Business School Dean Jay O. Light to Step Down

Light joined the HBS faculty in 1969 and has been dean since 2005.

Jay O. Light

Harvard Business School (HBS) dean Jay O. Light announced today that he would relinquish his position at the end of the academic year. He will also retire from the faculty at that time. Light, D.B.A. ’70, who is Baker professor of business administration, was appointed interim dean in August 2005 and named dean the following April. He joined the HBS faculty in 1970 and has served continuously, except for a leave of absence from 1977 to 1979 when he was director of investment and financial policies for the Ford Foundation. That assignment fit well with his expertise in finance and his research focus on asset management and risk management for global investment management. He is a director of Harvard Management Company, the entity responsible for investing the University’s endowment and other funds. (For more background, read Light’s HBS biography.)

When he was appointed dean, Light declared his intention to “keep the school at the leading edge of innovation in management education.” Having previously served as senior associate dean and director of faculty planning (1988-1994) and then senior associate dean and director of planning and development (1998-2005), he was immersed in the school’s strategic planning, its educational and research priorities, and the design of a capital campaign. During his decanal tenure, he oversaw completion of that campaign, launched with a $500-million goal in the fall of 2002 and concluded at the end of 2005, having raised $600 million. That sum underwrote 150 new fellowships, endowed HBS’s doctoral program, funded a new teaching and learning center, provided substantial resources for research, and yielded new and renovated classrooms and the expanded, overhauled Baker Library.

HBS has continued its emphasis on global outreach, extending its network of international research centers with the opening of a research center in Mumbai in 2006 and an HBS-University outpost in Shanghai in the fall of 2008 (scheduled to move into permanent quarters next March). Students have been exposed to global business issues through Immersion Experience Programs (faculty-led seminars around the world). And HBS has expanded its executive-education presence in China, Europe, and India. In Boston, HBS has deepened its engagement with other Harvard schools, including a joint M.D.-M.B.A. program with Harvard Medical School, an HBS-Harvard Kennedy School joint degree, and collaboration with the Graduate School of Education that culminated in the recent launch of that school’s new doctoral program in educational leadership.

In the fall of 2008, in the midst of the world financial crisis, Light led HBS through its centennial celebration (see the multiple links at the end of that story), from which HBS faculty members have emerged with renewed research interests in and course development on financial regulation, risk, and the consequences of new developments in the capital markets, and with continued emphasis on educating students about the ethical aspects of business management (the school's required first-year M.B.A. ethics course was featured here).

President Drew Faust hailed Light as "an exemplary leader in a school dedicated to the understanding and practice of leadership." She also cited him as "a strong and influential voice within our deans' council on matters of University-wide concern."

During a joint conversation at Dean Light's office, he and Faust were asked about their work together, with Graduate School of Education dean Kathleen McCartney—a trio whom interim President Derek Bok asked to examine how new deans could be better equipped to do their work. "Leadership training for academic leadership" is always challenging, Faust said, particularly where the subject is not part of scholars' research and expertise. HBS, of course, specializes in understanding leadership and training business leaders, and its senior associate deanships have frequently been a good training ground for faculty members who assume higher academic responsibilities, as did Light himself. Both Light and Faust referred to "onboarding" of new deans from diverse schools: helping them assume their new responsibilities and powers. Light said that during the first two and a half years of her presidency, Faust had changed the council of deans in ways that emphasized that sharing of knowledge and skills, an important function at a time of many decanal appointments. That work, he said, "is my most important role" in the council. Faust said that Light was "enormously respected" by his fellow deans, and that his financial and managerial expertise had been "invaluable" to them, collectively and individually, during the financial and budget crises of the past 18 months.

Light cited that period as the most satisfying part of his own tenure leading his school, when it became necessary for HBS simultaneously to "ratchet down the cost structure," a task he said was now complete; to "figure out what's important about the current episode that you need to be innovating in the curriculum about," from understanding the causes of the crisis to devising suitable responses via research and in changed teaching; and to continue pursuing investments that matter for the future of HBS during the next 20 years (like the globalization initiatives). Doing all three at once, he said, was a considerable challenge for HBS--one he judged it has met well.

As for  Harvard Management Company, Light said he expected to remain a director, and had in fact deepened his role recently, with the formation of a new a risk and investment advisory group. The financial traumas since 2007, he said, were not a simple swing of the pendulum: rather, the investing world has fundamentally changed. He cited the changed "relationship of developing countries to the developed countries," with the financial positions of American and Europe vis-a-vis Asia "completely different"; new risk characteristics and different patterns of interaction from the past; new and far more critical problems of liquidity; and, in general, "skittish markets," which would remain so for the foreseeable future.

Beyond that work, Light said, he intended to remain involved with Harvard's affiliated hospitals (he is a director of Partners HealthCare, the parent of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's hospitals), and other pro bono activities around Boston.

President Faust said she would convene a search committee to identify Light's successor in the near future.

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