Kim B. Clark vividly remembers arriving at Harvard College as a freshman in late summer of 1967. To earn his financial-aid benefits, he spent his first two weeks cleaning undergrad dormitories and stumbled through the rest of his first year overwhelmed by the school's demands. "I was clueless," he says. "You could not have found someone who was less prepared to come here than me."
Lucky thing he eventually stuck it out. Nearly three decades later, Clark is preparing for yet another cleanup role--this time as the new dean of Harvard's business school. On Sept. 11, the university named the soft-spoken professor of technology and operations as successor to John H. McArthur, who had held the post for 15 years.
Clark's appointment, which is effective Oct. 1, comes at a critical juncture. In recent years, Harvard has slipped in national business school rankings, including BUSINESS WEEK's. The B-school has lagged rivals in updating its basic curriculum. Its highly paid graduates also bemoan what they consider an unresponsive administration. Some MBAs even complain that they lack basic accounting or finance skills when they graduate.
Clark arrives in time to lead a recently begun overhaul of the school's MBA program and to preside over its switch to a 12-month school year. "He's smart and balanced," says Thomas S. Murphy, chairman of Capital Cities/ABC Inc. and head of Harvard's visiting committee. "He knows where the school should go, and he'll take it there."
"DOWN TO EARTH." Clark, 46, is widely respected for both his scholarship in manufacturing and his witty, self-deprecating style. Unlike McArthur, who wasn't known as an effective speaker, Clark is articulate and at ease with outsiders, whether in press conferences or classrooms. Says Steven C. Wheelwright, a Harvard prof and jogging partner: "He's a very comfortable guy, just relaxed and down to earth." He's also a bit of a straight arrow: A devout Mormon who neither drinks nor smokes, Clark "is not much fun at a party," laughs a friend.
Clark's rise to success was far from foreordained. His father, Merlin, a former advertising manager for agriculture and ranching magazines, was the first in his family to earn a college degree. Kim Clark nearly faltered trying to become the second. Far from a stellar student, he admits he got into Harvard largely thanks to the recommendation of an influential alum from Spokane, Wash.
Homesick and dazed by the premed courses he initially loaded up on, Clark left Harvard within a year to become a missionary for the Mormon Church at 19. After a two-year stint in Germany, Clark returned to Utah and Brigham Young University, where he met his future wife, Sue. Within a month, they were engaged, and they married shortly before he returned to Harvard in 1971 as an economics major.
Better grounded this time around, Clark earned his bachelor's degree in three years. He stayed at Harvard to earn his master's degree and doctorate before joining the business faculty in 1978. "I knew I liked to teach, and I knew I liked to talk," says Clark. "I thought, `What a great idea: They actually pay you to do this."'
SCOUTS AND HOOPS. At the business school, Clark successfully carved out a niche in operations and technology by studying the development of new products and innovation. At home, he is actively involved in his church and in the lives of his seven children. He spent three years as a Mormon bishop counseling married couples, was Boy Scout master for a church-affiliated troop, and spends Saturdays coordinating a boys' basketball league.
At the B-school, Clark says he wants to speed up changes in the MBA program, more closely integrate the school's lucrative publishing operations by increasing faculty involvement in them, and more aggressively recruit and develop new, young faculty. "The major challenge I see here is to help to create an environment where we can attract very talented, creative people and where we can help them develop well," says Clark. "Yes, we're doing it, but we can do it better." For Clark, such a challenge is a long way from scrubbing undergraduate bathrooms.
KIM B. CLARK
Mar. 20, 1949, Salt Lake City
AB (1974), MA (1977), and PhD (1978) in economics from Harvard
New-product development, with heavy focus on auto industry
Married to Sue for 24 years; seven children, aged 10 (twins) to 21
Devout Mormon, formerly church bishop; jogs; coaches kids' basketball