Much of his mainstream academic legacy focuses on helping individuals with low-incomes to save more money. In May 2009, when he was still a Professor of Financial Management at Harvard, he spoke at a Brookings Institution event in Washington, DC. He was discussing a new book that he and 15 other authors had contributed to called, Insufficient Funds: Savings, Assets, Credit and Banking Among Low-Income Households. Tufano was proficient on the topic, and rightly concerned about the book’s subjects. A mere $1,000 expense was often enough to send them into a dangerous downward spiral, he warned, and they needed help – incentives, laws, and low-cost options – to start building a financial cushion.
He had already encouraged policy makers and businesses to cater savings products to this under-served segment of America. He had set up a non-profit called the Doorways to Dreams (D2D) Fund, which continues to share savings and investing know-how with families earning low-to-moderate incomes. But on that day, he was particularly excited because the book’s authors were experts in economics, psychology, sociology, law, public policy, social work and business. He told the crowd, “we have a full panoply of tools, and we use them in different ways” to attack this problem.
“Panoply” means an extensive or impressive collection. It’s an under-used word, but one that Tufano has embraced as his academic career flourished. He called on it to foster a more collegiate atmosphere among the schools at Harvard. He relied on it when he co-founded the Harvard Innovation Lab, a multi-disciplinary center that opened this past autumn.
And it’s an appreciation of intellectual panoply that appears to have enticed the do-good professor to leave his Cambridge, Mass. nest for England. The tiny b-school reminds Tufano of Harvard Business School in the 1970s, “when the school was about to blossom.”
Tufano’s charge is to reshape the 15-year-old b-school and to set its flight plan. In his words, that requires some serious gardening. “They let 1,000 flowers bloom,” he says of his predecessors, who apparently didn’t like to prune. Indeed, the school’s small faculty oversees nine research centers, five degrees, a PhD program, four diploma courses and a number of executive programs. “We do a lot. We have a product line that’s at least as broad if not broader than HBS. There needs to be some focusing…on a couple of areas where we can concentrate our resources. I‘m convinced we have that.”