An Interview With Stanford Dean Garth Saloner

Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Garth Saloner on the opening morning of classes at his school's new $345 million campus.

Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Garth Saloner on the opening morning of classes at his school’s new $345 million campus.

If you come and you sit in one of these entrepreneurship classes, you’re going to get several lifetimes’ worth of lessons in a quarter. In every single class where we teach entrepreneurship we write a case around an entrepreneur who we know, maybe an alum or somebody we have a relationship with, and they come to class every time. The students will study the entrepreneur’s case with their professors.  That person is sitting in the room while the students are explaining what a terrible job he or she did, and then that person gets to stand up and talk about whether they agree or disagree and so on. I think that’s absolutely invaluable.

But I don’t think business school is a good place for a startup. It’s way too expensive a place to start a company. So that’s not what we do. There are startups that come out of here, but it’s not because students spend two years incubating one. Students should come here to get the education, they should come here to learn. Then maybe they’ll do a little bit of startup activity on the side. We have a Venture Studio where, at the moment, there are 38 teams working on startup ideas. So it’s not that I’m anti-startup, it’s quite the contrary. This is a hotbed of innovation. But I don’t think that you want to do a startup while you’re here.  You want to come to school to learn how to be an entrepreneur and then go and do a startup.

What do you offer students who simply can’t afford to take on the debt of a Stanford MBA? 

One of the things that worries us is that people from developed economies can plan out how to pay off their debt. But imagine if you’re a youngster in sub-Saharan Africa and you’re looking at the total cost of a U.S. education, which is a lot more for international students. I think that’s just unbelievably daunting.

So one of the things we worry about is not how do we attract the students we want who apply. We do pretty well at that. But what about the students who can’t even imagine coming? So we’re going to offer some full-ride scholarships for students from sub-Saharan Africa, initially, to see if we can attract some extraordinary young men and young women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to avail themselves to this opportunity.

What do you look for in successful Stanford MBA candidates? 

We’re a small school and we don’t take many people compared with our peers.  We’re looking for a small number of very high potential students who really want to make a difference in the world. Our mantra is: Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world. We take it seriously, and we’re looking for that very select set of people who have incredible potential, who have the desire to go out and do something significant.

I think if you’re just looking to get a credential or to move up the ladder, that’s not really what this education is oriented toward. It’s for change agents who want to make a difference in the world, and we’re looking for people who have that passion.

You’ve also worked at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Harvard Business School. What differentiates Stanford from other top MBA programs?

We’re incredibly different from other schools, and I think some of the differences are not that well understood from 30,000 feet.  Stanford’s program is limited in scale—we only do full-time and it is a highly immersive, transformative process.

People really get immersed in the experience and the whole curriculum.  Everything that surrounds them is oriented toward helping them become change agents. In the curriculum we emphasize leadership, critical thinking and design thinking, in addition to the mainstream functional and disciplinary education you would get at other schools.

We have other schools, such as engineering, medicine and law, all within walking distance. The beauty is we’re all co-located.  Stanford is a very collaborative and multidisciplinary setting, so you get exposure not just to the business school, but to your peers at other schools.

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