By Francesca Di Meglio and William C. Symonds Since he came to Harvard as a freshman in 1967, Harvard Business School Dean Kim Clark has left the university only once -- to serve as a Mormon missionary in Germany. Now, at 56, Clark is once again answering the call of his church. On June 6 he announced he's leaving Harvard to become president of Mormon-affiliated Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg.
Although he's credited with increasing the faculty, bringing more technology into the classroom, and raising the endowment, Clark's final year at HBS was highlighted by an incident where prospective students hacked into the school's admissions software.
At the press conference announcing Clark's resignation, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers suggested that the next dean could very well come from within the B-school's faculty. The eighth dean in HBS's 97-year history, Clark will be stepping down on July 31, by which time Summers says he will have named an interim dean.
HACK ATTACK. Clark's departure comes amid some difficulties for the prestigious business school and the greater Harvard community. Business schools in general have been suffering from a declining pool of applicants, rising tuition costs, and a reduced market and stagnating salaries for MBAs. HBS applications were down 16% in 2004 vs. 2003.
Harvard's MBA program dropped two places, to No. 5, in BusinessWeek's 2004 rankings of best B-schools. Students downgraded the school for having an unresponsive administration. Hiring companies gave HBS the worst marks of any ranked B-school for its career-placement center, despite the rave reviews they had for overall student performance.
Then, in early March, about 119 HBS applicants hacked into software to find out if they had been accepted. Although other schools were affected by the hacking, HBS was the first to react by outright rejecting any guilty applicants. This set off weeks of debate, and some folks even sold T-shirts with the words, "Save the Harvard 119." One camp saw the move as insensitive because the software clearly lacked security, while others thought HBS -- and Clark in particular -- was a role model in ethics for its response (see BW Online, 3/9/05, "An Ethics Lesson for MBA Wannabes"). In fact, many B-schools did follow HBS's lead including Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.
BIG SHOES. At a January academic conference, Summers caused a stir when he spoke of the scarcity of women in the highest ranks of science and engineering, and wondered if the imbalance reflected gender-based "intrinsic aptitude." By March, the faculty of arts and sciences had voted in favor of censure and wrote that the faculty lacked confidence in Summers' leadership. (During Clark's tenure, the number of women at HBS has increased from 28% in 1995 to today's 34%.) It's hard to say what, if any, effect this had on Clark's decision to step down as dean. But Summers has proved to be a polarizing figure.
Whoever replaces Clark will have big shoes to fill. He has increased the faculty by 20% and was well-known for his commitment to course development and teaching. The school's endowment rose from $550 million to more than $1.8 billion, and its campus was renovated to include additional classrooms, housing, a student center, and a larger library and academic center. Intellectual property and globalization issues became top priorities, and HBS established six research centers in Europe, Latin America, Hong Kong, Japan, India, and California.
Clark will be fondly remembered by many. "Besides being the world's nicest person, he had a vision and aligned us all to help build that vision," says Dwight Crane, the George F. Baker Jr. professor of business administration at HBS.
UNLIKELY MOVE. The departure was unexpected, both for Clark and the school. On May 25, Clark says he got a call from Gordon Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who asked him if he would be interested in becoming president of BYU-Idaho. Clark says he agreed almost immediately. He then informed Summers, who he has known since 1976, when both were graduate students in economics at Harvard.
It's not the most likely career move. In terms of academic reputation, a huge gulf separates the world's most prestigious business school from BYU-Idaho, which became a four-year college only in 2000, after decades as a two-year institution. But Clark -- a devout Mormon who has seven children and six grandchildren -- clearly felt he should answer his church's call. In December, previous BYU-Idaho President David Bednar moved up to a leadership position in the Mormon church.
Summers confesses that he made little effort to get Clark to stay put at HBS. "It became clear almost instantly that...the president of the church had spoken, and I was best off accommodating the reality I faced."
Harvard Press Conference - June 6, 2005
ACADEMIC BUZZ. Still, while Clark's new assignment may come as a surprise, even he admits that after 10 years in the top job, he was nearing the end of his tenure as HBS dean. "I have felt for some time that 10 years is a good time [to serve] as dean," he says. "So my wife and I have been talking about what we were going to do [next]." However, Clark insists that had he not gotten the call from the president of his church, he would certainly have remained as dean for "quite a bit longer than I'm going to now."
While Summers expects to name an interim dean before Clark leaves, the search for a permanent replacement will take many months and certainly stretch well into the fall. As is usual at Harvard, Summers will set up a committee to help conduct the search. But as president, he'll make the final recommendation to Harvard's governing boards on who should succeed Clark.
The B-school community has already started to speculate on the next HBS dean. "What's different about the Harvard job is that it's a very important platform," says Ted Snyder, dean of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. "What I really liked about [Clark] was that he was such a thoughtful person, and I think at Harvard, the ideal is to have an effective leader but also to have someone who doesn't try to outshine the faculty."
"WE CAN'T SIT STILL." His successor -- whoever he or she might be -- will face many challenges. HBS won praise thanks to Clark's commitment to infusing globalization and technology into the curriculum. But the next dean will have to do even more of that just to keep up with the times.
"There are significant challenges ahead for business education that require changing the academy, the way we teach, and what we study," says Clark. "We can't sit still." And neither can that search committee. The institution is just too important to the business community. With Geoff Gloeckler in New York
Di Meglio is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in Fort Lee, N.J., and Symonds is BusinessWeek's Boston bureau chief