New Year’s resolutions — we all make them. Most of us quickly break them — look at the crowds in the gym in January compared to February. Our resolutions are a reflection of who we want to be, self-challenges that too often are broken by the reality of who we are.
In business education, however, resolutions are a more serious undertaking, particularly when they come from the person at the top. After all, they aren’t likely to set targets for exercise or weight and more often are directed at how a school can better achieve and serve its core mission.
Poets&Quants asked dozens of deans at elite U.S. business schools for their 2018 resolutions. The email responses we received included thoughtful views of the business education landscape, of schools’ direction and mission, and of the risks all schools face in a volatile political and educational climate. Some used humor; some quoted famous artists and philosophers. While most confined their resolutions to their own schools, a few cast their gaze wider and offered hopeful forecasts for the state of business education in general. All who responded did so thoughtfully and with the benefits of experience, exemplified by Michigan Ross Dean Scott DeRue, who wrote that “The turn of the calendar prompts us to reflect back at the prior year, look forward to the future, and take stock of our life’s direction. Personally, I use three questions every year to reset and make sure I’m heading in the right direction.”
‘WE MUST LEARN FROM THE PAST BUT NOT ENSLAVE OURSELVES TO WHAT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE’
DeRue’s three questions: Am I stretching myself and taking enough risks? Am I having fun and sharing that joy with others? And: Am I taking care of my relationships?
In answer to the first question, DeRue says it’s vital to reach for ever-higher standards of excellence. He quotes Renaissance painter Michelangelo: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Adds DeRue: “We must learn from the past but not enslave ourselves to what’s been done before, and we must embrace risk in the pursuit of a higher standard of excellence.”
DeRue answers his second question by citing a personal philosophy that he calls “the fun factor.” Each year, he says, he reminds himself of a basic principle: If it’s fun, it’s worth doing. If it’s not, it’s not. “Life is too short and, when we’re having fun, the joy we feel is contagious with others and lifts up everyone.”
DeRue, who became Ross’s dean in July 2016, says he may have left the most important question for last. “Whether it’s in my personal life or as dean of Michigan Ross, it’s the people I have the privilege of being around that make the difference,” he writes. “At Michigan Ross, I often tell our community that the people make the place, and our place is special because our people are special. Our students, staff, faculty, alumni, and corporate partners all contribute to a special place that has the power to transform lives, launch rewarding careers, and make a positive and meaningful difference in society.
“To answer this question, each new year, I make a list of the 10 most important people in my life. First I ask how much time and energy am I investing in each of these relationships. Then I ask myself, ‘Whose list of 10 am I on, and how am I investing in those relationships?’ Every year, it’s a powerful moment that helps me re-center and focus on what — and who — is important.”
AT STANFORD, A CONTINUED FOCUS ON THE GLOBAL
Jonathan Levin of the Stanford Graduate School of Business had perhaps the toughest 2017 of any dean at a major business school. Now, after a scandal involving the exposure of the financial information of MBA students and staff, Levin understandably wants to use 2018 to put the focus back on the student experience, in particular Stanford GSB’s global offerings.
In 2018, Levin resolves “to continue advancing the Stanford Graduate School of Business mission to ‘change lives, change organizations, change the world’ by finding new opportunities for our students to develop a broader global perspective.” Noting that September 2017 marked his one-year anniversary as dean, Levin writes that he spent the year witnessing the impact Stanford students, faculty, and alumni make around the world, including a fall visit to India to launch the Stanford Seed program that trains business leaders in developing economies while supporting research and innovation related to global development. He also recently toured Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and China, “and was inspired to meet our growing alumni population, including many younger alumni building exciting companies.”
Levin says his and GSB’s resolution for 2018 is that every student in the MBA program continue to have a global experience during their time at the school, and that faculty and students continue to participate in Global Study Seminars before their first year begins — “as a way to build community and develop a richer perspective on business even before the program starts. At a time when we as a country are debating our role in the world, we want GSB students to appreciate how interconnected the world has become, to be thoughtful about different perspectives, and to leave the school prepared to be leaders who play a positive role in society, wherever they choose to live.”