Exit Interview: HBS Dean Kim Clark

Kim Clark recently resigned his ten-year post as dean of Harvard Business School to assume the presidency of Brigham Young University-Idaho. In this Q&A with the HBS Alumni Bulletin, Clark discusses his experience.
by HBS Alumni Bulletin Staff

In July, after ten years at the School's helm, Dean Kim B. Clark stepped down to assume the presidency of Brigham Young University-Idaho. During Clark's decade of leadership, the School became a standard-setter in the use of information technology for pedagogy—in teaching entrepreneurial management; in global research and scholarship; and in its commitment to values and leadership as core elements of its curriculum and mission. Clark also oversaw a significant expansion of the faculty, an extensive refurbishing of the campus and enhancement of the student residential experience, and a successful $500 million capital campaign that included the opening of the Spangler and Rock Centers, the construction of Hawes Hall, and the renovation of Baker Library.

Shortly before his departure from Soldiers Field, Clark shared some parting thoughts with the Bulletin.

Q: How has being HBS Dean affected you?

Clark: It's been a great job and an intense learning experience, often requiring new skills you don't necessarily have when you start. You talk to people, you learn from your mistakes, and you grow, just as we hope is the case with our students.

As an individual, I believe I've become less quick to speak and more inclined to listen. In many ways, I'm more confident about grasping situations but also a lot more aware of my own limitations. I've learned to multitask and compartmentalize, to leave work at the office, to put a problem aside and turn it off. If you can't do that, you really won't be able to do this job.

Q: What was the toughest part of the job?

A: It always comes down to people. The hardest decisions are about who to promote and who not to. The toughest situations are dealing with real-life human problems that come up in people's lives, not only job performance but family matters, health issues, disappointments. The most difficult issues often involve life outside the School.

Q: What accomplishments are you proudest of?

A: When we started out ten years ago, there were several things we were convinced we had to emphasize to prepare our students for the future. Information technology was one. Part of that was upgrading and establishing HBS as a leader in the use of technology for education. Now we're poised to go further, using technologies in various ways to enhance what people learn.

I've become less quick to speak and more inclined to listen.

Next is globalization. We're now able to build intellectual capital and facilitate the School's global research across multiple sites all over the world. In the area of entrepreneurship, we've established a strong curriculum and faculty. Looking ahead, we're well positioned for what we see on the horizon, including the University effort in Allston around the commercialization of science and technology.

Finally, values and leadership may be the most important work we've done here. Leadership is now a defining characteristic of HBS, with a yearlong sequence of courses in the required curriculum. Similarly, our emphasis on values will be an important legacy.

Q: Do you have a stronger sense of the role and influence of HBS in academia?

A: I believe our deep commitment to teaching as a critical and important professional activity is something that is sorely needed in the academy at large. Of course, that's not to minimize the creation of new knowledge. In the last ten years, I think there's been an integration of this commitment to teaching with an equally strong commitment to building new knowledge.

Academics tend to blanch when someone brings up the word "management," seeing it as "control" or "structure" that may inhibit freedom of inquiry. If it's done well, we know that discipline and excellence of execution can enhance the research environment and learning process. In fact, it's liberating. I think people admire how we make that work at HBS.

Q: Where else can HBS aspire to set an example?

A: In the world at large, we ought to be held accountable for turning out the kinds of leaders the world needs, people who bring both character and competence to their work. Do our alumni make the world better? I think clearly they do, in many different ways. HBS should always be held to that high standard.

Our work should be more than rigorous and relevant. It should give some measure of inspiration and aspiration to the world. Part of our work is providing the means to more effectively mobilize society's resources—not just in pursuit of personal wealth but, in effect, to build wealth that accrues to society. In addition to writing and teaching about these larger issues, the School has the responsibility to focus society's attention on them.

Q: As Harvard University expands westward, the School will go from the periphery to the center of the University's campus. Is that going to change HBS?

A: Allston will be the locus of new activities, new combinations of people, and new interactions across schools. It will be a catalyst for creating things that did not exist before. HBS has a unique and exciting opportunity to shape and influence that.

Q: MBA alumni seem to have stronger ties to HBS than do alums of other grad schools. Why is that?

A: The strength of their bonds grows out of the first-year experience, that crucible of learning. But the School can't take those personal ties for granted. To an extent that is not true of most graduate schools, we depend on our alumni for financial support; for access to issues, companies, and people; and for recurring relationships that feed ideas.

Values and leadership may be the most important work we've done here.

Our alumni see how the School opens doors and connects them to opportunities. They think, "HBS not only helped me, but having this kind of institution in the world is a good thing." That's all part of the bond.

Q: Tell us about BYU-Idaho.

A: BYU-I is a combination of old and new. It, too, has a long tradition and a rich heritage—based on carving a life out of a difficult environment—that is deeply grounded in that community. Yet it's very new, in that it only recently became a four-year school. The challenge is to build and innovate on the enduring center of that legacy and tradition. BYU-I will be very different from the traditional academic institution. Its intent is basically to rethink education. It's on a roll, and we have an opportunity to make it even better.

Q: Any words of advice for your successor?

A: First, I'd say fall in love with HBS and embrace its mission and its people—they're what I will always miss most about this place. Second, think big and important thoughts. Stretch and reach. Remember that HBS is not called to be regular, but instead is called to greatness. Finally, keep in mind that by working together in this community, there's no limit to what can be accomplished.

When there's a change of leadership like this, it's a wonderful opportunity for innovation. HBS has a bright future ahead of it, and it will be taken forward by a great new leader. The School is about to embark on the next leg of its journey, and it is going to be terrific.