With Kim B. Clark's departure as dean of the Harvard Business School, announced on June 6, one of the biggest prizes in management education is up for grabs. The century-old program, with a $1.8 billion endowment, is the nation's richest. And with a faculty that's a veritable who's who of business academia, it's arguably the most influential.
But choosing a new leader won't be easy. Like many top B-schools, Harvard is engaged in a bout of soul-searching, trying to determine if its future will be as a professional school or a purely academic institution.
The search committee has yet to be formed, and even Clark's temporary successor is a question mark. But speculation is growing, and the names of possible candidates say much about where HBS may be headed. There's near universal agreement among Harvard-watchers that the next dean will come from the B-school's faculty or alumni. But that doesn't mean there won't be changes at a school widely seen to need more global presence, diversity, and real-life business knowhow.
"It's a time of our discontent," says Jay W. Lorsch, a professor of human relations at HBS. "The new dean is going to have to find a way to determine whether we're creating the kind of education we want to create."
"A DEGREE OF TENSION."
The person generating the most buzz as a likely Clark successor is Srikant M. Datar, an accounting professor at HBS since 1996 and senior associate dean of executive education. A native of India, Datar would help HBS meet the goal of promoting minorities set out by a task force formed by university President Lawrence H. Summers earlier this year. Datar would also give the business school a leader with truly global perspective.
Those aren't the only reasons Datar is a logical choice. While the case study continues to reign supreme at HBS, one challenge the school faces is striking a balance between theory and practice that doesn't deemphasize the latter. Clark himself concedes that HBS, and B-schools in general, need to do a better job of bringing business experience into the classroom.
Datar's work with global companies -- including General Motors (GM ), Boeing (BA ), and AT&T (T ) -- and his extensive research in accounting and finance put him in a position to grapple with both sides of Harvard's internal debate. Datar could not be reached for comment.
"They're going to have a degree of tension around case writing vs. research," says Edward A. Snyder, dean of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. "Someone is going to have to manage that."
One consideration may turn out to be gender. Summers, who named three senior female deans since becoming president, may be inclined to name a fourth, given the uproar caused by his comments about women in science last winter.
A likely candidate is Debora L. Spar, a senior associate dean for faculty recruiting at HBS who teaches international business and runs an executive-education program. Another, Rebecca Henderson, a Harvard PhD and professor at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has published papers -- including one with Clark -- on strategic problems faced by tech companies. With economists on the rise at HBS, a fourth possible candidate is one of their own: Peter Tufano, the director of faculty development at HBS and a professor of financial management.
Under Clark, HBS increased its endowment, invested in infrastructure, and enlarged the faculty. "Kim leaves a school that is in really good shape," says HBS management professor Rosabeth M. Kanter, speaking for the school. But in many ways, Clark's successor will have an even tougher challenge: setting the school on an intellectual course for the future.