Dean Of The Year: The Cajun From New Orleans

A cartoon by Dean Paul Danos

A cartoon by Dean Paul Danos


When terrorists attacked the U.S. on 9/11, Danos was in the midwest and immediately cancelled all classes on campus. “Paul literally got a car and driver to bring him back to the east coast because there were no planes,” remembers Ella Bell, a professor of organizational behavior. “From the car, he called everyone from New York asking if they had family there and if there was anything he could do.

“We had students who lost family members and dear friends. Some of our students had worked in the towers during their summer internships and just came back. We came up with a design for our classes that was supportive, nurturing and taking care of the important matters at heart, not just at business. We turned that into an incredible teaching moment. That was under Paul’s guidance.”

Each spring, there’s a charity auction for Tuck’s Center for Business and Society. Danos always auctions off a crawfish boil for some 20 students that has become one of the most popular items at the auction. The dean, who loves cooking spicy food, imports crawfish from Louisiana, cooks them up at home, and brings them to Tuck to be served to students.

Colleagues describe Danos as an extremely ambitious but unselfish idealist. “I have known many deans who want to leave their stamp on an institution,” says Giovanni Gavetti, who has taught at both Harvard Business School and Wharton. “I don’t think Paul cares about that. He is singlehandedly obsessed with the quality of the experience for the student. On that front, he has delivered. The experience of the students here is very, very rich and of very high quality.”


One Danos ritual is his annual one-on-one meeting with each faculty member to deeply engage on their research. The meetings last an hour and one-half. “He talks about your research and he knows everything about it,” says Gavetti. “I suspect he had read some of my papers because he has a fairly intimate knowledge of my research and my plan to develop it. And he tells you what he thinks. Once he told me, ‘I think that is bullshit. Why are you doing that?’ That was surprising. I never heard anything like that from a dean.”

So when Danos announced his retirement last spring at a school meeting, he received a standing ovation from faculty and staff. “They would not sit down until I begged them to so Paul could say a few words,” recalls Hansen. The reaction of Ella Bell, who had joined Tuck as a professor 15 years ago and considers Danos her mentor and “Big Cheese,” was typical. She cried. “We are very hopeful that we will get a phenomenal new dean,” she says, “but Paul leaves big footprints to follow.”

In the small, quant New England town that Dartmouth calls home, Danos leaves a school that is very much at the top of its game. This year, 35% of the incoming crop of 281 MBA students were international, compared with 19% when Danos arrived. The average GMAT for the newbies is 716, up 56 points from the time he came on campus. And Tuck’s outgoing class had one of the school’s best outcomes in history, with a world best 91% boasting job offers at graduation and 98% with offers three months later, also among the highest reported by any school. Google and Amazon were unknown when he took over. Now they are among a bevy of world-class companies that regularly recruit Tuck’s students.


One telling statistic of the Danos era: Some 85% of Tuck’s MBA students are given permanent offers by their summer internship employers. “There is something we do in that first core year that gives them an extraordinary hit rate in making those conversions from internships to full-time job offers,” says Danos. “It says something about what they have learned but it’s also a reflection that they are the right people others want to work with.”

One area where Danos hasn’t had a big improvement is in the rankings. The Economist has ranked Tuck second in the past two years, while Forbes has the school in sixth place. But Businessweek–with a newly revamped and controversial methodology–placed the school 15th, even below the rank of 13 when Danos arrived on campus as dean. Poets&Quants’ composite ranking puts Tuck in eighth place among the best U.S. schools.

“If I were to do a ranking of business schools, I would use the two hardest numbers: How do you do in internship conversion and how do you do with students ten years out. That is the ultimate placement rate. We have a narrow focus on the very best employers, the ones that MBAs want. If you took the top 30 employers in the minds of MBAs, we probably have a higher percentage of them on campus than any other school.”

Ask Danos what most fills him with pride among all of the accomplishments over his 20 years and he doesn’t hesitate to come up with an answer. “It’s the ability to bring these two worlds together, the world of research and a great classroom experience,” he says. “It’s like standing up in a birch canoe. It’s easy to tip. You have to have quite a bit of balance to keep it going down the stream because it tips over fairly easy. To be able to do that and keep the team in a stable way is something that is gratifying to me. You look back on it and say you have had a lot of luck along the way. It’s a good feeling.”

Related Stories:

2013 Dean of the Year: Roger Martin of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School

2012 Dean of the Year: Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School

2011 Dean of the Year: Robert Bruner of the University of Virginia’s Darden School

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