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Entering Our Fifth Decade: Faculty Look Back

Longtime faculty reflect on Yale SOM’s evolution from startup to top global business school.

When Yale SOM opened its doors in the fall of 1976, students and faculty alike saw it as an experiment in a new kind of management school, intended to train leaders for both the private and public sectors. It was, in essence, a startup. 

The students who took a chance on the new institution, says Professor Stanley Garstka, “were probably the most rabid entrepreneurs that have ever been at the school.” They were smart and accomplished people who could have chosen a more established business school. But at Yale SOM, “they felt like they were helping shape an institution. And that permeated everything we did.” 

After Professor Sharon Oster, later the school’s dean, taught her first class at the school, she got a visit from students, who wanted to make a few friendly suggestions for improving her teaching. “I remember chuckling a little bit and thinking, ‘this is a different kind of student to teach,’” she says. 

Professor Douglas Rae puts it this way: “Early classes thought of themselves in many ways as the founders of the school. Which in a real sense they were.”

As Yale SOM evolved, that entrepreneurial spirit, as well as its commitment to cross-sectoral education, remained a constant. Dean Emeritus Jeffrey Garten, who led the school from 1995 to 2005, led an effort to put into words the school’s founding ethos. He and his colleagues settled on “Educating Leaders for Business and Society,” which remains a guiding formulation of the school’s mission. 

“What that always meant to me was that we would produce leaders,” Garten says, “as opposed to just managers.”

In the last decade, the school has instituted an innovative integrated MBA curriculum, helped to found the Global Network for Advanced Management, created new degree programs, and moved into Edward P. Evans Hall. 

“SOM has gone through a lot of changes,” says Professor William Goetzmann. “I think the more important change it’s gone through is from being a small school with a limited set of objectives to being a really substantial school that feels comfortable competing in the space of the very best business schools in the world.”

The school is well suited to the generation of students entering business school today, who want to make a positive impact, Oster says. “They want to have meaning to their lives and value and balance, and social value creation at the same time,” she says. “They want it all in one thing, and that was the promise of the school, really. It was a promise well before its time but a promise that really fits this time.”