Joel Podolny began his five-year term as dean of the School of Management in 2005. Sharon Oster, who is now his sudden successor, chaired the search committee that recommended him. She told the News at the time of Podolny’s hiring that she hoped the 39-year-old would be dean for at least a decade.
“His youth is an advantage,” she said. “We think he’s got a couple of terms in him, which is good.”
So much for that.
It’s not ideal to resign right as your school is about to begin building an entirely new campus. While Podolny said in an interview that he is certain SOM will be in good hands with Oster as dean, the sense of disbelief on campus Wednesday did not inspire confidence in his claim that his departure will not impede the school’s rise.
This is the most jolting resignation since then-President Benno Schmidt ’63 LAW ’66 quit on the morning of Commencement in 1992. And as was the case back then, it seems odd that someone in such an essential position as Podolny’s would quit with such little notice. We don’t blame some at SOM for feeling hurt.
But at the end of the day, Podolny’s departure boils down to this: Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.
Indeed, our loss is Steve Jobs’ gain, and we can’t blame him for spotting talent and pouncing on it. In landing Podolny, Apple’s chief executive plucked a ripe one from Yale’s administrative tree. It was a move that even the savviest observers did not see coming.
But maybe we should have. Podolny is a star. Jobs did just what President Levin has made a habit of doing as president: He identified a person he wanted — say, Tony Blair? — and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. (And, of course, one Yale couldn’t match. Alas, universities can’t offer stock options.)
Still, it’s not particularly productive to spend any more time complaining about Podolny’s decision to depart to the corporate world. Rather, it’s time for Yale to embrace the exceptional vision Podolny has laid out and do what it takes to make sure the progress SOM has made under his reign is not lost. In the short term, there is no question that Oster — a seasoned veteran and well-respected scholar — will do a fine job as dean. But in the long term, if SOM is to continue its ascent into the upper tier of business schools, Yale must borrow a page from Jobs’ playbook.
It shouldn’t be hard. The case of Gus Speth, the dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is instructive. Levin wooed him away from his post as head of the United Nations Development Programme. Someone like Speth might have seemed out of Yale’s league. But, as Jobs did with Podolny, Levin did what it took to land the man he deemed best for the job.
Nearly a decade later, Speth has made FES one of the most vibrant centers of scholarship at Yale. SOM needs a similar shot in the arm from its next dean. With a new curriculum in its infant stages and a new campus on the way, this is a turning point in the young school’s history.
Steve Jobs made his move. Now President Levin must follow suit.