Stanford Names Business School Dean Jonathan Levin Its New President

Stanford GSB Dean Jon Levin last week when an in-person event was canceled and he had to do it online

Stanford University today (April 4) announced that the dean of its business school will become president of the university on Aug. 1. With quiet self-confidence and a deep well of humility, economist Jonathan Levin has successfully led Stanford Graduate School of Business over the past eight years.

He was named Dean of the Year by Poets&Quants in 2022 for his success in bringing stability to a school that had been wracked by scandal. But more importantly, Levin has put Stanford in the lead of all business schools on diversity and inclusion, making the GSB the first major institution to publish an annual report on its diversity progress. With the advantage of having one of the world’s best academic brands and the resources behind it, Levin has been able to recruit and retain the best faculty scholars on the market and to lead them in confronting many of the world’s biggest challenges. And no school–not even Harvard Business School–can lay claim to annually enrolling what is arguably the best and brightest MBA candidates year after year.

“As I look to Stanford’s future, I’m excited to strengthen our commitment to academic excellence and freedom; to foster the principles of openness, curiosity, and mutual respect; and to lead our faculty and students as they advance knowledge and seek to contribute in meaningful ways to the world,” the 51-year-old Levin said in a statement.


Stanford Graduate School of Business

Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Jonathan Levin will become Stanford University’s President on Aug. 1

Levin, who chaired the university’s economics department before becoming dean of its business school,  succeeds Levin interim President Richard Saller. His appointment concludes a seven-month search process for Stanford’s 13th President following the resignation of Marc Tessier-Lavigne last summer. Tessier-Lavigne gave up the job after allegations of misconduct reported by the Stanford campus newspaper. The story sparked a months-long investigation into his research work, a probe that concluded that Tessier-Lavigne did not falsify data but failed to correct mistakes.

Levin was chosen after a 20-member presidential search committee reviewed more than 800 nominations for the job. The panel held more than 50 listening sessions on campus. Committee Co-Chairs Bonnie Maldonado M.D. ’81, Lily Sarafan ’03 and Gene Sykes MBA ’84 wrote in an announcement that the committee was “thoroughly impressed by Jon’s personal qualities of integrity, humility, thoughtfulness, and optimism. We are confident that he is the right person not only to envision where Stanford can go, but to take us there.”

His leadership of the business school had to put him high up on the list of successors from the start. For much of its history, Stanford’s business school had been slightly behind Harvard in enrolling its admitted applicants. But under Levin, the school pulled ahead of its East Coast rival, persuading 96% of the students it admits to come to its bucolic campus in the heart of Silicon Valley. The GSB’s yield rate is now ten points higher than Harvard’s. The school, moreover, has an acceptance rate of just 6.2%, half that of the Harvard Business School. No less meaningful, Stanford has been solidly winning dual-admit candidates over HBS and outperforming the school in MBA rankings in recent years.


“Jon has a fresh point of view, extensive knowledge of the university, and a reach that encompasses government, non-profit organizations, and global business,” Charles Young, a university trustee and member of Stanford’s presidential search committee, said in a statement Thursday. “He has breadth, curiosity, optimism, and humanity — a wonderful formula for our next president.”

Levin is also a well-liked team player, a down-to-earth person of high integrity and deep intellect.  Ask him what he is most proud of as dean and his answer betrays his self-effacing nature. “That’s easy, actually,” he told Poets&Quants. “It’s the state of the school. Every day I develop more of an appreciation for the school. It’s such an extraordinary place to have this world-class scholarly faculty with two Nobel prize winners in the past three years. To marry that with the leadership education that happens here is amazing. When the school is at its best, there is a virtuous circle between those two things: the faculty and the leadership education we deliver. It’s just dynamite. What I am most proud of is to just be part of that.”

Levin is guided in his own leadership of the school by what former Stanford University President Gerhard Casper once said. “He had a saying that always had a big impact on me: ‘The business of running academic institutions is very simple. You try to recruit the best faculty and the best students. Give them the resources they need and get out of their way.’ It takes some work but he was right. It’s important to focus on what’s important and that is having great faculty and great students and getting out of their way.”


That expressed belief, however, diminishes his leadership skills. Oyer recalls a session with a disenchanted individual who came to Levin’s office to express his disappointment. “We had a meeting with someone and it was going to be very contentious,” he says. “The person was very unhappy and he had a health problem along with all his grievances. I was a dean in the headlights. But Jon looked at him and in the sincerest way possible addressed his illness first. Then he addressed the issues and said ‘no.’ He is just very good at thinking about the right thing to say in the moment.”

The single biggest challenge of his deanship, of course, was the global pandemic that forced the school to shut down its classrooms and lecture halls and teach MBA students online. The school went virtual over a weekend in March of 2020 after University Provost Persis Drell canceled all in-person class meetings, declared that all exams be taken remotely, suspended all spring quarter international programs and shut down Admit Weekend.

“I am very proud of how the school got through it and reacted to it but I would not sign up to do that again,” said Levin. “The biggest challenge in the MBA program was just recognizing how much of what is great about being a student at Stanford is being around other people. For a student, it’s getting to be in the classroom with the faculty and your peers and talking and interacting with them. It’s where all of the serendipitous and spontaneous interactions happen. And that is how great research happens from the faculty. You get ideas chatting with people after a seminar or over lunch. When you have to schedule meetings on Zoom, all of a sudden you just lose all of that and it’s just not the same.”

Levin is the son of former Yale University President Richard Levin, also an economist by training, who led Yale from 1993 to 2013. Levin studied English and mathematics as an undergraduate. He went on to receive an MPhil from Oxford University and a Ph.D. from MIT, both in economics. After deciding on a career in academia, Levin returned to Stanford as a lecturer in 2000. He served as chair of the economics department from 2011 to 2014.


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