01 Apr 1997


A Conversation with Dean Clark


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BULLETIN: We should probably begin with the most obvious question: Is the job turning out to be what you had expected?

CLARK: I'd have to say yes, but more so. I assumed there were many things I had to learn about the School and its constituencies. That turned out to be true - and then some! But I've had all the help and support I could have asked for, beginning right here on campus with our faculty, staff, and students, and moving out to the University context and to our alumni and other friends. It's a wonderful job.

BULLETIN: Did [former Dean] John McArthur have any parting advice for you?

CLARK: John has been very supportive of what we've been doing over the past sixteen months, and he's been actively involved in a couple of our ongoing initiatives. We still meet pretty regularly to compare notes on key topics. There aren't a lot of people who know more about this place than he does. You asked about advice. In fact, during one talk we had early on about the transition in leadership, he leaned back in his chair and said, "You know, if I were in your shoes, I'd change everything." What I took away from that conversation was the belief that the School faces important challenges and opportunities - as it always will - and he was encouraging me to approach them head-on.

BULLETIN: And how is the School's relationship with the rest of the University?

CLARK: Healthy and productive. [Harvard University President] Neil Rudenstine has been terrific to work with. We began a series of lively conversations before I took this job - mostly about ideas, rather than mechanics - and those discussions have continued. Neil and I share similar views on the School and its opportunities, so our relationship is on a sound footing.

Our students have to experience a world-class information technology environment while they're at school, because they're going to have to understand and manage technology in their subsequent careers.

Our students have to experience a world-class information technology environment while they're at school, because they're going to have to understand and manage technology in their subsequent careers.

BULLETIN: How would you assess the state of the School today?

CLARK: This really is a great time to be part of the Harvard Business School. There is a spirit of innovation and enterprise that is quite remarkable. And I think we are making good progress on important initiatives.

BULLETIN: There have been a number of obvious manifestations of progress on the technology initiative, including the shift to an Internet-based communications system at the School, the availability of full-motion video in electronic cases, and the new computer labs in Shad. Are you pleased with how all of this is going?

CLARK: Very much so, and for reasons that go deeper than the new equipment on our desktops. When I took this job, I inherited a strong foundation for going forward on information technology. There had already been a lot of work on wiring the campus and planning for new technology that would allow us to do powerful things at the heart of the kind of high-quality education we were committed to providing. Our progress to date is remarkable. You mentioned the use of video in cases. The system on campus delivers full-motion video on demand to hundreds of users, whenever they want it. We are beginning to see more cases that take advantage of this capability. And it's not just cases that have changed. Today all of our courses take advantage of network technology. From their computers, students can access class schedules, assignment questions, course materials, and so on. Within those course materials are embedded links to sites on the Internet, supplied by the professor, which are intended to help them think through the case. They can input responses to assignment questions, which then become available to the professor. When professors want to modify an assignment - perhaps to capitalize on a particularly interesting discussion in the previous day's class - they simply go into the database, make the change, and it's instantly available to all the students in the course. So, we can make our course materials much more dynamic and, in turn, responsive to real-time events and experiences in the classroom. Behind all of this are a couple of important educational principles. We want our students to learn about technology by using it every day and experiencing the way we manage it. Our students have to experience a world-class information technology environment while they're at school, because they're going to have to understand and manage technology in their subsequent careers.

BULLETIN: Can you generalize about how the students have responded?

CLARK: We like to think we're driving the process, but it's just as true that our students are driving us. They are ahead of us. Many of them are out there on the Net every day anyway and have been for quite a while. So they're pushing us, and I'm glad they are.

BULLETIN: What other priorities have you established, either for yourself or the institution?

CLARK: Our faculty are pursuing some very exciting initiatives. One that has been flourishing is the work of our Entrepreneurial Management unit. We live in a dynamic world, rich with opportunity. The very nature of general management is changing. The creation of new enterprises and the practice of entrepreneurial management within established companies are hugely important in the world economy, especially as many older companies have gone through restructuring and downsizing. Not surprisingly, entrepreneurship has become an increasingly important part of what HBS is about. Our Entrepreneurial Management group, led by experts such as Howard Stevenson and Bill Sahlman, is growing, and their work is timely and exciting.

