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Stanford dean has seen boom, bust, and beyond

Robert L. Joss, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, has been working to elevate the profession of management. Joss, 63, took the helm at Stanford in 1999, and has navigated the California business school through an era of boom, bust, and financial abuses. He spoke with Globe reporter Robert Weisman on a recent visit to Boston.

Q: You took over as dean when the Silicon Valley boom was at its peak, and then the bubble burst. How did that change your approach to the management of the school and its curricula?

A: We didn't change so much our curriculum as we changed our attitude and tried to change student attitudes about what was important. We focused on the fundamentals. Business fundamentals hadn't really changed. It was just the environment and the exuberance got out of hand.

So we really went back to basics. The fundamentals had to be applied to a new world. But there was no new economy in the sense that somehow the laws of economics had been repealed.

Q: Do you see the financial abuses of the past several years as evidence of a failure of business schools to teach values? And how have you addressed these abuses at Stanford?

A: I see it more as failures of people's values and being able to stand up and say no when something isn't right.

But we certainly address it. We have required courses on ethical reasoning and analysis. We put it in our core courses, we have electives. And we use a lot of new material around WorldCom and Enron and HealthSouth to show examples of what can go wrong if you don't speak up and do your job.

Q: What do you think of Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general who's led investigations into corporate wrongdoing?

A: Eliot Spitzer is really good for our country today. He's doing some very heroic work in challenging a lot of questionable practices.

Q: What steps has Stanford taken to recognize the global nature of business?

A: We have a Global Center for Business and the Economy to raise awareness among students and faculty, support research, and develop global content in many courses. We have a much more global student body and faculty today. We're pushing hard on all those fronts.

Q: Given that your campus is in one of the nation's entrepreneurial hubs, how do you balance the focus on teaching entrepreneurship versus teaching management of global enterprises?

A: Interestingly, most of the Silicon Valley companies are very global themselves. So we've found the teaching of entrepreneurship, which is to approach the business like an owner-manager, is a very good way to think about management responsibility.

Q: How much of your time do you spend on fund-raising, as opposed to management of the business school?

A: I spend probably 35 to 40 percent of my time fund-raising, but it's a very important part of managing the business school.

Q: Where are your students gravitating today for their first jobs?

A: Well, it's certainly changed from the dot-com era. They're not trying to do dot-com start-ups. At our school, the choices are very eclectic. There are some who do consulting and investment banking, but this is less than a third. The other two-thirds do a great variety of things. And at Stanford, they're disproportionately involved in entrepreneurial activity.

Q: Stanford is often compared with Harvard and MIT's Sloan School, competing for students and faculty. How do you view that competition?

A: It's a very healthy competition. We're all different. We're in different parts of the country, with different strengths and weaknesses and breadths of coverage. We're a smaller school. We're like the Sloan School in size. But for students, we'd compete more with Harvard.

Q: How much is a year's tuition at Stanford, and is it worth it?

A: Tuition is about $39,000 a year. And it's definitely worth it.

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