Ted Snyder: Chicago's Hope

The B-school is counting on its new dean to reverse a slide

There's something wrong with Edward A. Snyder's new office. "These," he says, gesturing to floor-to-ceiling bookcases lining the walls, "have got to go." Turns out they concealed exquisite neo-gothic pillars at the corners. More than that, says the new dean of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, the dark wood made the room feel, well, dreary and closed off.

The same ambience could describe the B-school itself. Although Chicago's graduate business school is a formidable competitor and turns out brainy executives now heading companies across the globe, it has also become known as an embattled campus, mired in conflicts with university administrators and lacking esprit de corps among its students. Fund-raising trails that of other top-tier schools, and a rigid focus on research comes at the expense of teaching, say alums. In BusinessWeek's 2000 ranking of MBA programs, Chicago slipped to No. 10 from No. 3, despite high marks from recruiters.

Snyder, 48, is the man who is supposed to change all that. As dean of Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia for three years, he was so well-loved that fellow administrators cried when he announced he was leaving. Now, the Chicago PhD in economics has returned. And if anyone can give the stodgy school the shove it needs, say many B-school educators, it's Ted Snyder. "These are fairly new challenges for him, but I think he's a good bet to accomplish them," says B. Joseph White, former dean at the University of Michigan Business School and Snyder's former boss.

Bookish and academic, Snyder is at the same time a friendly sort whose soft-spoken demeanor draws people in. "He's not someone who comes off as a big shot," says college buddy Peter Kraft. So the toughest challenges--soothing the sorely overlooked student body and improving strained faculty-student relations--could play well to his strengths. Snyder has tapped marketing professor Ann L. McGill as deputy dean to tackle big issues, such as attracting more minorities and women to Chicago.

Indeed, graduates have complained bitterly about a lack of school identity and diversity. It's partly a matter of style: Chicago doesn't send its MBAs through a core of classes together--rather, students pick and choose. "There is no focus on fostering a sense of community within the school," noted one 2000 grad in the BusinessWeek survey. "The administration is ridiculously out of touch with students' concerns." With his frequent Sunday dinners and morning coffees with students, Snyder could turn the tide. "These students aren't used to the dean stopping to talk to them," says Snyder. "They will know that I will fight for them."

University officials are counting on that, says trustee Dennis Keller. They're also keen on Snyder's financial acumen. In his three years at Darden, Snyder put the once-sluggish B-school on secure financial footing by strengthening corporate partnerships and expanding its lucrative executive education department.

What's more, the son of a World War II bomber pilot and a high-school teacher has spent most of his adult life in the business school world, including almost 16 years at Michigan. So the political terrain--not to mention the cold climate--is plenty familiar. One mess he'll be trying to clean up is the bitter aftermath of a protracted battle between the previous dean and the administration over the location of the B-school's new building. The university wanted to put the $125 million, 330,000-square-foot building at the edge of campus, where it would help move the college southward and further gentrify the area. The B-school wanted a spot close to the main quad--and won. But Snyder needs to finish the building's capital campaign and then wrangle funds and a site for B-school housing. On this and other divisive issues, his well-known disdain for political maneuvering could trip him up, but Snyder vows "I'll be tough when I have to."

At the same time, the pro-student dean will have to be careful not to alienate faculty, say insiders. "The best dean for me is someone who'll leave me alone to do my research," says Rachel Hayes, assistant professor of accounting who spends 75% of her week on research. Snyder will have to combat that deep-seated attitude without jeopardizing the school's hallmark commitment to academic research.

Snyder's gentle suasion will also have to carry over to corporate partners and the 34,000 B-school alums, whose numbers are among the largest but are relatively untapped when it comes to writing checks. The B-school's endowment of about $197 million lags behind schools like Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, with $380 million. Snyder will go after young, influential alums like Julie Roehm, 31, a marketing whiz who helped launch the Ford Focus. As for big gifts, Snyder secured for Darden a $60 million gift from retired chief executive of Landmark Communications, Frank Batten Sr., whom Snyder carefully courted. The result: The Batten Institute for entrepreneurial leadership opened in early 2000.

HARBINGER. To make it come together, the dean will have to use all his talents to unite his constituents: faculty, students, corporate partners, alumni, and the university administration. It certainly helps that he already has an ally in new university president Donald Randel. A former Cornell University provost and musicologist who took over in July, 2000, Randel admits that past tension and underhanded political plays had tainted the relationship between the university and the B-school. "I want us to work on professional terms that don't cause everything to descend to hardball negotiations," says Randel. Many see the Randel-Snyder team as a harbinger of a new attitude at Chicago.

Snyder can ride that wave of enthusiasm until he gets his bearings and plans a strategy, something he says he'll do in the next year after extensive input from all sides. He has e-mailed each faculty member, promising to meet with all 113 in the coming months. And the first Sunday dinner with students was scheduled for September 8. At the staid campus, the charm offensive is on.

By Jennifer Merritt in Chicago

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