1-On-1 With Oxford Saïd Dean Peter Tufano

Peter Tufano will step down as dean of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School in June 2021 after 10 years. File photo

Oxford University Saïd Business School Dean Peter Tufano announced in August that he would step down in 2021 after 10 years leading the UK B-school. Tufano, a Harvard finance professor before becoming only the fourth dean in Saïd’s short 25-year history, presided over an incredible period of growth and change at Saïd, in both rankings and prestige. In short, he put the B-school on the map.

Tufano oversaw the school’s tenure and promotion processes and its campus planning, and advised the university on financial and real estate matters. He was also the founding co-chair of the Harvard Innovation Lab, a cross-university initiative to foster entrepreneurship. Under him, Oxford has made significant gains in The Financial Times ranking, with the school’s one-year MBA program rising to 21st in the world this year from 27th in 2011 when he became dean. In Poets&Quants’ composite ranking of the best international MBA programs, Oxford Saïd has maintained its ninth-place finish from 2011, two spots below rival Cambridge Judge.

Perhaps Saïd’s greatest achievement under Tufano’s leadership is the progress it has made in attracting diverse cohorts. When he became dean in 2011, 24% of the cohort were women, and 5% were African. In the school’s 2019-20 MBA cohort, 44% were women and 13% were from Africa, while this year’s cohort leads all elite European B-schools with 47% women.

‘THERE’S A LITTLE BIT MORE TO GO, BUT WE’VE MADE PROGRESS’

“When I arrived at Oxford, the school was 15 years old and my predecessors had done a great job, but 15 years is still pretty young,” Tufano tells P&Q. “We were able to do a number of things over the last 10 years that I’m quite proud of. I think we’ve made a lot of progress in making the business school an integral part of the University of Oxford, and I’d like to think that the university is better off, the business school is better off and in so doing, in some small way, the world’s a little bit better off.

“There were three deans that preceded me, and they had set a path that was, I think, ahead of its time in thinking about business as a force for good. We’ve tried to really double down on that. And so how does that manifest itself? Even upon arriving here some 10 years ago, almost 10 years ago, it was clear that it was a much more diverse community than any North American business school I’ve ever seen. But it was also clear that there would be ways to make it even more mindfully diverse. So we set out to do that when I arrived.

“It wasn’t a one-year thing or a two-year thing, but over the last eight or nine years I’m proud to say, and as you’ve reported in your statistics, at 47%, I think we’re the top outside of the U.S. and I think second globally. There’s a little bit more to go, but we’ve made a lot of progress there.”

THE P&Q INTERVIEW WITH PETER TUFANO

Following is Poets&Quants‘ recent interview with Peter Tufano, edited for length and clarity.

P&Q: As you contemplate the end of your deanship, what are the three things you are most proud of?

Peter Tufano: When I arrived at Oxford, the school was 15 years old. My predecessors had done a great job, but 15 years is still pretty young. We were able to do a number of things over the last 10 years that I’m quite proud of. I’ll put them in a couple of different buckets. First, we said that we were going to chart a course to being embedded with the university. If I think about the programs that we’ve created, like the 1+1 MBA program, which combines the MBA with virtually every other degree around the university, or how we work hand-in-glove with our partners around the university to deliver something called Global Opportunities and Threats: Oxford (GOTO) — I’ll describe that some more — or the joint research that we’ve done across the university or the creation of the Oxford Foundry, which supports the entire university’s student and alumni entrepreneurs, I think we’ve made a lot of progress in making the business school an integral part of the University of Oxford. As a result, I’d like to think that the university is better off, the business school is better off, and in so doing, in some small way, the world’s a little bit better off. So that’s one. That’s the embeddedness agenda.

Secondly, the school had — and there were three deans that proceeded me — set a path that was, I think, ahead of its time in thinking about business as a force for good. But really in thinking about business in a much more expansive way than in 1996 when the school was set up, or than most other business schools were thinking, even when I came in in 2011. We’ve tried to really double down on that and make sure that while we are a traditionally successful business school by most measures, we put our mission first. And so how does that manifest itself?

I’ve always believed that core values are reflected in core curricula. Therefore, we put first and foremost deciding that our students need to understand how big, complex systems worked, and how to intervene in those complex systems and to understand something about the underlying science or whatever. That’s the Global Opportunities and Threats course. We’ve oriented our scholarships to entice students who have that kind of learning in terms of not only people who want to do traditional things, but also students who have a real desire to make change. If you look at the research profile of the school, I think we’ve done that, too. If you look at our entry into creating an instruction lab, this year we’ve run CDL recovery and how it is that we fight the pandemic. If you look at my boss, Paul Polman, who’s the chair of our board — and that’s a governance board, not an advisory board — I think Paul is an exemplar of the values that we’ve tried to advance. I’m pretty proud of that set of activities, too.

The third thing I would say is that Oxford has always been a diverse community. Even upon arriving here some 10 years ago, almost 10 years ago, it was clear that it was a much more diverse community than any North American business school I’ve ever seen. But it was also clear that there would be ways to make it even more mindfully diverse. So we set out to do that when I arrived. For example, the fraction of women in our MBA program was, in absolute terms, in the 20s, and in relative terms we were about medium. From the beginning of my deanship we said, “All the research is very clear that more diverse teams perform better, and how can we be there?”

It wasn’t a one-year thing or a two-year thing, but over the last eight or nine years I’m proud to say, and as you’ve reported in your statistics, at 47%, I think we’re the top outside of the U.S. and I think second globally, at least in lists like the FT lists. There’s a little bit more to go, but we’ve made a lot of progress there. Similarly, I think we’ve tried to be ahead of our times. I announced in 2014 that it seems silly that less than 2% of candidates in MBA programs around the world were from Africa, given that 25 years from now, far more than 2% of the world’s business activity and leadership needs were going to be in Africa. Clearly, some people thought it was a publicity stunt when I announced that we would get to 10%. And we got there quickly. We’ve stayed at 10% — in fact, this year we have 13% of our class from Africa. So we are a diverse community.

It delivers a better experience to our students and to our entire community. I think it’s the way to go. I’m very proud of that. There’s some other behind-the-scenes things. There’s new buildings. There’s new administrative processes. Of course, I’d like to say we’ve made a lot of progress in all that. But on these three vital things — which is, why do we exist, which is this whole idea of addressing systemic issues, how do we do our business, which is embeddedness and who are we around diversity — I’d like to think the school is stronger than it was 10 years ago.

P&Q: I think a lot of people would agree with you. Talking of women, why do you think most European business schools seem to struggle in enrolling more women in their programs? Why have you been so successful? What have you actually done to get that to that 47%?

Peter Tufano: I think it’s pretty simple: We said it was important. Recruitment teams — who are largely women, by the way — kind of get it. And it’s not by lowering standards or anything like that. It was simply by beating the bushes hard and also by finding those great candidates. I don’t think it’s magic, to be honest. I have wondered both on this and on the Africa front, why isn’t every other business school trying to do what we’re doing? And for the life of me, I don’t understand.

It wasn’t from wishing it. It wasn’t from hoping that it would happen. It was from saying, “This is important to us and let’s see if we can achieve this,” and keeping that on people’s radar screens, but not achieving either one of those by sacrificing the quality of the student body or the quality of education or anything that you’d expect from a place like Oxford.

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