Roger Martin’s Transformational Legacy At The Rotman School

by John A. Byrne on

Roger Martin recently stepped down after a highly successful run as dean of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management

Roger Martin recently stepped down after a highly successful run as dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management

It was a Roger Martin moment.

At a dinner celebrating an extraordinarily successful 15-year stint as dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management last week, Martin gave a highly critical and  pessimistic speech, declaring that business education is in deep trouble.

“MBA education is narrow where it should be broad, shallow where it should be deep, and static where it should be dynamic,” he said in a room filled with academics at the school in downtown Toronto. “Faculty is content to make marginal improvements in the fields they know. We keep ourselves in a narrow cage of static shallowness.”

‘WHO IS THE JAIL KEEPER OF MBA EDUCATION?’

“Who is the jail keeper?,” asked Martin. “It’s conventional social science research methods. I think we have a significant and meaningful problem and challenge. If you stray outside that constraint, bad things will happen to you. So we have to stay in that box…I see mounting criticism of MBA education from outside and I wish I could say it is unwarranted and completely wrong.”

Then, Martin, 56, who stepped down as Rotman dean on June 30, projected a chart on a large screen. It portrayed an “iron cage” in which Martin claimed that the vast majority of academic research in business s carried out. Rotman, he said, spends $34 million a year on salaries and benefits for faculty inside the cage and only $2 million on teaching faculty who make research contributions outside the cage’s confines.

He singled out both the Stanford Graduate School of Business and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business for criticism, noting that some of the most innovative work in social innovation and design thinking is being generated not within the business schools but at the design and engineering schools at those universities.

‘SILLY AND ANTI-INTELLECTUAL’

Predictably, Martin’s comments shocked many of the deans of mainstream business schools in attendance. Yale University School of Management Dean Edward Snyder was visibly offended. He called Martin’s talk “silly” and “anti-intellectual,” ticking off a list of research advances by business school faculty that have led to changes in both management practice and investing.

But those who know Martin well were not entirely surprised. He is a contrarian thinker who despises convention, ritual and tradition. They would not have expected him to toss off the more typical victory speech, listing accomplishments made by a hard-working team of people and thanking everyone for their support and encouragement. No, that is not Roger Martin, the former strategy consultant from Monitor Co.

Yet, no one could deny that he had recently ended one of the most successful deanships in recent memory. In the past 15 years, Martin doubled the physical space of the school, quadrupled the endowment, increased the size of the faculty to 113 from 30 and the Rotman staff to 300 from 60, and boosted the student population by 300%. He raised more than $250 million for the school, reeling in eight eight-figure gifts–roughly a third of the 25 eight-figure donations the entire university has received in its 175-year history. The school’s annual budget is now $130 million, up from a little more than $13 million when he became dean in the fall of 1998.

Roger Martin believes that most business research is narrow and shallow and done inside an "iron cage"

Roger Martin believes that most business research is narrow and shallow and done inside an “iron cage”

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  • Gurra

    I have a great respect for what he did at Rotman and what he did for design thinking, but really surprised what happened at Blackberry.

  • Brendan Calder

    I was there to hear Roger’s remarks. Like a Peter Drucker he was outlining his thoughtful observations of the Dean/MBA School craft as it is today and forecasting its future if remedial action is not taken.

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