01 Oct 1999
The View from the Pitby Judith A. RossTopics:
Illustration by Steve Bjorkman
When the Class of 1974 returns to campus to celebrate its 25th Reunion, at least three of its members won't have far to travel. From their base of operations at Soldiers Field, faculty members and classmates Carliss Y. Baldwin, Diana Barrett, and Dennis F. Hightower are all experiencing HBS from the other side of the educational equation. Representing the areas of finance (Baldwin) and general management (Barrett, Hightower), they bring a potent mix of skills and expertise to the classroom - and even issue the occasional cold call.
"My life has been a series of interwoven threads. Coming back to HBS has been an opportunity to tie them together," says Senior Lecturer Diana Barrett. The most recent of the three to return to HBS, Barrett joined the faculty in 1998, drawn by her love of teaching, the School's burgeoning social enterprise area, and an interest in health-care management. She currently teaches the required course General Management and the Foundations module Leadership, Values, and Decision Making.
Twenty-five years after her own graduation, Barrett notes that today's crop of students is armed with plenty of practical experience. "When I was here, a lot more people came straight from college. They were book smart but not very seasoned. Today's students have a better understanding of business issues, and their experience adds a great deal to classroom discussions."
When Barrett entered the MBA Program, she had already set up a genetics lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and earned a master's degree in social psychology from Boston University. "I came to HBS to get a degree that would be broad enough to apply to any area within the administration of medicine," recalls Barrett, who received her DBA in 1979. And while previous academic experience prepared her for the challenges she faced as a student at HBS, she's finding the view from the pit a little more challenging. "Preparing to teach cases takes a lot longer than I expected," she admits.
No stranger to teaching, Barrett has been on the faculty at Harvard's School of Public Health since 1976 and has spent much of her professional career applying corporate and industrial models to the health-care field. Her research activity at HBS focuses on the current trend of hospital mergers and how physicians can approach patient care in ways that mesh with a changing system.
Barrett's commitment to social service has inspired her to see philanthropy as a lifelong habit - one that she would like to pass on to her students. Describing her own life as an extremely diversified portfolio, Barrett wonders if today's students recognize the challenges ahead. "At age 27, you really think you can have it all and do it all," she observes. "Twenty-five years out of business school, I have a professional life, an athletic life, a domestic life, and I adore my three kids. I do a lot of things - but not all at once."
When Barrett's sectionmate Carliss Baldwin first enrolled at HBS, her goal was to work on Wall Street. But things did not go exactly as planned. "During my last year at MIT," she explains, "I had taken some courses from [current HBS professor] Bob Merton on the theory of finance. They blew me away. Then I arrived at HBS and learned about the basic functions of marketing, production, accounting, and finance." Want-ing more time to sort out the tension between theory and practice, Baldwin stayed on at HBS, earning her doctorate in 1977 and joining the faculty in 1981.
One initial difficulty of her transition from HBS student to HBS faculty member involved relating to former professors and mentors as colleagues. "I had a hard time calling them by their first names," she says. Now the William L. White Professor of Business Administration and a senior associate dean, Baldwin has taught Finance and Organizational Economics and was recently appointed to chair the HBS Doctoral Programs. Never expecting to stand in front of a classroom herself, she remembers taking for granted her professors' skills in leading discussions. "Much to my chagrin later on, I did not focus on their classroom techniques," she laughs.
But some of the lessons continue to resonate. "They taught me to view the enterprise as a whole - and as something that was subject to lots of conflicting pressures and constraints from customers, investors, and em- ployees," says Baldwin. "Now whenever I go into a company, I always look for those interdependencies."
In addition to her professorial and administrative roles, Baldwin, with coauthor Dean Kim B. Clark, has completed the forthcoming first volume of Design Rules: The Power of Modularity, which examines the interaction of design and industry evolution. Focusing on the computer industry, the authors are documenting a phenomenon in which the design of new products has created a corresponding number of new firms.
Teacher, administrator, researcher, and mother of two - after 25 years, Baldwin is still very much in the eye of the storm. "My children are young, Kim and I have yet to write volume two of the book - I don't think I've reached the time for reflection yet," she says. "But it's out there like a promise: Someday life will be less hectic."
Dennis Hightower, an Alumni Achievement Award recipient in 1992, epitomizes the long-standing HBS tradition of attracting hands-on practitioners to the faculty. Cheerfully characterizing his faculty appointment as "Dennis: Act III," the energetic Hightower became a senior lecturer in 1996 and a professor of management in 1997 following an exemplary business career and a stellar eight-year stint as a military officer.
Hightower notes that today's student body represents a far greater range of ages and cultures than in 1972. "As a teacher, I find that the quality of discussions are much richer because they reflect a wider range of cultural viewpoints that go beyond a purely U.S.-centric view," notes Hightower. "Today's students have a more pragmatic perspective. They don't merely focus on the theory of the case, and they tend to promote more global considerations." Because his students demand substantial real-world relevance alongside theory, Hightower's academic work focuses on issues of leadership and global management from the general manager's perspective.
Hightower credits his career in the Army, where he attained the rank of major at age 27, with teaching him the nuances of leadership. "As MBAs, we tend to become quite enamored with the processes of planning, analyzing, and making financial projections," he observes. "But in the final analysis, none of that can happen if you don't have the right people. As an officer, I had to know how to get things done through others by selecting them properly, trusting them, allowing them to do what they were best at, and providing the correct amount of push and pull," Hightower asserts.
He put those lessons to work after leaving the military and earning his MBA when he em-barked on a business career that included stints as a McKinsey consultant, a general manager at GE, president of Disney's Europe/Middle East/Africa consumer products division, and president of Disney's global television and telecommunications businesses.
Noting that compared with his generation, today's MBA students have a better sense of balance when juggling work, family, and community service, Hightower counsels them to remain attuned to their individual abilities and limitations when making career choices. "I have my own definition of success that is internally driven and has the support of my family," he says proudly. Like Barrett and Baldwin, Hightower's path to success has led him straight back to HBS.