Without Light, Who Will Show HBS The Way?

There are moments in your life which you will likely never forget. Where were you when you heard that Michael Jackson had died? Where were you when you discovered that Erik Peterson had been let go? Where were you when you read an email from Harvard President Drew Faust informing you that Dean Light had decided to retire?

I remember the moment clearly. I was about to start a class when I read the message on my vibrating BlackBerry. My first thoughts were of shock and worry. Could HBS be at risk of losing its Midas touch? Would this spell the end of HBS? Soon, however, my fears of impending crisis turned into thoughts of opportunity. Could this be my moment? Could this be my time?

Upon hearing the news that our beloved Dean Light was set to retire in June, I emailed my section (jokingly) to put forward my candidacy for the newly vacant position.

“Dear Section F. I believe I am well-qualified to be Dean of HBS and seek your support in applying for the role.ÿ In short, I have three distinct USPs.ÿÿ I have over 27 years of experience of being a Dean. I have wide international experience of being a Dean, and I wouldn’t need to change my name.ÿ No awkwardness, it would be, as always, Dean Frankle.”

I added that Drew Faust stated that she “intends to consult widely in the search for Jay’s successor, and will be in further touch with the Business School community”.ÿ I asked my section mates to please remember the points listed above should she happen to be in touch.ÿ As a further incentive, I also promised to throw great parties at “my” house.ÿ

A great pitch, I know, but it got me thinking about who will be the next Dean of our school, who should be the next Dean, from which department the Dean will be chosen and precisely what characteristics the new Dean should possess?

Like in most RC classes, the supposed truth was found by “taking a vote,” and a poll was conducted to which many students responded. Fortunately, that poll was online and secretive, and thus a scene from “12 Angry Men” was thankfully avoided.

For the question “Who do you think should be the next Dean of Harvard Business School?,” Deputy Dean for Academic Affairs Carl Kester received the most votes, shortly ahead of Professor of Management Rob Kaplan, Chair of the MBA Elective Curriculum Jan Hammond, and Senior Associate Dean and Chair of the MBA Program Joe Badaracco. Bishop William Lawrence University Professor Michael Porter was also high on the list of nominations. Professor Clay Christensen, Professor Tom DeLong and Emeritus Professor Tom Piper rounded out the frontrunners.

There were certainly a number of surprise candidates for the position. George W. Bush received a few nominations as did Hank Paulson, Jeff Skilling and Sesame Street star Elmo. Mr. Bean also received a handful of nominations, although the thought of Harvard Business School being run by Dean Bean would perhaps be too much for some alumni.

As for whom the student community thought would in fact be chosen as the next Dean of the school, the answers were surprisingly different. Joe Badaracco was a runaway leader with more than double the votes of runner-up Carl Kester. Their pseudonyms Joey Badaracco and Carly Kester also performed tremendously well, although they lagged slightly behind third-place Jan Hammond and fourth-place Rob Kaplan.

If, however, a decision were to be made from a top-down rather than bottoms-up approach, the department from which an overwhelming majority of students would like to see the new Dean chosen is the Organizational Behavior unit, home to the LEAD faculty. Finance performed well, finishing in second-place with TOM, TEM, Strategy and Marketing all head-to-head for the third and final spot.

But what will the new Dean actually do? What should be the number one focus during his or her time in the role?

A broad definition found argues that a Dean must “assume leadership responsibility, curriculum planning and development, staffing, evaluation, and budgetary administration.” In response to the final question, students overwhelmingly believed that the financial role of the Dean is the most important function to be fulfilled. The word “fundraising” was mentioned in well over half of the responses, and clearly the economic crisis of the last 18 months has led to an increased focus on this role.

Students also viewed “strategy setting” and “being a key point of communication” as two other important characteristics.

We all wait with bated breath for news of the new Dean. I have now resigned myself to the fact that it will not be me; however, the winning candidate will, I am sure, be well-qualified to lead HBS into the next decade.

January 25, 2010
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