Whether scholars or executives make better business school deans is an inherently subjective question -- and one that is discussed around the world. What’s clear, based on a recent study,  is that top business schools favor hiring leaders with extensive publishing records.
Business schools that finished highest in the 2005 Financial Times Global MBA ranking  have deans with the highest levels of lifetime citations, which are measures of one’s references in scholarly papers and one indicator of academic reputation. That’s according to the report, “Does it Take an Expert to Lead Experts? An Empirical Study of Business School Deans," published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute. The report's author is Amanda Goodall of the University of Warwick.
The study is based on information collected from 99 deans from some of the world’s top business schools. Each dean’s citation score was calculated and then used to gauge how much research and how successful a dean was in his or her academic career.
Eighty-eight of the 99 deans in the survey came from within academe. The remaining 11 came from the business sector, and of those deans, two have Ph.D.s. Deans who were professors in business management and business administration were most prevalent among the group. There were also 18 economists in the sample pool.
The Institute for Scientific Information formed a “highly cited” category that identified the world’s top 1 percent of academic researchers in each disciplinary field, according to the study. Of the 99 people who were deans in the spring of 2005, three -- Kim Clark at Harvard, Patrick Harker at Wharton and R. Glenn Hubbard of Columbia – fell into that sub-group. Each institution was in the Financial Times’ top three of 2005. (Clark has since left the dean's position at Harvard, but his replacement -- announced this week  -- is very much in the academic mold: Jay O. Light, a longtime faculty member at the business school.)
The study provides a number of intuitive reasons why top business schools favor deans with substantial academic tenure. Top business schools look for insiders who are familiar with the research needs of an institution and are able to identify faculty with good research skills, according to the report. The best schools tend to attract the top scholars who are likely to make strategic choices that improve a school’s reputation, the report also finds.
“Indeed, scholarship can be seen to be explicitly linked to the core business of a university or business school, which is research and research-led teaching,” the study says.
Hiring from within is especially prevalent at Ivy League institutions, where a university “will always appoint a president or dean who has either worked at an Ivy institution or studied at one,” the report says. Leaders of universities who are in charge or appointing new leaders are often top scholars themselves, the report notes, are likely to hire people like themselves.
The report’s findings are consistent with those of an earlier study  by Goodall that showed a direct correlation between the citations of presidents of universities and the position of their institutions in a global ranking of the world's top universities.