Who Should Be Stanford’s New Dean?

Stanford Provost John Etchemendy co-chairs a search committee to find a new GSB dean - Stanford photo by Linda A. Cicero

Stanford Provost John Etchemendy co-chairs a search committee to find a new GSB dean – Stanford photo by Linda A. Cicero

Who should Stanford University recruit to clean up the reputational mess and years of divisive leadership at its Graduate School of Business?

The answer to that question is currently being sought by a 13-person search committtee co-chaired by university provost John Etchemendy and Mary Barth, an accounting professor at the school. The committee has been meeting with school stakeholders for several months and is generating a list of candidates to succeed Saloner who abruptly announced in September that he would surrender his deanship at the end of the current academic term.

GSB Professor Mary Barth co-chairs the search panel

GSB Professor Mary Barth co-chairs the search panel

Whoever takes over the job will have a major turnaround job. Saloner’s unsuccessful tenure as dean has severely damaged the school’s reputation and standing, and the university’s failure to step in and more concretely deal with the problems have also eroded the legacy of both University President John L. Hennessy and Provost Etchemendy.

It was Etchemendy who reupped Saloner to a second five-year term despite efforts by a sizable number of current and former GSB staffers who urged the university not to reappoint the dean. Some 27 current and 19 former GSB employees had signed a letter dated April 21, 2014, accusing Saloner of presiding over a “hostile workplace” in which staff, particularly women and people over 40, were hounded out of jobs and roles amid numerous violations of Stanford’s Code of Conduct and HR policies.


Leaders of the revolt portrayed Saloner as an arrogant narcissist who used staff as pawns in his power plays, meted out punishments against anyone who disagreed with him, and manipulated women out of influential positions so he could surround himself with “yes men.” For a school whose lofty mission is proudly proclaimed to “change lives, change organizations, change the world,” one thing seemed certain. In the five years that Saloner has served as dean, he had changed the collegial, close-knit culture of the school to what his detractors say was a culture of fear and intimidation, where the back-stabbing politics were so thick that few would dare challenge him.

Then, there was the sex and conflict-of-interest scandal that effectively forced Saloner’s September announcement to resign, four years earlier than the end of his second term, and has brought highly embarrassing headlines all over the world. Saloner resigned days after Poets&Quants asked him and the GSB to respond to lurid accusations in a lawsuit by a former professor who alleges Saloner railroaded him out of the business school while sleeping with his wife. The ongoing lawsuit contains allegations of professional and financial retribution against the former GSB professor, Jim Phills, and contempt for school rules and policies.

Under Saloner, the school—despite its location in the epicenter of Silicon Valley—has lagged far behind key rivals Harvard Business School and Wharton in adopting new technology to more smartly deliver graduate business education. Growth in the school’s estimated $1.2 billion endowment—which until Saloner took office had been made public—has significantly trailed Harvard and several other business schools. Some fairly innovative changes to the MBA curriculum had been scaled back by Saloner due to concerns over student and faculty backlash.


The selection committee has been working in secret since October, interviewing members of the GSB commnity inside and outside the school, to put together a list of potential candidates. Besides Etchemendy and Barth, the committee members include six GSB professors, Steven Callander, Yossi Feinberg, Maureen McNichols, Erica Plambeck, Debra Satz, and Baba Shiv; two GSB alums, Riley Bechtel and Beth Cross; second-year MBA student Nadou Lawson; Bernadette Clavier, director of the GSB Center for Social Innovation, and Stanford Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Stephanie Kalfayan.

So far, the committee has had at least three “town hall meetings” with students, faculty and staff, according to a spokesperson. It also has been meeting with the school’s alumni leaders and members of the business community. A decision on a successor could come any time betwen now and six months from now, possibly earlier if the school goes inside and later if it recruits an outsider to the job.

The leading internal candidate for the job is Madhav Rajan, senior associate dean of academic affairs, who acted as dean when Saloner went on a short two-month sabbatical in January and February of this year. A professor of accounting, Madav has been on the faculty since 2001 and some consider him a highly competent administrator at the school. However, his candidacy has been disadvantaged by his close association with Saloner and the scandal that has engulfed the school. When the ‘Group of 46’ urged the university not to reappoint Saloner, it made clear that the mostly male, “GSB leadership” group was responsible for the deterioration in the school’s culture. And when Saloner approved a decision by email to pull a university loan from his lover’s husband, it was Madav who sent that message seeking the dean’s okay. Court records indicate Madav didn’t know at the time that Saloner was in a relationship with the professor’s wife.

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