Leading in a New Era of Business

Stanford Business, Fall 2021: Challenges like climate change raise questions about the purpose of business.

October 26, 2021

This August, I hiked up Mount Whitney with my 14-year-old son. We started at 2 a.m. to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, climbing some 6,000 feet up the eastern side of the mountain. Shortly after sunrise we emerged on the ridge, dusty and tired, and were met with a breathtaking, expansive view of the western Sierra Nevada. While each climb has its rewards, few things compare to the feeling of emerging to an open vista.

I was reminded of that feeling a few weeks later when the Knight Management Center returned to life and we welcomed students back into classrooms after 18 months of mostly virtual education. The new academic year coincided with the beginning of my second term as dean of Stanford GSB. That milestone and the energizing and optimistic start to the year make this a natural time to reflect on the state of the school and look out at its future.

Stanford GSB strives to be the world’s best academic business school. We are distinguished by the two-way interaction between scholarship and practice that occurs in our classrooms and in the diffusion of faculty ideas across academia, business, and policy. The depth of our faculty’s impact was exemplified in October, when Guido Imbens shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his groundbreaking studies of causal relationships — the second Nobel awarded to Stanford GSB professors in so many years, following Paul Milgrom and Bob Wilson in 2020.

As we look ahead, the school is positioned to lead in a new era for business. We have transformed our research infrastructure in response to the explosion of data that is reshaping social science. Our faculty are blending theory with data, computation, and experimentation to answer new questions about organizations and markets. We have committed to expanding faculty diversity through hiring and career development and are in the exciting position of having the largest cohort of recently tenured professors in school history.

Our MBA program is thriving at a time of significant change in management education. The MBA degree arguably is becoming less important for advancement along particular career tracks, yet even more valuable as a means to gain wider perspective, insight, and durable skills — exactly our educational goals. Education at Stanford GSB is further distinguished by our emphasis on the craft of leadership — the combination of reason, evidence, intuition, and judgment. Consistent with this philosophy, we have expanded co-taught classes that blend the science and art of management by pairing academic faculty with practitioners.

Today, organizations and leaders are challenged to address issues including climate change, inequality, advancing technology, and shifts in global economic power. These challenges are raising fundamental questions about the purpose of business and its responsibility to different stakeholders. Stanford GSB has both an opportunity and responsibility to lead on issues at the intersection of business and society: to inform debate and thinking through our research, and to educate students who appreciate the power of markets to foster innovation, while recognizing the inherent trade-offs in business decision-making. Our focus on principled leadership has led us to redesign our core ethics curriculum, introduce the Leadership for Society program and the Corporations and Society Initiative, and work to ensure that Stanford GSB students are prepared to lead diverse teams and organizations.

Emerging from the pandemic, we also can expand the set of rising talents and established leaders who learn from Stanford GSB faculty. The world needs a larger, stronger cohort of global business leaders. We can contribute by providing greater access and educational opportunity to flexible, technology-enabled programs that complement and add luster to our MBA, MSx, and PhD programs. Closer to home, it is important for us to welcome into Stanford GSB more students from across Stanford, especially given the university’s priorities around sustainability, digital transformation, biomedicine, and social impact that dovetail with some of the most important areas for business and business leadership.

The last five years at Stanford have been a dynamic and rewarding time. I see an expansive future for Stanford GSB and I look forward to continuing the journey with all of you.


This letter from the dean was published in Stanford Business magazine in October 2021.

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