. He has written or co-written 25 papers and some 15 B-school cases.

Yale could use a change after nose-diving from 14 to 22 in BusinessWeek's 2004 rankings of Best B-Schools. Students gave low marks to career services for the quality and types of recruiters coming to campus, an area Podolny, who was unavailable for an interview for this story, should keep tabs on. Improving the school's organizational behavior department and upgrading its aging physical plant will also likely rank among priorities. The task of financing the latter goal will require excellent fund-raising skills.

Despite Yale's drop in BusinessWeek's rankings, the new dean has a hard act to follow. While many leaders at top B-schools move on after a few years, outgoing Yale Dean Jeffrey Garten was asked by the university to stay for a second five-year term at the School of Management, which is only three decades old. Garten announced last summer that he would be taking a one-year sabbatical starting in July, 2005, before returning to the school as a professor.

"TRIPLE WIN." The question remains as to whether Podolny can match Garten's high profile in the business world. An industry insider from the investment-banking world, Garten focused on external relations. Podolny, on the other hand, has distinguished himself primarily as a scholar, and his appointment demonstrates the school's strong desire to make business and management an important intellectual pursuit.

Sharon Oster, chairperson of Yale's search committee and the Frederick Wolfe professor of economics and management, says a world-class scholar like Podolny will know how to translate academic concepts into the concrete business world. Barry Nalebuff, Milton Steinbach professor, calls the appointment "a triple win -- a great academic who knows something about leadership, both from his research and from his experience at Stanford."

Whether that will prove sufficient to raise Yale's ranking remains to be seen. But Podolny isn't dallying when it comes to improving relations with students. Those who dropped him an e-mail after Yale announced his appointment received quick responses. A nice touch, for sure. But in the ever-competitive world of B-schools, it will take more than an e-mail or two to make the grade. Francesca Di Meglio is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in Fort Lee, N.J.

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