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RESEARCH & IDEAS

New at the Helm: A Talk with


HBS Dean Light
Q&A with: Jay Light
Published: October 18, 2006
Author: Roger Thompson

Executive Summary: included some coursework similar to what I had priorities for the coming years. The following is
been doing at JPL." an edited version of his remarks.
As Harvard Business School's ninth Dean,
As his doctoral work progressed, Light
Jay Light takes control at a critical point in Roger Thompson: You have deep and
became "more and more interested in the
time. Light discusses the opportunities brought long-standing connections to HBS, both as a
Business School side of the joint program." He
by globalism, challenges in recruiting and student and as a faculty member. Were there
found mentors in Raiffa and finance professor
developing faculty, and program innovation any surprises once you became Dean?
Eli Shapiro, who encouraged Light's growing
needed to meet the needs of 21st-century Jay Light: I've been amazed at the
fascination with markets and investment. In
business leaders. Key concepts include: outpouring of support I received, after the
addition, he worked half-time with a
• Preparing students to lead in a globalized announcement, from former students and
Boston-based management consulting firm on
world is one of the largest challenges and faculty. People really care deeply about HBS
the strategy problems of several important
opportunities facing Harvard Business and are committed to its ongoing excellence.
corporate clients. He soon decided to focus his
School. The good news is, the School is in great shape.
full attention on HBS. As the first graduate of
• Like many companies and institutions, the
the joint doctoral program in the winter of
School is looking at innovative ways to Q: Looking ahead, what are some of the
1969-70, he joined the HBS faculty.
attract and train faculty, while trying to keep big issues facing the School?
Just two years into his HBS career, Light
faculty near retirement involved in the A: I think the biggest issue and opportunity
won the 1972 Excellence in Teaching award for
School. is globalization. As business becomes more
his work in the first-year MBA course on
• Healthcare is an extremely fertile area for global, and our students and faculty more
managerial economics, which, he points out,
business management research and international, we need to build on the efforts
drew on the faculty's research in decision
collaboration with other parts of Harvard we've launched and seek new ways to prepare
theory. In 1973, he joined the Finance area, and
University. students to lead in a globalized world. We've
began teaching the second-year MBA courses
made important progress in the classroom. Our
on investment management and capital markets.
research centers in Latin America, Europe, the
Forty years ago, in September 1966, a Later in the decade, he took a two-year leave of
Asia-Pacific, and, most recently, India have
young mission analyst named Jay Light left the absence to serve as director of investment and
worked with faculty to enrich the global content
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California financial policies for the Ford Foundation,
of the HBS curriculum. In addition, members of
and headed east to Harvard Business School. At returning in 1979.
the Class of 2008 come from almost seventy
JPL, Light used his undergraduate engineering Back at HBS, Light focused his research
countries, bringing a rich diversity of
physics training to lead a space-mission and course development interests on asset
perspectives that has a profound influence on
analysis team, an experience that convinced him management, risk management for global
learning. In the future, we need to think about
that he needed more management skills. By his investment, and negotiation and deal
ways to provide more direct international
own recollection, he was virtually "clueless" structuring. He also served in a variety of
experiences for our students, and for our
about the very special place to which he was leadership roles: as chair of the Finance Unit
faculty. One idea might be short study trips that
heading. (1986-88); as senior associate dean, director of
would combine immersion in key regions
His application to the MBA Program caught Faculty Planning (1988-94); and as senior
around the world with individual preparation
the attention of Managerial Economics associate dean responsible for the School's
beforehand and class work or field studies after.
professor Howard Raiffa, "who pulled my strategic planning and new initiatives
application aside and asked whether I'd like to (1998-2005). Light became Acting Dean on
August 1, 2005, upon the departure of Kim B. We have a strong
get a doctorate instead," recalls Light. After
discussions during a visit to the campus, Light Clark, and Dean on April 24, 2006. commitment to ideas as the
agreed to enter a new doctoral program in While in graduate school at Harvard, Light
decision and control theory, a joint program met his future wife, Judy; they are the parents place where the educational
of two grown children. For fun, Light takes to
between HBS and Harvard's Economics and
the water for sails on the ocean near his
experience begins.
Applied Mathematics Departments. "The
underlying logic of much of decision and Dartmouth, Massachusetts, summer home. "I
In executive education, we might think
control theory was similar to the underlying grew up sailing every day on the Great Lakes,
about increasing the number of programs we
structure of how we at JPL would design and that experience has stayed with me," he
offer overseas. We've experimented with
trajectories and track and control a spacecraft," says.
regional research symposia, where our faculty
says Light. "So intellectually, though this In his first interview since becoming Dean,
take their work back to its roots and test out
doctoral program was in a business school, it Light shared his views about the School and his
new ideas with practitioners, and I'd like to see

