When M. Eric Johnson went in to tell his boss that he was leaving his job as associate dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College to become dean of Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Management, he received some sage advice.
Tuck’s Paul Danos, the longest-serving dean of any top business school in the world, told Johnson to focus on the faculty. “In our business,” says Johnson, “it takes a long time to move a faculty in one direction or another. The ability to build a strategy and vision and implement it through the faculty takes time. But real change that is going to last is going to be faculty driven. That is the advice he gave me.”
Danos should know. He’s currently serving his fifth four-year term as dean, having been in the job now for 18 years (see “A B-School Dean for the Guinness Book of Records.”) It certainly made an impression on Johnson who will start as dean at Owen on July 1. He was selected after a national search headed by Vanderbilt Law School Dean Chris Guthrie.
A NOD TO TUCK’S PAUL DANOS
“One of the things I learned about Tuck is the value of stability in the dean’s position,” says Johnson, who is 50-years-old. “Paul is coming up on 20 years. The level of change that Tuck has gone through under his leadership is just astounding. A lot of schools fiddle around with the flavor of the moment. Paul has been able to execute a long-term strategy to make important things happen.”
For Johnson, who has overseen Tuck’s MBA program and its nine centers and initiatives, the new job is a return to Nashville. Johnson taught at the Owen School for eight years from 1991 to 1999 before departing for Tuck. At Owen, he twice won awards for teaching excellence and left the school as a tenured associate professor of operations management. He joined the Owen faculty after getting his Ph.D. in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University.
THE CO-PRODUCTION OF LEARNING
During his 14 years at Tuck, Johnson said he was most impressed by the school’s student-centric culture. “I learned that building a culture is an amazing asset for a school,” he told Poets&Quants in an interview. “Tuck has a very strong culture nurtured over 100 years. Pretty much everything we did in the MBA program is aligned with building that culture. It is all about the co-production of learning. The students at Tuck take a much greater role and responsibility for their own learning. That happens through clubs and organized conferences.
“I’ve been at Stanford, Vanderbilt and Tuck: You really see a level of responsibility among the students at Tuck that is true ownership and unusual. It’s one of the things i hope to take to Owen.”
Johnson believes his “mark” on Tuck largely has to do with the school’s nine research centers and initiatives. Under his leadership, Tuck launched several new centers on entrepreneurship, digital strategies, energy and health care. “There are so many fantastic things going on around Tuck, but my piece in the world has been the centers,” he says.
‘VANDERBILT IS ON A TEAR’
Johnson said that when approached for the deanship, he was receptive and enthusiastic because he thinks Owen has much upside to it. “Owen sits in a fantastic university,” he says. “Vanderbilt is on a tear. There is an opportunity to further leverage the rest of the university, including the Medical Center. Nashville is a Silicon Valley for health care with a lot of startups. Owen has a health care MBA and it is cooking along but there are a lot of opportunities to blow that wide open. It’s just one of the places I see where Owen can really leverage the university to make a very strong MBA offering.”