An Interview With Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business

Haas School of Business Dean Rich Lyons

Rich Lyons is the Dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Prior to becoming dean in July of 2008, he served as the chief learning officer at Goldman Sachs in New York, a position he held since 2006. In that role, he was responsible for the leadership development of the firm’s managing directors. He was interviewed by John Coleman, Daniel Gulati, and W. Oliver Segovia, authors of the new book, Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders. This interview is an excerpt from the book published by Harvard Business Review Press.

How do you think MBA students’ attitudes and motivations toward the degree and, more broadly, toward business education have changed in the past 20 years? How do you see them changing in the next 20 years?

A question like this, of course, involves generalizations, so I’ll start with that caveat. Nevertheless, I think there are trends that everybody is seeing. I think that MBAs seem to be more purpose-driven in the way they think about their careers. This might be a generational thing, so it could be true of students in lots of different fields. They are less willing to compartmentalize their professional and personal lives. They want a professional life that’s more aligned with their personal or private values. And they’re willing to give up more to maintain that alignment.

A second characteristic is that students seem to be even more interested than before in both in- and out-of-classroom learning and development. They’re expecting to draw insights and meaning directly from experience while they’re in the program. They’re thinking about the curriculum in the total curriculum sense, by which I mean a set of experiences that we might associate with a degree or with a program.

I think an additional trend is the recognition that despite not having a completely flat or borderless world, careers need to take someone across geographies. It’s become a must that students think more broadly about geographies in their career. Of course, some students were thinking that way 20 years ago and many businesses were very global 20 years ago. But now it’s hard to even find an MBA student who isn’t thinking that way or an MBA program that doesn’t recognize that it needs to address that need. And I would expect this to continue for the next 20 years. I see no reason why the global economic environment will reverse this trend.

How are MBA programs responding to these trends and where do they need to respond differently?

I think they need to address it on many different fronts, so there isn’t any one answer to that question.

One very simple front is that having only 10 or 20% international students in an MBA program is way too little. I think rubbing elbows with people from different cultures and different biographies is an absolutely fundamental starting point. I think the relative development of non-U.S. business schools and the demand they’re attracting is representative of this.

There are many other areas that are important as well. One, of course, has to do with curriculum. To what degree are international global issues discussed in the core classes and in elective classes? Every business school now has an experiential learning or action-learning curriculum within the larger curriculum. And the question is how many international opportunities are within the experiential learning curriculum because there’s nothing like going to a place and actually working there, even if for a short period of time.

I don’t think it’s necessary for a business school to have a remote presence everywhere. My own view here may differ from other people’s, but I actually think that ‘place’ is still an important part of many business schools. The set of experiences that arise out of the ecosystem within which a business school operates is crucial. And to completely distribute that ecosystem, online or in a separate campus, may take some of the essential elements away.

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