If I had to summarize the School's mission in ten words or less, I'd say it was to educate leaders and build knowledge on a global scale.

If I had to summarize the School's mission in ten words or less, I'd say it was to educate leaders and build knowledge on a global scale.

BULLETIN: In several previous interviews and speeches, you've stressed the importance to the School of what you've called "globalization." What's your current thinking on that topic?

CLARK: We've had discussions going on regarding our global activities for more than a year. We recently had a full faculty meeting on the subject, and we are continuing to think it through. If I had to summarize the School's mission in ten words or less, I'd say it was to educate leaders and build knowledge on a global scale. It seems clear that everything is pushing us in this direction - transportation, communications, technology, and the shape of business itself. We need to be close to practice everywhere, not just in places where we're already established. In the past, our international activities have included founding schools, running teaching programs, and conducting research. Most of these activities have had a very important component: developing our own faculty. I'm sure that whatever we do in the future in the global arena will have that same goal of broadening our own perspectives. The emerging consensus among the faculty seems to be that our global activities in the near term ought to have as their primary focus research and course development - building knowledge.

BULLETIN: Has your own experience overseas shaped your thinking about globalization?

CLARK: Oh, immensely. When I worked with [the late professor] Bill Abernathy, we used our experiences in the auto industry in Japan to better understand what was going on in productivity, quality, and innovation. I became an inveterate comparatist. And I've never met a researcher who's had a similar experience who didn't wind up in the same place. We only get smarter when we can test our ideas against a broad range of experiences. And the second answer to your question is that our students absolutely need a global awareness. We've made real progress toward including much more global content in our MBA curriculum. But most people here think we have a long way to go.

BULLETIN: It's still a big world out there. Where will the School concentrate its activities? How will you decide where to go first?

CLARK: All I can do at this point is cite some emerging guidelines that the faculty have been developing. Wherever we go, we need to be where important, interesting things are happening and where we'll have access to a good regional network, which includes companies, alumni, and so on. We'll have to have faculty interest - that's a sine qua non. And we'll have to have the ability to recruit outstanding people - research associates and new faculty - to the task at hand.

BULLETIN: We've talked mainly about the MBA Program and related activities. Do you have any news on the Executive Education front?

CLARK: [Professor] Earl Sasser and his colleagues are in an innovative mode. They have developed creative new courses and new formats that are doing extremely well. Our long-standing programs, such as AMP, PMD, and OPM, are likewise thriving. In fact, the tremendous growth in our programs is creating a real challenge to our capacity.

BULLETIN: What are you doing about that challenge?

CLARK: Well, the growth in Executive Education, changes in information technology, and new developments in our MBA Program have motivated us to take a close look at our plans for the campus over the next decade. These plans have focused on several needs that we see emerging. In addition to new space for the Executive Education Program, the most significant project will center around the library complex. [Professor] Dave Garvin and others are trying to think through a "reinvention" of Baker Library. How can we make it a center for discovery and the exchange of ideas? How can what we've learned about technology be put to good use in the library of the 21st century? We've got Dave pretty well tied up answering these kinds of questions.

In addition to new space for Executive Education, the most significant project will center around the library complex.

In addition to new space for Executive Education, the most significant project will center around the library complex.

BULLETIN: How far along are these various plans?

CLARK: We've made good progress. We began the planning process about a year ago with an investigation of the existing physical plant. Meanwhile, a programmatic review was looking at the needs and opportunities of our programs. We've recently put these two reviews together into an overall plan for the campus over the next six to seven years. So, we have a framework, but the hard work on specific projects is just beginning.

BULLETIN: Are there any other initiatives we should be asking you about, before our time runs out?

CLARK: Oh, there are many others. I'm really proud of our Social Enterprise Initiative. I talked with [Assistant Professor] Myra Hart about a new program she and her colleagues have developed - The Entrepreneur's Tool Kit - as a new offering around the time of the spring reunions. I'm excited that we're about to make lifetime e-mail addresses available to our alumni. And the publishing enterprise is emerging as one of the most respected and successful in the country. I could go on at length about the work in ethics, leadership, and many other initiatives. Maybe we'll have to schedule another session?

BULLETIN: Great. We'll be back for an update.

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