Business Schools

Harvard B-School Dean Jay Light Stepping Down


After five years at the helm of the world's most prestigious B-school, Light is calling it quits. His successor faces daunting challenges

By John Lauerman and Brian K. Sullivan

(Bloomberg) -- Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile) Dean Jay Light, who oversaw the school during the global financial crisis that challenged business education and slashed the value of Harvard's endowment, will retire in June, after five years in the position.

Light, 68, the ninth person to serve as the school's dean since its founding in 1908, is stepping down after serving in a number of positions for 40 years, the school in Boston said today in a statement.

Light, a director of the Harvard Management Co. that invests the university's endowment, saw the fund fall to $26 billion from $36.9 billion during the fiscal year that ended June 30. The meltdown raised numerous issues for educating business leaders, Light said.

"The lessons have been about risk management, about making sure there's a focus on the possible downsides, how to monitor them, how to manage them, how to be alert to systemic risk," he said in a telephone call with reporters today. "All those are crucial to the function of a real leader."

Harvard Business School pioneered the use of case studies to examine business decisions. Under Light, professors used the used the same method to scrutinize whether the school failed to teach students to understand and manage risk in the recession that began last year.

'Solid Feature'

Paul Danos, 65, dean of Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business Administration (Tuck Full-Time MBA Profile) in Hanover, New Hampshire, said he expects Light's successor to continue with the case method.

"This is a pretty solid feature of the program that is going to be a feature of the program for a long time," Danos said.

University President Drew Faust will soon launch a search for Light's successor, according to the statement. Harvard has had a tradition of selecting deans from within the school, David Schmittlein, dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management (MIT Sloan Full-Time MBA Profile), in Cambridge, said by telephone. While the Harvard Business School's complexity would make it hard for someone from the outside to take over, it wouldn't be impossible, he said.

"A great strength of Harvard is that it has a strong set of senior associate deans, and on one level, the ability of an outsider to come in is greatly enhanced by having that level of skill available," Schmittlein said.

Harvard's faculty spend more time writing, researching or supervising case-writing than professors at other top business schools, Danos said. That makes the job better suited to an insider, he said.

'Very Complex'

"It makes it very complex to an outsider, especially the case-writing tradition," he said. "There aren't many schools that have it at that level."

Light, a 1963 graduate of Cornell University in engineering physics, earned his doctorate in decision and control theory from Harvard in 1970. He joined the Harvard Business School faculty in 1969, and left the school in 1977 to work at the Ford Foundation.

After returning two years later, he held positions at the business school in finance, strategic planning and new initiatives before being named dean. He succeeded Kim Clark, who stepped down as dean in 2005 after a decade in the post. His research has focused on capital markets and institutional asset management, the statement said.

Light has been "a strong and influential voice within our deans' council on matters of university-wide concern, and someone whose organizational and financial expertise has long benefited not just the business school but the university more generally," Faust said in the statement.

Global Economy

Light said his successor will face the challenges of teaching graduates to function in a global economy and helping them develop leadership skills.

"This and all business schools need to constantly press ahead in becoming more global institutions," said Light, who is also the George F. Baker Professor of Administration.

Harvard Business School was ranked third in the world behind the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and the London Business School in the latest Financial Times survey. The school's alumni include Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric Co. (GE) chairman and chief executive officer, and former U.S. President George W. Bush.

To contact the reporters on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net; Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net.


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