Business school dean turnover is nothing new. The average tenure of a business school dean tends to be just five years. It’s a tough and often under-appreciated job. But it is also rare when the deans of three schools, often in the Top Ten of rankings, all decide to leave in the same year. 2017 saw step-down announcements from Peter Henry at NYU Stern, Sally Blount at Kellogg, and Rich Lyons at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Many other deans also tossed in the towel, from Boston University’s Ken Freeman to Wisconsin’s Anne Massey (see above).
The dean of New York University’s Stern School of Business, the youngest ever in the history of Stern, left as a result of the political climate. “I do not make this decision lightly,” Peter Henry, 47, said in a letter released in February,, “but given the current trends affecting the national and global economy, I feel compelled to re-engage now with policy and re-commit, full-time, to scholarship and my lifelong interest in the linked fortunes of advanced and developing economies.”
Across the country, at Berkeley’s Haas, Dean Lyons announced he would step down at the end of June of 2018 after an 11-year run as dean. “Haas is in a good place for the next dean to carry our school forward — it’s exactly the right time for this transition,” said Lyons in June. The guitar-strumming dean who returned to Haas from Goldman Sachs where he had been the chief learning officer has led major changes at the school. He oversaw an overhaul of the MBA curriculum, crafted a set of guiding principles for the school’s culture, launched Berkeley’s own Executive MBA program as well as a novel joint undergrad program with the university’s engineering school, and raised subsantial funds for a new $60 million building on the Haas campus. In fact, Lyons reeled in eight of the school’s ten largest gifts in its history.
Of all the resignations, perhaps the biggest one was at Kellogg. The first and only woman to lead one of the famed M7 business schools, Blount has clearly made her mark on the school where she once arrived as a young graduate student in organizational behavior some 29 years ago. She successfully completed Kellogg’s first-ever major capital campaign, raising $365 million, including a doubling of contributions to the school’s annual fund which exceeded $10 million for the first time. She was directly involved in every significant detail of Kellogg’s new $250 million Global Hub on Lake Michigan which officially opened in mid-March. But she concluded it was time to leave in July in Rhode Island at one of Blount’s silent retreats, a multi-day period of quiet reflection that she has taken for the past decade. The 56-year-old Blount intends to take a one-year sabbatical to travel, write and ponder her “final chapters in education.”
Harvard Business School has had many critics throughout the years. But perhaps the harshest and most serious has been Duff McDonald, a veteran journalist and author, whose book on HBS was the most critical ever written about the school and business education in general. The slam even prompted a rare public response from Dean Nitin Nohria who said, “In many ways I think the book doesn’t give justice to the many ways in which Harvard Business School is trying — and not just today, but has always tried since the beginning of its history — to remind its graduates that as business leaders they have a deep and important relationship with society, and that the health of society is something that is their responsibility.”
From the very beginning, the Harvard Business School treated McDonald as a barbarian at the gate. McDonald first approached the school about cooperating with him on a book in late February of 2013. But the guardians of HBS’ history, myths and truths quickly slammed the door shut, preventing access to all administrators, staff and faculty, even the school’s own historical archives.
The school, says McDonald, rebuffed at least a half dozen requests for cooperation, though the author was able to visit the Harvard Business School campus on four occasions. More than three years later, McDonald’s The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite was published by Harper Business in April.. As the lengthy title suggested, HBS stakeholders didn’t enjoy what they read in the book’s formidable 672 pages. McDonald’s conclusion is that the Harvard Business School has abysmally failed the goal of its founders who sought “the multiplication of men who will handle their current business problems in socially constructive ways.” While HBS graduates tend to be very good at whatever they do, McDonald claims, that is rarely the doing of good.