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John Harvard's Journal

A Robust Decade at the Business School

September-October 2005

Kim B. Clark’s move from Allston to Idaho—he became president of Brigham Young University-Idaho on August 1, in response to a call from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—concluded his nearly 10-year deanship at Harvard Business School (HBS). That decade, during which business became far more global and technologically enabled, with abundant opportunities for entrepreneurship, proved fruitful for HBS’s brand of business education as well. Returning to the West (he grew up in eastern Washington and Utah) severs Clark from his nearly continuous academic and professional home since he enrolled in Harvard College in 1967. In an interview a week before his departure, Clark ’74, Ph.D. ’78, outlined a series of initiatives the school had undertaken during his tenure. Most seem likely to be sustained under his interim and ultimate successors (see next page); a fundraising effort that has well exceeded its half-billion-dollar goal will fuel the work (see “Capitalism Campaign,” November-December 2002, page 55).

Kim B. Clark
Harvard Business School

Gregarious and open in conversation, as ever, Clark traced the school’s priorities to its perception, in the mid 1990s, that it was at an inflection point—driven by a changing world—that required new ways of pursuing its mission: to educate business leaders who are prepared “to make a difference in the world.” That obviously requires adapting to new conditions. Just what those might be, Clark conceded, was only “dimly perceived” in 1995. In retrospect, four themes have bec0me clear.

• Globalization. “Massive geo-political changes are taking place in the world,” Clark said, making it “imperative that the school reach out” in practice, leadership, and engagement with research. The resulting global initiative has taken tangible form, first, in “build[ing] intellectual capital” through research centers—outposts that facilitate local contacts and support faculty scholarship, first in Silicon Valley and then in Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Paris, and Mumbai. Work conducted there shows up in course development and across the spectrum of classroom case studies. A second effort involves extending HBS education into the world through those centers. Executive-education courses are already conducted far and wide, but M.B.A. students, Clark said, have been reluctant to give up the residential experience to do coursework and research away from campus. That evolution of HBS teaching thus remains prospective. Meanwhile, international students have risen from 23 percent to 33 percent of the M.B.A. class during the past 10 years.

• Technology. It is now commonplace, Clark continued, that information technology is reshaping business and management “fundamentally.” That means students must be able to deal with information systems, which in turn drives the use of technology in the education HBS provides. Clark cited “huge investment” in human resources, infrastructure, and software, to the point where “being on the Net, being on the Web, is like breathing here” today. An enthusiast on the subject, he detailed how colleagues are making progressive use of these tools. For example, a new case study on the Columbia shuttle disaster involves students in on-line virtual role-playing: they pursue the flight day by day, receiving and reacting to phone messages, e-mails, and other audiovisual information in real time, while classmates, observing, discuss why organizations “fail to see the disasters that come down upon them when the data are right in front of them.”

Faculty, Clark said, can “create an educational experience you could not create without the technology.” Electronic classrooms equipped for such teaching are available in the new Hawes Hall, and Aldrich Hall’s amphitheaters have been retrofitted to the same standard. The reconstructed Baker Library, reopened in Clark’s final days on campus, is a state-of-the-art electronic-information utility.

• Entrepreneurship. “All businesses in all industries are going to face more turbulence, more uncertainty, more change, more stuff,” said Clark, putting a premium on adaptiveness and innovation even in the largest corporations (long thought, at least externally, to be the central HBS concern). As a result, entrepreneurship is now understood not as a separate activity, but as part of general management. Once peripheral, therefore, the subject has become “absolutely at the center of the school,” with a required first-year M.B.A. course, large second-year enrollment in related electives, and—to support research, course development, and teaching—expansion from five to 32 faculty members during the past decade, a large part of HBS’s 20 percent faculty growth during that time. In a sense, Clark said, “This means the school has caught up with its alumni.” Reunion surveys indicate that nearly 70 percent of graduates have founded, helped fund, or led an entrepreneurial enterprise.

• Values. Those other priorities aside, Clark said, “The most important thing we’ve done” is to refine HBS’s focus on leadership to clearly emphasize leaders’ values and responsibilities. The curricular expression is a required first-year M.B.A. course, “Leadership and Corporate Accountability,” launched in January 2004. Drawing on psychology, law, and studies of organizational behavior, the course explicitly introduces students to “role-related responsibilities” along economic, legal, and ethical dimensions, under conditions of ambiguous standards, factual lacunae, competing constituencies, and the pressure to act quickly. Readings range from cases on Enron and WorldCom to “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Looking ahead, at the June 6 news conference where he announced his resignation, Clark propounded an agenda for HBS of much more expansive and intensive internationalization of research and teaching; renewed commitment to research and education for practice, even as business’s global reach makes that more difficult and costly; and deepening engagement with technology and educational innovation. He sounded very much ready to carry on—and indicated that he would have done so for some time had he not been summoned by his church.

HBS appears well positioned to proceed in those directions. A critical article by Warren G. Bennis and James O’Toole on “How Business Schools Lost Their Way” in the May Harvard Business Review lamented the rise of “scientific” research, divorced from practice, and of education that does not prepare students for managing as a profession. The authors cited HBS’s emphasis on case development and its focus on course creation as a criterion in tenure decisions as healthy antidotes to these problems.

Moreover, needed resources are amply at hand. HBS weathered the slowdown following the collapse of the Internet bubble and the ensuing recession by tightening its belt. Its capital campaign, scheduled to end in December, will likely raise more than $560 million, Clark indicated.

Of course, his successors will face new issues. Accelerated planning for Harvard campus development in Allston changes HBS’s physical and academic setting. “When I became dean,” Clark said, “I think it’s fair to say the [Charles] river was like a moat and the drawbridge was up.” Now, he said, HBS has become engaged in University planning to a degree that is “amazing to us.” He said the school was excited about possible academic involvement with scientific and engineering facilities that may be located nearby, even as he acknowledged “regret that it did not work for the law school to move across. I think that would have been very powerful.” In the near term, HBS’s physical expansion along Soldiers Field Road is in somewhat of a holding pattern, he said, while plans are fleshed out to the south, along Western Avenue, and closer to the river “There are lots of possibilities,” he said, with lots of negotiations underway, but “nothing set yet.”

One ingredient missing from those negotiations will be the long, close rapport between Clark and Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers, who first met and worked together as economics graduate students nearly 30 years ago. At the June 6 briefing, Summers recounted Clark’s accomplishments extensively, and made it clear that he felt more than a professional transition was taking place. Asked if he had tried to retain Clark, Summers said, “[I]t became clear to me almost instantly that I was the president of Harvard and the president of Kim’s church had spoken. And so I was best off accommodating the reality that I faced.”

Clark’s chemistry radiated widely, contributing to HBS’s fundraising prowess and ability to plan and complete extensive construction during his tenure. It is perhaps telling that the stories about his deanship frequently revolve around very personal anecdotes. Cizik professor of business administration Clayton M. Christensen, who completed his thesis under Clark, lived in the same town, and attended the same Mormon congregation, told how Clark led 12-year-old scouts on monthly campouts and hikes, even during winter storms, as he took up his duties at HBS’s helm. With Clark heading off to Idaho, said Christensen—the very model of an HBS scholar of technology and operations management—“I feel like half of my heart is getting ripped out.”