Olin B School's Way To The Top: `Copy Shamelessly'

Its new dean aims to clone Kellogg's success

It was while sitting in the steam bath that Stuart Greenbaum learned how to run a business school. Starting in the late 1980s, Greenbaum, then a banking professor at Northwestern's J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, regularly joined Dean Donald P. Jacobs and a few colleagues at a Russian steam bath in Chicago. The sweat-soaked bull sessions covered politics, baseball, and above all, ways to help Jacobs turn Kellogg into one of the nation's best B-schools.

All that perspiration paid off. Today, another business school turnaround is emerging--this time, with Greenbaum at the helm. In July, 1995, after two decades at Kellogg, Greenbaum, 59, moved to St. Louis to become the dean of Washington University's John M. Olin School of Business. Already, he has overhauled the curriculum, recruited 20 new professors, and planned a new building in hopes of vaulting Olin into the ranks of top B-schools. "I wanted to see if I could do it myself," he says.

The blueprint sure looks familiar. From the advisory boards of local businessmen he has set up, to the array of flags from students' countries he has hung in the lobby, many of Greenbaum's ideas have been modeled after those tried at Kellogg. Thanksgiving with the dean, a faculty orientation program, a remodeled student lounge, an executive manufacturing program--and the center that will house it: They all spring from Kellogg. About the only thing missing is a strip of Northwestern purple paint around the school's faux-Gothic buildings. "Copy shamelessly," says a grinning Greenbaum. "I'll copy anything that works."

"RUDDERLESS." So far, the copycat tactics have been effective. In one year, Olin grads' salaries have jumped 10%, compared with a roughly 6% rise at top B-schools nationwide, and more recruiters have come to campus. Students are happier, too. After he introduced a mentoring program for professors, teacher evaluations reached their highest level of the decade. And while 38% of MBA students polled by an outside firm in 1995 were dissatisfied with the administration's responsiveness, that number fell to 3% this year. "I've noticed a new esprit de corps there," says Sean D. Kenny, a partner at Ernst & Young, the largest recruiter at Olin.

Greenbaum's arrival ended a tough time for Olin, which had floundered upon the 1992 semiretirement of longtime Dean Robert L. Virgil. The school went three years without a permanent dean, partly because candidates thought it was trying to run too many programs with its small faculty. "We were rudderless," says Emerson Electric Chairman Charles F. Knight, who heads Olin's advisory council. In 1994, Olin fell out of BUSINESS WEEK's ranking of the nation's top 20 business schools, after a brief stint as No.20.

Looking to Kellogg for a leader made sense. In recent years, the Kellogg philosophy--that universities must shed their arrogance and pay more attention to students' wants--has swept across American B-schools. Certainly, Greenbaum practiced these ideas at Kellogg. A baseball nut who quotes Casey Stengel as readily as he does total quality management guru W. Edwards Deming, Greenbaum devised some of Kellogg's best-known programs.

Yet Greenbaum and Olin weren't an obvious fit. Greenbaum is the son of a New York butcher and has the accent to prove it. He's an opera fan, and for a B-school dean, he is rather liberal. That's not exactly a resume that would leap out at a Midwestern school surrounded by a conservative business community.

WELL ENDOWED. In fact, it didn't. The search committee offered the job to at least four other people before Greenbaum. When Olin did finally turn to him, he turned it down. "Frankly," he says, "I was a little bit insulted." An appeal from former Dean Virgil helped change his mind. Greenbaum started at Olin on July 1, 1995, the same day as Mark S. Wrighton, the new Chancellor. Wrighton's goal: make Washington--and Olin--into premier national schools, much like Duke University and its J.B. Fuqua School of Business.

It's a tough task, but not an impossible one. With a relative dearth of top-tier research universities in the Midwest, there's plenty of room for Washington. St. Louis is home to the headquarters of 10 large companies--including Ralston Purina Co. and Monsanto Co.--and Greenbaum has lobbied Anheuser-Busch Cos. and others to get more involved. Olin's $100 million endowment--larger than that of many top schools such as Duke and Dartmouth's Amos Tuck School of Business--gives it the firepower to try imitating the success of Wash. U.'s nationally respected medical school.

Not everything in Greenbaum's bag of tricks has come from Kellogg. To appeal to the growing number of companies looking for students with specialized skills, for instance, Greenbaum wants just 20% of a student's credits to come from core courses, down from about 40% today and 60% last year. Greenbaum also hopes to drop letter grades in order to focus students more on learning than on competition. That may be risky for a second-tier school, however, since recruiters often rely on grades to single out the best candidates. Greenbaum has even applied his love for baseball to Olin by sending some students to work with the St. Louis Cardinals to help attract more African Americans to the ballpark.

The B-school community is already noticing the changes. "Any one of those changes would have been a nice feather in his cap," says Russell Roberts, a professor of management at Olin. And although imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, Greenbaum's old mentor, Kellogg's Jacobs, shows signs of a little defensiveness. He notes that Greenbaum was the third Kellogg professor to get the call, quickly adding, "I told them to hire Stuart all along."

Still, Greenbaum has a long way to go. He has yet to woo any of the big-name faculty needed to make a school top-notch, and its numbers on applications, student salaries, and scores place Olin in the second tier of B-schools. But for now, Greenbaum's biggest worry is finding a nearby steam bath. "I miss it," he says. You know what that means: Look for one near Olin soon.

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