2013 Dean Of The Year: Rotman’s Roger Martin

The University of Toronto's Rotman School

The University of Toronto’s Rotman School

The strategy set the school apart. “When he arrived,  Roger challenged the Rotman School to become one of the best, then he spent 15 years pushing boundaries and making it happen,” says Kevin Frey, managing director of Rotman’s full-time MBA program. “What Roger accomplished over his term as dean must put him in a very small group of the most extraordinary B-school leaders ever.”

ANOTHER BIG BET ON DESIGN THINKING AND A ‘CUTE STORY’

Martin’s second big investment was to bring design thinking to business and organizational problem solving. The approach also came out of his consulting work. In the fall of 2005, he began applying design principles such as rapid prototyping and iterative product design based on immediate customer feedback to new product innovation at Procter & Gamble, working with David Kelly of IDEO and Patrick Whitney of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Martin would end up writing a book with P&G Chairman and CEO A.G. Lafley about it.

Rotman has developed three electives that allow MBA students to major in design thinking. The school has a highly popular design and innovation club. And its focus in the area has led several corporate recruiters, including Nike, Fidelity, and Lululemon, to put the school on their annual recruiting schedules. “We now get designers coming here and they are fantastic,” enthuses Martin, who then lapses into what he calls  a “cute story” worth telling.

“I do these speeches where we bring in students who are interested in applying, and I always hang around until the end. The 300 to 400 people sudden were down to one who didn’t want to leave. She finally came up to me when nobody was here and said, ‘I just have to ask you. I really need to hear it from you whether you really do want a person like me. You are talking like you do but I just have to hear it from you.’

“And I said, ‘It kinda depends. What is a person like you?’

“‘I am a designer,’ she said. ‘My undergraduate degree is in design and I now work for a design firm. And I get the impression that you seem to think that is okay.’

“‘And I said it is. I would like you here.’ She came. She made the dean’s list. She got a great job. But that was her view of business schools. Unless you will tell me personally, directly, to my face, shake my hand and say you are not lying, I do not believe that a business school would want somebody like me. As the selection bias works more and more for us, I hope we can move it more into the mainstream.”

BIG COMPANIES TO ROTMAN: NOT ENOUGH PRODUCT TO RECRUIT

Martin’s third big bet was on expansion. When he arrived at Rotman, the school had only 130 full-time students. “I looked at the market and said that is inconsequential. It doesn’t matter how good you are, unless your name is Yale. I think Sloan, Stern, Stanford, and London Business School is the perfect size. I went to Harvard Business School and it is such a factory. I don’t aspire to that size. Even Chicago, Kellogg and Columbia–in the 600s–feels too big for a Canadian school. It seems out of proportion to the market.”

His view was confirmed when he asked several multinationals why they didn’t recruit at Rotman. “They said there’s no product,” he recalls. “Why bother? I ran recruiting at Monitor for awhile and we never considered Stanford as anywhere near as important as Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Chicago, INSEAD. Why? Stanford has good product but no product. There was just not enough product. If we were going to put on a big recruiting effort, let’s do it at a big school.”