When the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business last needed a dean, it turned to Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business for one. Today (March 8), it went back to the GSB well and fished out yet another Stanford super star, Madhav V. Rajan, the school’s former senior associate dean for academic affairs.
The India-born accounting professor takes over the Booth deanship on July 1. He succeeds Sunil Kumar, who left Booth last year to become provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University (see Booth Dean Leaving For Johns Hopkins Job). Like Rajan, Kumar also was a senior associate dean at the GSB before getting the top job at Booth.
Rajan, 51, had been the leading insider for the GSB deanship last year when Stanford reached into its economics department to bring economist Jonathan Levin into the deanship, succeeding Garth Saloner on Sept. 1. Rajan has been on leave since Levin took over the school. The announcement concludes what the university called a “national search” during which Douglas Skinner, another accounting professor, served as interim dean.
THE ‘QUIET RENEGADE’ OF THE GSB
When Saloner, embroiled in a sex and leadership scandal, announced in September of 2015 that he would resign at the end of the academic term, Rajan was widely seen as the most likely successor to his boss. The India-born accountant had left the Wharton School of Business to join Stanford’s accounting faculty in 2001 and was named a senior associate dean in 2010.
As a senior associate dean, the soft-spoken Rajan was involved in nearly every aspect of the school’s administration. He led Stanford’s MBA program, with oversight of admissions, curriculum, the student experience and career management (see “We Don’t Want To Be The Graduate School For Entrepreneurship”). He had been a key member of the task force that led to Stanford’s revamped MBA curriculum, and he launched new joint-degree programs with Stanford’s engineering school and rolled out initiatives for tighter integration with the rest of the university.
When Saloner took a two-month sabbatical in January and February of 2015, Rajan was named acting dean of the school. That short appointment became the subject of a satirical skit in the MBA students’ annual follies show in 2015, with Rajan willingly posing as the “quiet renegade” eager to take control of the school. A video clip shows him to have a healthy sense of humor, if not someone with Bollywood acting potential.
BOOTH DEANSHIP PAYS $657,000 A YEAR
Considered a highly competent administrator. Rajan’s candidacy had been disadvantaged by his close association with Saloner and the scandal that engulfed the school. When 46 current and former GSB staffers urged the university not to reappoint Saloner, it was clear that the mostly male “GSB leadership” group was seen as responsible for a deterioration in the school’s culture. And when Saloner approved a decision by email to pull a university loan from his lover’s husband, a faculty member at the school, it was Rajan who sent that message seeking the dean’s okay. Court records indicate Rajan didn’t know at the time that Saloner was in a relationship with the professor’s wife.
In landing the top job at Booth, Rajan may well have the last laugh. As dean, Rajan will lead a school with an annual budget of $230 million and 150 full-time faculty members. Booth’s enrollment includes 3,400 MBA students in one full-time and three part-time programs as well as 115 PhD students.
The size and scope of the job makes Booth’s dean among the highest paid officials at the University of Chicago. In his last full year as dean, Kumar made $657,070 in salary and perks, according to filings with the IRS. Rajan’s Stanford colleagues would tell you Booth’s money will be well spent. Rajan is widely liked and respected at the GSB. Jeffrey Pfeffer, one of Stanford’s most distinguished professors, calls him “a true delight to work with, very supportive and always positive and upbeat. Chicago Booth could not be in better hands.”
Even so, it could not have been an easy decision for Chicago. “I think this was probably a tough choice for Chicago because Doug Skinner is a high quality person and did a good job in the interim and Madav is one of the real stars in the dean’s world,” says Edward “Ted” Snyder, the dean of Yale University’s School of Management who from 2001 to 2010 had been dean of Booth and helped to transform the school and its reputation.
HIS ACADEMIC PEDIGREE MAKES RAJAN AN IDEAL CHOICE FOR BOOTH
Rajan’s academic and administrative background, moreover, makes him an ideal choice for Booth, a school loaded with serious scholars who wield a major influence in the running of the institution. The school boasts more Nobel Laureates, with seven Chicago Booth faculty members winners of the prestigious award, than any other business school in the world.
He immediately paid tribute to that legacy in a statement announcing his appointment. “The values I have in research and education are deeply valued at Chicago Booth,” Rajan said. “People come here to do rigorous, empirically based research and analysis, which provides the basis for a transformative student experience and an extremely effective MBA curriculum. We have an exciting opportunity to take Booth’s deep strengths and leverage them here and around the world. I am thrilled to have the chance to be dean at what is unquestionably the greatest academic business school.”
In some ways, his appointment brings the academic back to a school where he was a visiting professor at Chicago Booth in 2007-08. Rajan received his undergraduate degree in Commerce from the University of Madras, India, and his MS in Accounting, MS in Industrial Administration, and PhD degrees from the Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1990, his dissertation won the Alexander Henderson Award for Excellence in Economic Theory. Madhav joined the faculty of the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) in 1989 and was promoted to the rank of tenured Associate Professor in 1996, and Professor in 2001.