‘I DIDN’T HAVE A PLAN FOR LIFE’
When Snyder leaves the deanship at the end of June in 2019, the school will be on a solid financial footing as well. Under his leadership, the school set records in achieving the highest percentage of annual giving by alumni of any Yale academic unit. He can boast six consecutive years of operating surpluses, even while substantially increasing scholarship support for master’s level students. What’s more, the quality of SOM’s incoming MBA students has never been higher and the compensation they receive upon graduation reached record levels.
Though Snyder has done what no one ever has—successfully run three highly prominent schools—his early career showed little sign that he was destined to become a three-peat change agent in management education. He picked up an undergraduate degree in 1975 from Colby College, where he had majored in economics and government, and then a master’s in public policy from the Unversity of Chicago in 1978.
“I didn’t have a plan for life,” explains Snyder in an earlier interview with Poets&Quants. “My dad was a World War II pilot and entrepreneur who gave up his business and had a very religious phase, got into civil rights and the anti-Vietnam War movement. My mother was a teacher of history and music in public schools. I’ve got that in my family tree.”
PROFESSIONAL CAREER STARTED WITH THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Yet, Snyder began his professional career as an economist with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. He switched gears in 1982, joining the University of Michigan’s business school as a faculty member who ended up becoming MBA core course coordinator for Applied Microeconomics. Snyder returned to Chicago go earn a PhD in economics in 1984, climbing the academic ladder at Michigan where he developed programs in Central Europe, China, India, and Russia.
The notion of becoming a business school dean occurred early, though not from Snyder. His thesis advisor at the University of Chicago told him that he should be a dean. “I didn’t even have my PhD at the time,” recalls Snyder. “And at Michigan, as an assistant professor, I was told the same thing. I really enjoy what business schools do. It’s a mini-university. You get to innovate and respond to the market. There is a lot of competition, and the students and alumni keep you focused on the slope, the trajectory.”
After a three-year stint as a senior associate dean who ran all of Michigan’s MBA programs as well as its undergraduate school, Snyder won his first deanship at UVA’s Darden School in 1998. Over a three-year stint, he led an expansion of the school’s MBA program, worked to improve the diversity of the student body, and significantly increased the school’s executive education efforts. Snyder also brought in what was then the largest gift in business school history, Frank Batten Sr.’s $60 million gift to set up the Batten Institute.
REELING IN THE LARGEST B-SCHOOL GIFT EVER
He moved to the University of Chicago in 2001. From July of that year to July of 2010, Snyder led the school to increasing prominence and favor. He reeled in the largest gift to any business school ever–$300 million—nearly doubling the school’s endowed professorships, tripling scholarship assistance, and increasing the school’s endowment from $197 million to $475 million, not including the impact of David Booth’s gift. Chicago Booth moved from 10th in the Businessweek rankings to 1st and held onto its No. 1 status for eight years. The Economist also ranked Booth at the top of its list twice during his tenure. No less impressive, Booth ranked in the top 10 in 74 of 78 rankings during his deanship.
After accepting the deanship at Yale SOM, long a small and quirky institution that rarely competed with the business schools of other Ivies, Snyder chose not to jump into the job immediately. Instead, he took a year off to refresh and create a viable vision and strategy for the school. “I talked to a lot of thoughtful people,” he says. Out of those conversations came a plan that focued on three core objectives: To be the business school that smartly leverages its home university; to be the most global U.S. business school in ways that are differentiating and meaningful, and to be recognized as the best source of leaders for all sectors and regions.
That last insight was crucial because both students and alumni cherish the notion that SOM was founded with the dual mission of producing leaders for both the social sector and business. “The school benefited from a focus beyond the business sector,” says Snyder. “Today, I don’t think of this as segmented as they used to be becuase over the course of one’s career they will move across the sectors. That’s why the founding mission was so valuable to us. The world is coming to our point of view. It’s been useful DNA to carry forward.”
HOPES TO DEVELOP COURSES ON MAJOR POLICY ISSUES IN GUN CONTROL, IMMIGRATION & SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Snyder seems pleased with his achievements at Yale. “We’ve done a good job, and the rest of Yale really embraces SOM,” he says. “What I like the most is the team, and I think I’ve gotten to be a better boss over the years. I also love the strategy. The strategy means that the school, faculty and staff are all connected to the rest of Yale and increasingly to the global network.”
Snyder says he will go back to teaching in the 2020-2021 academic year. He is considering developing several courses that tackle major topical policy issues, including gun control, immigration an sexual harassment. “Getting a global conversation on those big policy issues would be awesome and there are good economics to bring into the discussions,” says Snyder, who has a PhD in econoimcs. “There are 300 million guns in the U.S., and these are really hard issues with major economic and business implications.”
During his sabbatical, which began last August, Snyder says he has spent about a quarter of his time on SOM issues, including a three-week visit to China during which he studied Chinese tech platform companies. He has a forthcoming global network meeting in Paris before rejoining SOM full-time as dean on July 1.
“I will be in the lame duck role, though I don’t view it that way,” he says. Neither does anyone else.
(See following page for Dean Snyder’s full statement to the Yale SOM community)