Dean profile: Joel Podolny of Yale and Apple

Found a very interesting reading on Joel Poldolny who transformed the Yale MBA and now is heading the Apple University.

Are Business Schools to blaim (for the global financial crisis):

Business schools provide students with many technical skills, but they appear to do little, or nothing, to foster responsibility and accountability. Society implicitly trusted MBAs to do no harm when it allowed financial markets to operate in a relatively unregulated fashion–but its faith has been betrayed. As a result, there’s an active distrust of business schools and their graduates.

How did we get to such a pass? For three major reasons:

  • The traditional MBA curriculum has divided the challenges of management and leadership in a dysfunctional way.
  • Business schools communicate the idea that would-be applicants must measure the MBA degree’s benefit in terms of the additional salary they can earn.
  • There has been little contrition on the part of those involved in MBA education after the crisis.

From FT:

The essence of the changes, says the dean, are related to the way businesses have changed. It used to be the case that business school departments were aligned with business school careers – marketing or finance. Businesses now are far more complex. “We’re at a unique time where all practice is being questioned,” says Prof Podolny. “What are business schools as professional schools doing if they are not noting down this kind of behaviour?”

A typical marketing textbook might have chapters on the design value proposition or bringing the product to market. But, he says: “If you talk to the CEOs, what they are obsessed about is how you get a handle on what customers want.”

The views of chief executives formed one of the central planks of the thinking behind the new curriculum, says the dean. “Usually a curriculum change is done by the faculty. This time we talked to recruiters and we looked at other schools.”

This focus on the organisational role rather than the disciplinary topic means that in the first year MBA students will study eight courses, working across public sector and private sector boundaries and addressing both internal and external constituents – courses with titles such as employee, investor, and state and society.

“What’s critical in these courses is that they are interdisciplinary in design and in content,” says Prof Podolny.

This has meant developing new teaching materials. As a former Harvard man, Prof Podolny has real insight into the way cases are written and taught.

“Nobody executes the case method better than Harvard,” he says.

“But are there things about the case method that we can improve? I think there are and I think we should.” Last summer, faculty at the school knuckled down to develop interdisciplinary case studies to complement the new curriculum.

On the new programme an overseas study tour is compulsory, with participants this month travelling to Argentina, China, Costa Rica, the UK, India, Japan, Poland, Singapore, South Africa and Tanzania. Initially, faculty leaders could be found for only seven of the eight tours, so the dean volunteered to co-lead the eighth, to South Africa and Tanzania.

“It’s kind of cool to think that the whole class will be overseas at the same time,” says Prof Podolny. “We’re going to try to structure it so that they are all aware of what the other groups are doing.”

From Yale News:


His departure from the school after just three years was unexpected—especially in light of the school’s plans to build a new campus—according to the Yale Daily News.

Though Yale students and academics were surprised that Podolny chose to leave for corporate America, Podolny’s colleagues at Harvard say they were supportive of his decision—though Khurana adds that Podolny’s departure was “academia’s loss.”

David A. Thomas, who served with Podolny on Yale’s Board of Advisers and is currently a professor at HBS, says he feels Podolny made the right decision in leaving Yale when the opportunity at Apple presented itself.

“He left having been very successful. I really can’t say if he had stayed 3 more years, he would have had double the impact,” Thomas says.

Messina, who was in contact with Podolny during this time, says that Podolny’s decision to leave Yale for Apple was “gut-wrenching,” but ultimately motivated by one very specific reason: the opportunity to work with Apple’s then-CEO, Steve Jobs.

“He literally said to me, ‘This is my chance to work with our time’s Thomas Alva Edison,’” Messina says.

Thomas says that Podolny’s time at Apple will train him to be an even more effective leader, should he decide to someday return to academia as a university president or pursue further opportunities in the business world.

“He understands excellence,” Thomas says. “At the end of the day, Joel really can and wants to have a positive impact on society beyond just the boundaries of business or academia.”


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