Podolny is tapped as SOM dean

Harvard Business School professor Joel Podolny, an expert in leadership and management, will become dean of the Yale School of Management on July 1, Yale President Richard Levin announced Tuesday.

Podolny, who specializes in economic sociology, status dynamics and market competition, will replace outgoing dean Jeffrey Garten, who is stepping down after 10 years as the top official at SOM and will remain on the faculty of SOM after a yearlong sabbatical.

Levin said he tapped Podolny for the deanship because of his combination of academic accomplishments, administrative experience and personal qualities, which Levin said would help strengthen the business school.

“He’s a first-rate academic, he’s very highly regarded in his field, he’s an excellent teacher and he has administrative experience,” Levin said. “He’s got a very energetic, positive, upbeat style I think people find engaging.”

Podolny, 39, has risen quickly through the academic ranks. Since receiving his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1991, he was tenured at Stanford at age 30, became senior associate dean at Stanford Business School and is regarded as the nation’s preeminent scholar of economic sociology.

Podolny said he did not immediately accept Yale’s offer, but was persuaded to take the position because of SOM’s unique mission. Unlike most business schools, which Podolny said are significantly separated from the rest of their respective universities, SOM is closely integrated into the larger Yale community. This integration is manifested through programs linking SOM with other schools in the University.

“I think it allows [SOM students] to tailor their business school education in a way that can map more strongly onto what their own personal aspirations are,” Podolny said. “If, for example, knowledge about a particular region of the world … is something that is important to somebody’s personal aspirations, that’s an easy thing to do if one can draw on the rest of the University for courses, going to hear speakers, and so on.”

Harvard professor David Thomas SOM ’86, who has taught an introductory business school course with Podolny, described him as both a leader in his field and an excellent teacher and mentor.

“As an academic, I think it is safe to say that of his cohort of scholars doing work in economic sociology, he is the leader in his field,” Thomas said. “He and I have taught together for the last three years. Joel has done a fabulous job teaching the course and also helping to mentor junior faculty.”

At Harvard, Podolny has held a joint appointment at HBS and in the Sociology Department of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Thomas, while discussing his own experience as a student at SOM, said Yale’s business school has traditionally been “at the nexus” of the public and private spheres. He said he thinks Podolny will help return SOM to its roots.

“I think they’ve actually drifted from that in the last 15 to 20 years,” Thomas said. “I think Joel has just the right set of skills, of exposure to the non-profit and for-profit sectors to be able to pull that mission back to the forefront.”

SOM professor Sharon Oster, who chaired the search committee which recommended Podolny to Levin, said Podolny was one of the few candidates who had the combination of academic and administrative experience to be dean of SOM. She said many academics are unwilling to engage some of a dean’s responsibilities, like fund raising or leading a faculty.

Oster said she is hopeful that Podolny will be a lasting presence at SOM.

“We think his youth is an advantage,” Oster said. “We think he’s got a couple of terms in him, which is good. President Levin has high aspirations for the school, in terms of its continued growth in excellence and stature.”

Podolny said one of his first responsibilities on campus will be to meet with the SOM community to evaluate the future of the school’s mission. While SOM is widely recognized for its education in the non-profit sector, Podolny said he wants to strengthen the foundational curriculum that can prepare students for any “meaningful aspiration.”

“For me, a very big task is going to be increasing my familiarity with the faculty, with the students, with the alumni,” he said. “I think there are a number of pressing issues for the school as it tries to reach the next level and very much want to start bringing the community together around those issues.”

Although his responsibilities as dean may take away from the time available for his research, Podolny said he planned to continue both his academic work on leadership and his teaching.

“I plan on teaching a course next year,” Podolny said. “I’ve actually never taken a sabbatical since I started in academia in 1991. I’ve taught every year and I can’t imagine not teaching.”

The move to Yale will give Podolny and his family a chance to interact more closely with a campus he said he first visited in the 1980s.

“I fell in love with the campus in the early ’80s, when I was visiting schools with my friends,” he said. “I and my family, we’re looking forward to coming to New Haven, coming to Yale.”

While he will move to New Haven in July, he said his wife and two sons will take more time to make the transition from their home in Massachusetts.

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