Harvard Dean Search: 'Vision' a Must

For the first time, the three top business schools in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek ranking of full-time MBA programs find themselves with vacancies in the dean's office.On Mar.25, we launched a three-part series examining the dean searches now underway at No.1 University of Chicago's Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile), No.2 Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile), and No.3 Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management (Kellogg Full-Time MBA Profile). In the first installment, we described the challenges that will be faced by the new dean at Chicago Booth and identified some possible contenders for the post. Today, in the second installment, we turn to Harvard.

When Harvard Business School celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2008, outgoing Dean Jay Light spoke at length about the importance of experiential learning and adapting the curriculum to serve students in a rapidly changing business world. He also touched on the need for globalization and a greater focus on leadership skills. It was a road map of the challenges the next dean at HBS will face.

During his five-year tenure as dean at HBS, Light led the iconic B-school through the worst of the financial crisis. The number of students with at least one job offer by graduation dropped 10% from 2008 to 2009, thanks to the down economy—a large number, but not the worst placement rate among top MBA programs. Light also increased the school's presence in Asia, opening a research center in India and the Harvard Center Shanghai, a research and teaching hub for students, faculty, and alumni across all of the university's schools.

Alumni Board Letter

The HBS dean search is one shrouded in mystery, with nary an announcement about who is on the search committee, let alone who's being considered for the job. All that is known is that Harvard President Drew Faust will be making the final decision. Soon after Light announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2010 school year, Faust reached out to the HBS community asking for suggestions on what kind of a person would be a good fit for the dean's position. The various HBS constituencies have not been shy about responding.

Ann Kelly, HBS Alumni Board president and partner at Global Philanthropy Group in Seattle, sent a letter to Faust on behalf of the school's 80,000 alumni. While the letter did not mention any potential deans by name, it laid out the characteristics the board feels the new dean should possess. Among them: strong leadership skills, an understanding and respect for HBS, a vision to keep the school relevant and lead it forward, and the ability to work with the larger Harvard University community. "We want someone who can be visionary, but not so visionary that you undo and unseat all of the good things that have been done in the past," Kelly says. "It's a tall order."

Others have suggested specific individuals.

In January, when The Harbus, the HBS student newspaper, surveyed students on who they thought would be the next dean, the clear front-runner was Joseph L. Badaracco, senior associate dean and chair of the MBA program. Based on his background, Badaracco seems like a good fit for the job. He's an HBS graduate and longtime professor of business ethics at the B-school. He has close ties to the university community, having served as chairman of the Harvard University Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility and as a housemaster in Harvard College. As the current faculty chair of the Nomura School of Advanced Management in Tokyo, and a regular on the HBS executive education circuit, he also has global experience. Badaracco declined to comment.

Internet Campaign

The HBS Class of 2009, meanwhile, has taken to the Internet to demonstrate support for Professor Nitin Nohria via a specially created Web site.Nohria, who has been on the faculty at HBS since 1984, is part of the team at HBS working with the World Economic Forum and the Aspen Institute on the much-discussed MBA Oath in the hopes of transforming management into a profession on par with law and medicine. He is co-chair of the Leadership Initiative at HBS and has previously served as senior associate dean of faculty development. On the "Nohria for Dean" Web site, the Class of 2009 focuses on Nohria's strengths, including his questioning of common assumptions, his reasoned authority, and his strong leadership skills. "Professor Nitin Nohria is the leader we need at the helm of our great institution to guide us down the tough and vital path to rediscover ourselves, and to realign and redefine purposeful leadership," the Web site reads. Nohria declined to comment.

The dean search has generated a lot of interest among alumni, student leaders, and faculty, who—while unwilling to go on the record—spoke privately about their favorites. One name that's surfaced as a possible candidate is that of Srikant Datar, senior associate dean and professor of accounting, whose name was also mentioned as a front-runner for the position in 2006. Datar has taught at HBS since 1996 and is thought of as a visionary in the world of management education. His most recent book, Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads, looks at how business schools must change with the changing business world, demanding things like increased creative and critical thinking, an increased awareness of global perspectives, and a greater focus on leadership skills. Datar did not return messages seeking comment.

The one thing that all constituencies at HBS agree on is that the position is unlikely to be filled by an outsider. That means the new dean could be a grad, but will most likely be plucked from the school's existing faculty, as has been the case with every dean in the school's history. "We just celebrated our centennial in 2008, so it's almost like we put a cap on that and now we're really looking for someone who can start steering things for the next 100 years," says Kelly, the HBS Alumni Board president. "It's an interesting time for someone new to come in."