Oster’s experience a boon for SOM

The Yale School of Management was founded 32 years ago. And Sharon Oster has been at SOM for the past 26.

When she replaces outgoing dean Joel Podolny on Nov. 1, Oster will bring over a quarter-century of institutional experience to her new position. But as SOM pushes forward with the construction of a new campus and the implementation of a revamped curriculum, Oster — the Frederic D. Wolfe professor of management and entrepreneurship — will need every ounce of that experience, faculty said.

Veteran SOM Professor Sharon Oster will be the school's new dean.
Veteran SOM Professor Sharon Oster will be the school's new dean.

“Sharon is going to need help from all of us to carry out the full range of activities that Joel initiated,” Management professor Jonathan Feinstein said. “It’ll be like juggling for at least the next three to six months just to keep things going.”

When Oster arrived at Yale in 1974 to teach in the Department of Economics, SOM did not exist. She became an associate professor at SOM in 1982, six years after the school opened. By her own count, the majority of SOM alumni have taken one of her classes, whether it be “Economic Analysis,” “Competitive Strategy” or “Nonprofit Management.”

But instead of teaching management, Oster will now practice it.

Although Oster possesses administrative experience — she served as associate dean of SOM from 1992 to 1994 — her new role will add further responsibilities to her former schedule.

Management and marketing professor Ravi Dhar, who served with Oster on the search committee that picked Podolny to lead the school, said Oster will face a steep learning curve for at least the first few months. Faculty members — even those with Oster’s experience — rarely deal with administrative duties such as admissions or career placement, Dhar explained.

But Oster said she was undaunted by the task.

“I told Rick Levin when he asked me to do this job that I planned to finish it up, nail it down, make it run like a Japanese train and take all the credit for it,” Oster said — the last part in jest — to the SOM community at a town hall meeting last Wednesday.

Marketing professor Subrata Sen said Oster’s broad academic knowledge will prove essential to the execution of the deanship.

“As dean, you need to know all the different areas of expertise in the school,” Sen said. “And she understands what management education is all about.”

“If you look around, it’s clear that Sharon is the right person to close the deal,” echoed Judith Chevalier ’89, deputy provost for faculty development and a economics professor at SOM for the past eight years.

Dhar also praised Oster’s ability to quickly integrate different viewpoints, adding that those skills could serve her well as SOM expands beyond its traditional focus on the school’s MBA program.

Finance professor William Goetzmann ’78 SOM ’86 GRAD ’90, a former student of Oster and now her colleague, spoke highly of her classroom presence.

“I know her as an inspiring teacher, as one of the greatest teachers at SOM,” Goetzmann said.

When Podolny resigned last Wednesday from the deanship to become vice president and dean of Apple University, President Levin handpicked Oster to serve out the remainder of Podolny’s term, which will expire in 2010. During Podolny’s 3 1/2 years at the helm of SOM, he spearheaded the overhaul of SOM’s curriculum, which coincided with SOM’s resurgence in the business school rankings.

Oster played a crucial role in the development of the new interdisciplinary curriculum, Goetzmann said. Before the curriculum’s launch in 2006, Oster developed and led teaching of the final course for first-year students, “Integrated Leadership Perspectives,” which tied together all prior instruction in the new core curriculum. Oster also taught the “Competitor” section of the “Organizational Perspectives” module of the curriculum.

Today, Oster also directs both SOM’s Program on Social Enterprise and its Program on Non-Profit Organizations. Feinstein said Oster’s leadership proves her commitment to promoting a sense of social obligation among SOM’s students.

Instilling a notion of social responsibility in its graduates has long been a hallmark of SOM’s educational philosophy.

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