The Stanford Magazine recently interviewed Dr. Garth Saloner, the new dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, who in the last two years helped introduce major changes in the school’s curriculum.
Saloner has taught at Stanford since 1990, twice winning the B-school’s Distinguished Teaching Award. But the time for innovation was ripe, especially given the financial crisis and the depressing mirror it held up to the way much of business was run in the U.S. That’s only one reason that the style of management education that the GSB had taught for the last 20 years had “pretty much run its course,” Saloner told Stanford Magazine. Today’s business managers need a more complex set of skills than simply the strong general management curriculum Stanford GSB used to offer.
The school is focusing more on critical thinking skills, as well as the principled character that the school has always prized. Future managers “will have to have an ability to think deeply about all of the contextual elements that surround their businesses,” notes Saloner, who pointed out that the financial services professionals who weathered the storm the best in the last few years weren’t those who wondered how to make money off the debt markets; instead they asked, “Why are the debt markets behaving the way they are?” and then looked for correlated risks that should have been taken into account. Those who found the ‘moral hazard’ in the way that these markets [played out] were able to protect themselves against some of those risks.”
Today’s students at GSB often already have undergrad degrees in business or economics degree, in addition to four or five years in a consulting firm or on Wall Street. Yet the school also has a growing number of students from non-traditional backgrounds, who have worked for NGOs in developing countries or other non-profits, and who lack many business management fundamentals. To address these disparate needs, all students have to first “grapple with broad difficult general management issues, such as “What should Google do in China?,” forcing students to take a position on whether Google should locate servers in that country and be subject to some government oversight on content, or remain outside the country and have degraded service but be free of governmental oversight.
However, students also can create a more tailored curriculum based on their individual backgrounds. With that in mind, the GSB has a growing number of classes in collaboration with the Medical School, Engineering, Education and other schools.
This approach not only will make the MBA education more tailored, but also help students who want to launch careers of “impact and meaning. [These students are] much more thoughtful than students in prior generations about what they really want to do with not just their careers, but their lives. The desire to really use their education for change and for larger societal benefit is very much on the upswing,” Saloner observes.
The GSB is also changing physically, with the new Knight Management Center campus being designed with more lab-type settings and seminar rooms in addition to the traditional large classrooms. A new 600-person auditorium will host large events, and some flat space is being planned for students to gather around the tables doing projects. The campus will be across the road from the Schwab Residential Center, where GSB students live, so that the campus can be “alive around the clock—a place where the students will come over from the dorms, grab a latte in the evening and sit with their study group . . . collaborating and doing work.”