A portrait of William Donaldson ’53, founding dean of the Yale School of Management, still hangs in the dean’s suite of the school’s campus on Whitney Avenue.
Exactly 40 years ago on Sept. 13, 1976, it was Donaldson who accepted a banner from then-University President Kingman Brewster Jr., inaugurating what was then called the Yale School of Organization and Management. Today, the school has relocated from a cluster of buildings on Hillhouse Avenue to its state-of-the-art headquarters which opened two years ago. And although the student body, faculty and physical facilities have drastically changed and grown, long-time faculty at the SOM said the school’s founding mission — its joint focus on both private and public sectors — still remains part of its DNA.
“It took Yale 300 years or so to come up with a management school. The decision to do so was one that was overdue,” Donaldson told the News. “The school from all I’ve gathered is doing extremely well. It has moved up steadily in rankings under the current dean.”
Throughout his career, Donaldson has met professionals in business, government and nonprofit sectors who spoke highly of SOM graduates, especially their knack for teamwork, he recalled.
Pamela Farr SOM ’78, who now sits on the SOM Board of Advisors, graduated from the school’s charter class. She was a young professional working in investment banking in San Francisco when she decided to pursue an MBA. Farr had applied to all the established business schools, including Harvard and Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania, and accepted a seat at Stanford.
Information was not as readily available in the 1970s, and Farr had no idea that on the East Coast, Yale was gearing up for its new school of management. It was not until she stumbled upon a copy of the Yale Alumni Magazine belonging to a company intern that she learned about Yale’s venture, and switched gears.
“I never really thought it was a hard decision. I was excited about the concept of the school, its focus on the private and nonprofit sectors — ‘business and society’ as we call it today. As much as it was a new school, it was a new school within Yale University. The prestige of the University would carry the school,” Farr said.
Farr added that the SOM education has imparted in her a sense of commitment to society. There was huge tension between the University and the city of New Haven in the 1970s, and her inaugural class particularly engaged in community outreach and often, coursework would require working with a local business. Farr has spent seven years serving in the American Red Cross, and led the organization as National Chair of Volunteers.
Professor of operations research Arthur Swersey was at Columbia University in 1976 when SOM’s hiring ad in a bulletin caught his attention. The school was looking for a one-year visiting professor, but Swersey stayed a longer period, and he has now taught at SOM for 40 years.
Everyone from faculty to the charter class of 48 students took risks joining the school, Swersey said. The fact that they were all starting something new created a unique culture of collaboration and concern for others which has since continued, he added.
James Firestone SOM ’78, executive vice president of Xerox, said his time at the SOM expanded the way he dealt with problem-solving. When the school was started from scratch, faculty and students experimented with new curricula, Firestone recalled. Notably, two professors co-led a workshop where students examined various crises — such as a sharp increase in oil prices — from multiple perspectives, including the historical, economic and political. Firestone also serves on the advisory board of SOM’s Center for Customer Insights.
Longtime faculty member and former SOM Dean Sharon Oster said that as the school enters its fifth decade, challenges await. Business schools worldwide have to compete for high-quality applicants, and the SOM will have to respond by designing new programs to complement existing ones, such as the Global Network for Advanced Management.
A January donation from Indra Nooyi SOM ’80, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Inc., helped establish the SOM’s Fifth Decade Innovation Fund, which will be used to develop courses, address space shortages and manage Yale Center Beijing, according to SOM Dean Edward Snyder.
“Many people around the campus have come to realize that there are huge benefits to having a school of management, due in part because of the school’s focus on the central question of how organizations compete and how they corporate, due in part to its original mission — which is more broad-based than other business schools. The University feels good about having SOM, and we feel good about being a part of Yale,” Snyder said.
When the school opened, the SOM only offered a Master’s in Public and Private Management, and not a traditional MBA.