Former Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Arjay Miller, who helped to make Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business a legitimate rival to Harvard Business School, passed away Nov. 2 at the age of 101.
Of the ten men who have served as deans of the business school, Miller may well be the most influential leader the school has ever had in its history. From 1969 to 1979, Dean Miller made major inroads in increasing the diversity of the school’s faculty and students. He hired the school’s first female faculty member, hiked the number of minority MBA students from four in 1968 to 76 when he left the deanship. Enrollment of women rose from just 10 to 146 in the same timeframe.
No less important, it was Miller who brought to Stanford a profound belief in public and private partnerships as the best way to solve society’s ills. In fact, before accepting the deanship, he had insisted on the creation of the Public Management Program to train leaders not merely in business but also in public policy and social enterprise. On the more traditional metrics of deaning, Miller was also at the top of the heap, quadrupling the school’s endowment and demanding that the school attempt to achieve “balanced excellence” in academics, research and teaching.
A LEGENDARY MEMBER OF THE WHIZ KIDS
It may be ironic that a non-academic, who had only been for a brief time a teaching assistant at UC-Berkeley, would emerge as such a profound force at a school that helped to lead the embrace of scholarly research in business in the wake of the Gordon-Howell report in the late 1950s. After all, Jim Howell, the co-author of that report which criticized business schools for being mere trade schools with little academic legitimacy, was a Stanford prof.
Yet, it was a former corporate leader who would raise the money to allow Stanford to truly up its academic game. Miller’s imprint on the GSB is everywhere. The school’s highest academic honors, awarded to MBAs at the top 10% of their class, are designated Arjay Miller Scholars. One group of students started a beer-drinking club they dubbed the Friends of Arjay Miller — FOAM. Another group founded a 1950s-style rock ‘n’ roll band and named themselves the Arjays.
Though the business school was launched in 1925 as a West Coast alternative to Harvard Business School, it would take many years for Stanford to legitimately achieve such status. The two back-to-back leaders most responsible for making Stanford a viable option versus its larger and more endowed competitor in Boston was Ernie Arbuckle, who served as dean from 1958 to 1968, and then Arjay Miller. Given its meager resources, Stanford was severely outclassed by Harvard. Miller was the first dean to significantly close the gap, boosting the school’s endowment from a modest $6 million to $25 million and increasing the number of endowed chairs from six to 22, moves that allowed the GSB to recruit and retain serious academic talent.
Miller was, in every sense, an unusual leader for the school. He grew up on a Nebraska farm, one of eight children who decided early on that farm work would not be his destiny. Miller joked that on one sweltering afternoon while shoveling wheat, he turned to his cousin and said, “Hermie, there’s got to be an easier way to make a living, and I’m going to figure out what it is.”
A standout student early on, he went to UCLA for his undergraduate degree and graduating with highest honors in 1037. His studies at UC-Berkeley, where he was working on his Phd in economics, were interrupted by World War II.
He was a legendary member of the Whiz Kids, the group of ten Army Air Force officers who joined Ford Motor Co. in the immediate aftermath of World War II as a team. Of the ten, only two would become president of Ford: Robert McNamara, who would later become Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and Arjay Miller. The Whiz Kids brought modern management to an undisciplined and disorganized Ford and were highly influential in the rise of the professional manager in American business.
DRAMATICALLY INCREASED DIVERSITY AT A LARGELY WHITE, MALE SCHOOL
After serving as Ford president from 1963 to 1968, he was then recruited to become the fourth dean of Stanford’s business school. Having witnessed the social unrest and urban decay that had roiled Detroit and other major cities in America, Miller arrived at a difficult time. The Class of 1969 had dwindled to just 252 students as the Vietnam War claimed 27 students to leave their studies and enlist to avoid the draft.
It was Miller who helped to form a council with nine other U.S. business schools to encourage increased minority enrollment. The year before Miller’s arrival , only four students were under-represented minorities. Within two years, some 37 minority students were working on their MBAs. At Stanford, enrollment of minority students increases from 4 in 1968 to 37 in 1970 and ultimately 76 by the time he left in 1979. By 1974, 16% of the enrolled students were international and 20% were women.
And when he brought in millions in funding for the school, Miller insisted that the business school control the money and not simply turn it over to the university, a level of autonomy that was rare in that time. When the administration tried to extract money from the school early in Miller’s tenure, he had a somewhat famous confrontation with then-president Ken Pitzer. “Arjay wouldn’t stand for it, and he said if they didn’t believe it, he would resign on the spot,” said Jerry Miller, who had served as associate academic dean from 1974 to 1976. “The usual outcome is that the central administration prevails, but he just outgunned them.”
More than a dean, however, Miller was a natural people person. He sometimes showed up for casual spaghetti dinners at student houses. Even in retirement, he enjoyed returning to campus to meet and speak with young people. He was remembered as a storyteller who liked to talk about his childhood working on the family farm or the shock of transitioning from the relatively pampered business world to academia.
‘HE INSPIRED MANY GENERATIONS OF STANFORD GSB STUDENTS TO THINK BIGGER THAN THEMSELVES’
Yet, among his most significant achievements is his encouragement of MBA students to take jobs in the public sector. Five years before Yale School of Management was founded as a school to create leaders for both the public and private sectors, Stanford took the lead in bringing the leadership of public enterprise and nonprofits into the world of business education. Many students took his call to heart, earning a PMP certificate with their MBA degree.
Founded in 1971, the Public Management Program provided courses focusing on the study of government and public policy and reserved spaces within the school for students who were interested in going to work for government. The idea was to give Stanford GSB a social conscience — and graduate MBAs who realized they should think about more than just making money. Miller wanted MBAs to understand that their skills might be useful outside the corporate boardroom.
“Arjay Miller lived a life of incredible impact,” Bernadette Clavier, director of the Center for Social Innovation, told Stanford in a memorial on Miller. “He inspired many generations of Stanford GSB students to think bigger than themselves and to take a big-picture, societal-level perspective of the world. His legacy is profound and only partially reflected through the social good members of our community of social innovators are delivering for humanity today and will continue to deliver for the many years to come.”
Miller is survived by his son, Ken, and daughter, Ann, three granddaughters, and six great grandchildren. HIs wife Frances, to whom he was married for 70 years, preceded him in death in 2010. In keeping with his wishes, there is no public memorial service planned.