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those continue and possibly expand. Last year, module on information technology. And in the where the whole process starts. It's all about
we convened a faculty task force to formulate elective curriculum, there's a steady stream both intellectual capital. And those ideas are what
several different approaches as to the many of new courses and of new materials. We've become the foundation of the cases used in the
global opportunities before us. I hope we'll built a significant degree of flexibility into our classroom, plus in articles and books. We use
decide between these different approaches curriculum and thus see less of a need for that intellectual capital in teaching here, and we
during the coming year. large-scale change. also market cases to other schools around the
globe and thus seek to influence the way
Q: Is faculty development one of the I think the biggest issue and management education is delivered worldwide.
challenges you see for the School? So we have a strong commitment to ideas as the
A: Faculty development is crucial, but the opportunity is globalization. place where the educational experience begins.
challenge includes attracting and retaining That's why we make the investment we do. It
faculty as well. On the incoming side, the We've looked carefully at what we do
certainly is far more than any other business
tightening supply of new faculty is a concern, outside, or alongside, the curriculum as well.
school.
not just for us but also for business schools Last year we launched learning teams for
more broadly. At HBS, we seek out faculty first-year students. These are diverse groups of Q: While Harvard University searches
candidates with a strong commitment to roughly seven who work together on projects for a new president, what is the status of
teaching and research who also show a deep throughout the year. Writing is an important planning for the future Allston campus?
interest and respect for the practice of business. component of what they do, in addition to A: I think the vision of the future Allston
This is a rare blend of characteristics, and developing the skills necessary for effective campus is pretty broadly shared in the
competition for outstanding faculty is growing. teamwork. University community, and there is
Moreover, an entire generation of faculty Our goal is to ensure that our graduates are considerable momentum to carry the process
who helped shape the School over the last well-versed in the principles of general forward. Harvard is unique among the nation's
half-century have retired or will soon retire. management and prepared to lead urban universities in its ability to contemplate a
We've launched Baker Foundation organizations. We are committed to offering development of this magnitude. I hope and trust
professorships to keep great senior faculty programs—and this goes for our doctoral and Allston will stay on everybody's priority list.
engaged in the work of the School for as long as executive education programs as well—that are
possible. We also must ensure that the next engaging, challenging, and relevant to the real Q: What will be the impact on HBS?
generation is prepared to follow in their world. A: It's a definite plus for the School. We'll
footsteps. We are approaching this on two go from being on the periphery of the Harvard
Q: What other priorities do you have in campus to being at its very center. While it will
levels.
mind? be many years, indeed decades, before the full
First, we are recruiting from a wide variety
A: There is tremendous opportunity and vision is realized, we only stand to benefit from
of disciplines and providing the resources new
need in the area of healthcare. We launched a the interactions and activities the move will
faculty need to thrive in terms of both teaching
five-year MD/MBA joint-degree program with bring.
and research. The Christensen Center for
Harvard Medical School a year ago, and it now
Teaching and Learning has been particularly
has seventeen really outstanding students. We Q: What's your view on business school
helpful on this front. It enables new faculty who
also have launched the Healthcare Initiative that rankings?
may not be familiar with case-method teaching
will draw on the work of our faculty and alumni A: The difficulty with the rankings is they
to hone their classroom skills and to learn from
leaders in the field to create innovative don't reflect any of the interesting and complex
the expert teachers the School has cultivated
solutions to healthcare problems. In addition, distinctions among business schools or among
over the years.
the University plans to break ground next year the men and women who apply to them; they
Second, we have invested heavily in
on a 500,000-square-foot interdisciplinary assume that all schools and all applicants are
research support. In addition to the research
life-sciences research center on Western basically the same. In fact, business schools are
centers I mentioned earlier, we've established
Avenue across from the HBS campus, and quite different from each other, and Harvard
the Computer Lab for Experimental Research,
several of the Harvard professional schools are probably is even more different than others. So
for example, and the Faculty Research
scheduled to move next to us within several at one level, rankings are no more than an effort
Computing Center. These resources, and others
years. This will eventually position us at the to boost magazine and newspaper sales, with
like them, enable faculty to pursue ambitious,
heart of the University's growing commitment little foundation in what's really important to
multiyear, and often cross-disciplinary research
to the life sciences, and advance our goal of know about a school.
projects.
establishing HBS as the leading business school
Long term, I hope we can evaluate how our
in the healthcare sector. Q: What do you do in your spare time, if
doctoral programs might be leveraged better to
I also would like to find new ways of you have any?
address these challenges.
interacting with our colleagues throughout the A: Sailing is an early passion that I continue
University. There's more than you might to enjoy. When I have the opportunity to read,
Q: The Stanford and Yale business
imagine going on already, from informal in addition to investment management
schools recently announced major changes in
collaborations on research, to teaching information, I'm a fan of history and especially
their MBA curricula. Do you foresee any
changes here at HBS? undergraduates, to longer-term projects and biography.
A: We are always evaluating the MBA programs. I believe there's additional work we
curriculum and looking for ways to innovate. In might do that would benefit all the schools and
faculties involved.
About the author
recent years, for example, we've launched three Roger Thompson is editor of HBS Alumni
new courses—Finance II, The Entrepreneurial Bulletin.
Q: HBS spends nearly $80 million a year
Manager, and Leadership and Corporate Reprinted with permission from "Light
on research. How do you view the impact of
Accountability—in the required MBA Years Ahead," HBS Alumni Bulletin, Vol. 82,
that investment?
curriculum, as well as a new prematriculation No. 3, September 2006.
A: It's huge. We think generating ideas is

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