Stanford GSB Turns To University Economist As New Dean

Economist Jonathan Levin will assume the GSB deanship on Sept. 1, 2016 (Photograph by L.A. Cicero)

Economist Jonathan Levin will assume the GSB deanship on Sept. 1, 2016 (Photograph by L.A. Cicero)

Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business today (May 23) named the former chair of the university’s economics department as its next dean. Jonathan Levin, the son of former Yale University President Rick Levin, takes over the job on Sept. 1, succeeding Garth Saloner who announced in September that he would step down from his job at the end of this academic year.

The 43-year-old Levin brings plenty of academic cred to the job. He earned a BS in math and a BA in English from Stanford in 1994, an MPhil in economics from Oxford University in 1996, and a PhD in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999. He joined the Stanford faculty as an assistant professor in 2000 and became a full professor in 2008. But those credentials–which will give him immediate status among the 124 tenure-track faculty–may matter less than the softer leadership skills he will need to bring to the position.

Levin clearly will have his work cut out for him. Stanford fell to second in U.S. News & World Report‘s ranking this year, the first time in seven years that the school failed to hold first place on its own or in a tie with another school. Aside from the school’s fall in a key ranking, Levin will take over a business school that has been embroiled in a headline-grabbing controversy through much of last fall when news broke that Saloner, now 61, was having an affair with a GSB professor, Deborah Gruenfeld, who was married to another professor at the school. (see Stanford Confidential: Sex, Lies and Loathing At The World’s No. 1 Business School). Even worse, Saloner remained involved in personnel decisions directly impacting the husband, Jim Phills, who brought a lawsuit against the university alleging that he was unfairly dismissed.


Dean Garth Saloner

Dean Garth Saloner

Some 46 current and former GSB staffers, moreover, accused Saloner of disrupting the collegial, close-knit culture of the school and turning it into an environment of fear and intimidation, where the back-stabbing politics were so thick that few would dare challenge the dean. Those current and former employees had unsuccessfully urged the university not to reappoint Saloner to a second term, claiming that he created a “hostile workplace” in which staff, particularly women and people over 40, were hounded out of jobs and roles amid numerous violations of Stanford’s Code of Conduct and HR policies (see Anatomy Of A Rebellion: Inside The Revolt Against Stanford GSB Dean Garth Saloner).

For Levin, job number one will be to restore that collegial culture at a school whose lofty mission is proudly proclaimed to “change lives, change organizations, change the world.” In going to an insider who university officials know well, Levin was a safe and known choice to restore the school’s reputation and image. In many ways, he is reminiscent of former Dean A. Michael Spence, an enterprising and self-effacing economist who as dean from 1990 to 1999 built relationships between researchers and business and industry leaders, and put more emphasis on global management issues, the management of technology, and entrepreneurship. Spence won the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, along with George Akerlof and Joseph E. Stiglitz, for their work on the dynamics of information flows and market development.

Levin, who was born in New Haven, CT, in 1972 when his father was studying for his PhD in economics at Yale, also boasts a strong economics background. He chaired the university’s Department of Economics from 2011 to 2014. He is also a professor, by courtesy, at Stanford Graduate School of Business, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, and director of the Industrial Organization Program at the National Bureau for Economic Research. Levin is also well established in the firmament of Silicon Valley, having consulted for Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Zynga and the Gates Foundation.


“Jonathan is an outstanding teacher, a skilled and innovative administrator, and a brilliant scholar who has deep understanding of both the academic enterprise and the workings of industry and government,” said Provost John Etchemendy, who received the petition from disgruntled staffers at the GSB and renewed Saloner’s second five-year term. “Importantly, he brings a vision for the future of management education that is rooted in his extensive scholarship on the evolving needs of a global business community. I have every confidence he will continue the school’s strong trajectory.”

Levin’s appointment is the result of an eight-month search by a search committee co-chaired by Mary Barth, an accounting professor at the school, and Etchemendy. Barth said the committee was impressed by Levin’s “thorough grasp of what is required to maintain, and enhance, the high quality of teaching and research at the school. Jonathan brings not only stellar academic credentials but a fresh perspective and leadership skills that will help Stanford GSB maintain its preeminence for years to come.”

“Stanford GSB is devoted to transforming lives by preparing future leaders to change organizations and change the world,” Levin said. “It will be an honor to join such a committed, dedicated faculty and to support their mission of applying both academic rigor and real-world relevance to their research. Deepening our understanding of management and bringing that knowledge into the classroom couldn’t be more exciting.”