01 Dec 2016

HBS Alumni On Leading Their Alma Mater

Three alumni on the ever-evolving higher ed sector
by Dan Morrell


From top: Angela Crispi, Rick Melnick, and Steve Gallagher
Photos by, from top: Evgenia Eliseeva; Russ Campbell (2)

Executive Dean for Administration Angela Quinn Crispi (MBA 1990) says her classmates’ queries about her work at HBS had a distinct progression. Initially intrigued by her decision to stay on campus and join the admissions office, every five-year reunion saw that intrigue increasingly yield to a new question: “How can I work here?” In all, 137 HBS alumni work at the School in some capacity, making it one of the largest employers of the School’s graduates. We talked to three alum-turned-staff—Crispi, CFO Rick Melnick (MBA 1992), and CIO Steve Gallagher (MBA 1995)—about why the classroom still feels close and the forces that will shape the future of higher education.

How has your student experience impacted your work?

Angela Crispi: I think about the very first day in class—totally frightened about what this whole journey was going to be like. But at the end of that day, I had this epiphany: There were 90 really bright students sitting in the classroom with thoughtful things to say, their collective points of view were better than any one point of view. It was the first turning point for me about the importance of a collaborative community.

Rick Melnick: One of the things about the School that really stands out for me is that we have the privilege of being able to make decisions that are in the best long-term interest of the institution. We don’t have a quarterly earnings report that we need to be attuned to. And I still reflect on cases that we studied featuring companies that didn’t focus on what the quarterly impact was going to be and instead, just tried to do what was best for the company.

Steve Gallagher: My student experience has directly informed how I think about the services I’m delivering. When I talk to my sectionmates at reunions, they ask me how things have changed from when I was the tech rep in my section to now being the ultimate tech rep at the School. And it’s phenomenal in terms of all the transformations. But there is also a lot that has remained the same in terms of the student classroom experience and how we further the mission of the institution.

What are the challenges for business education in the coming decades?

SG: Cost is absolutely a challenge. We’re very fortunate at HBS to have the capability to provide robust financial aid packages and to be able to support our students while also furthering our research and our goals. We’re always thinking about how to move the ball forward: How do we stay true to ourselves and to the things that make us distinctive, while also evolving in a way that will allow us to take on these new challenges?

“[Students] are valuing education more as a consumer—a purchased good versus an experience that will transform their life.”

“[Students] are valuing education more as a consumer—a purchased good versus an experience that will transform their life.”

RM: If I just think about the economics of the expenses—at least here at Harvard—about 70 percent of the expenses are fixed costs in people and buildings. There is still tremendous value in residential learning and the networking opportunities it provides. But perhaps it could be supplemented by online learning—and perhaps that would reduce cost over time for students as well as institutions.

AC: Some of the financial pressures stem from a legitimate question that people ask when they are going to college or graduate school: What job am I going to get? What will my starting salary be? And so much of that concern, understandably, focuses on the short term. They are valuing education more as a consumer—a purchased good versus an experience that will transform their life. Challenges also come from increased federal regulations and compliance costs. The demands on universities mount each year. There are innovations to pursue and everyday activities to preserve all while trying to keep everything affordable and ensure financial health. I don’t think I’m overstating by saying that higher education is at an inflection point.

How can the modern educational institution encourage innovation and experimentation? What are the practical steps you take?

SG: I recently met with the IT Strategy Board—a governance group overseeing information technology at the School—and we reviewed the course catalog in the EC as a bit of a bellwether: What are students interested in? What are the faculty looking at? We also think about how we can intentionally get out of the way of the students or the faculty. We’re now working on projects where we will expose datasets and let the students and faculty kind of have at it.

“I cringe when I hear people say, ‘Oh, higher ed moves so slowly.’”

“I cringe when I hear people say, ‘Oh, higher ed moves so slowly.’”

RM: I think we see innovation with a capital "I" in things like the new pedagogy of Field, the Harvard i-lab, and HBX. But there is actually innovation with a lowercase "i" as well. Every year about 20 percent of the cases in the MBA Program are new. So innovation could be a new elective that’s introduced. Or innovation could be refreshing one of the first-year courses that we all took many years ago to bring new companies and new ideas into the Required Curriculum.

AC: I cringe when I hear people say, “Oh, higher ed moves so slowly.” If you think about what a university is all about, it’s new knowledge. It’s a constancy of ideas. It always has new people coming in—a new student body, a new alumni group for reunions. It is always refreshed. It’s a vibrant, beating hub.

I think the greatest challenge for some of us is that there are so many ideas—how do you pick and choose the innovations that you actually are going to be able to work on?

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1990, Section D
Class of MBA 1992, Section D
Class of MBA 1995, Section H
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