Dean Saloner of Stanford: "Big success stories from India could change things"
Updated on Jan 15, 2014 - 11:47 a.m. IST by Nimesh Chandra #United States of America
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Garth Saloner became the ninth Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) in September 2009. A Philip H Knight Professor, he has previously held positions as the Business School’s Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Director of Research and Curriculum Development and Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship. Dean Saloner speaks to Nimesh Chandra of Careers360 on a gamut of management issues and what distinguishes Stanford from other premium B-Schools.

Q. Domestic demand for the 2-year MBA in America is declining, with the shortfall being made up by Asian students. A perspective.

A. I would say that the aggregate demand for MBA in the US is increasing but you are right in saying that the 2-year full-time programme is on a decline. The mix, however, has been switching from full-time to part-time and executive programmes. I think it is a very big commitment for somebody to come for two years full-time, giving up his/her employment, to pursue higher studies.

But this has not really affected the demand for the very best programmes. For instance at GSB, we have in the range of 7,000 applications a year (with bounces up and down) for around 400 positions and it has not affected us.


Q. US B-Schools versus Indian ones.
A. Let me focus on Stanford. There are few things that are really distinct – one, we only do full-time programmes which are highly immersive programmes; we do not offer certificates or specialities in specific majors. We take a perspective that every student should be exposed to general management education and then they take that to a variety of places. We combine academic rigour and industry practice. So faculty members with PhDs, who do research for peer reviewed journals, are coupled with leading practitioners from the Silicon Valley. Leading entrepreneurs and managers come to our classrooms and offer their learning with the teachings of faculty, which we think is a very powerful mix. We have 116 faculty members across areas, so our research strength is very broad and lot of research is influenced by what is going on in the Silicon Valley (industry).


Q. What is the learning from India?
A. One of the things in India which I was really struck by, especially in Bangalore, is the thriving entrepreneurial culture. It just wasn’t like this even a few years ago. It doesn’t yet look like Silicon Valley because an evolution needs to take place for that, but you get glimpses of the same. I think it won’t be long before there are very very big success stories coming out from India which would change lot of things.


Q. What in your opinion should be the reform agenda for B-Schools and management education?
A. Business Schools have a big opportunity. The biggest problems in the world today, it doesn’t matter if they are in energy, or education, healthcare, water or food – these are, at their core, really problems of business leadership and management. There is a scientific basis probably to each of those but these will have to be solved by organisations and requires business leadership and management. The opportunity therefore for B-Schools is to say that we are part of that broad solution; we educate people who are multidisciplinary in their outlook, who want to bring about change, innovate and are able to address such issues.

Q. At Graduate School of Business, who is preferred - a fresher or an individual with work experience?
A. We have a range of experience in our classes. Many students have 4-5 years of work experience; some have more while some less. What we are looking for is someone who has the potential to do something significant. So we look at the trajectory and arch of their careers and sometimes we see that in somebody with relatively less experience. There is no norm to prefer people with more experience. I have seen so many students who are able to internalise the lessons even with few years of experience.


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We are looking for  someone with potential to do something significant. We look at the trajectory and arch of their careers. Sometimes we see it in somebody with relatively less experience

Q. How do you view rankings of Business Schools?
A. There are many rankings and they differ from one another which tells you that they are not precise. If they were precise, there would be one ranking. So what we look at very closely is all the students who were offered admission, whether they decide to come or not. Because students who are deciding, unlike some numbers in the ranking, are going to commit two-years of their life so they have put in time and effort to assess, they have spoken to alumni and evaluated what is going to add value so that’s the informed decision that we play lot of attention to.


Q. Is online education parallel to fulltime programmes?
A. Not at all. I think a two-year MBA programme which is full-time and immersive is a completely transformative experience. Students not only learn in the class but they learn from each other, they learn in experiential ways, they learn from speakers who come through, from students in other schools across universities.

It is an incredible experience and I don’t think in the near foreseeable future, online education is going to provide that richness. On the other hand, how many students are there in the world who have the opportunity to avail themselves of the full-time experience? So for a lot of those people to have access to at least some of the core ideas, is a tremendous advantage. So both these modes will have to exist side by side.

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