By Karen Guzman
Stanley Garstka was teaching at the University of Chicago when back in his home state of Connecticut, the opportunity of a lifetime was taking shape.
“We would visit for the holidays, and my wife always said, ‘Why don’t you get a job at Yale?’” Garstka, who retired this year after four decades at Yale SOM, recalls. His response, year after year: Yale doesn’t have a management school.
“Then in 1977, I couldn’t say that anymore,” Garstka says. “I got an appointment at Yale in 1978. The fact that the school was a small startup was so exciting. It gave me the opportunity to really help define an institution from the ground up.”
Garstka came aboard as an associate professor of organization and management. Over his long career, he would be instrumental in shaping the school and its curriculum while serving in a variety of roles, including interim dean, longtime deputy dean, and co-founder of the MBA for Executives program.
And Garstka wore all of these hats while teaching generations of Yale SOM students the fundamentals of accounting. Colleagues describe him as devoted and challenging, a teacher and an administrator who wanted the best for Yale SOM and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind pursuing it.
“It is fairly safe to say there would not be a Yale School of Management without Stan,” says Rick Antle, the William S. Beinecke Professor of Accounting, a longtime colleague who co-authored the book Financial Accounting with Garstka.
“Stan stepped up for SOM time and time again, often in the most difficult circumstances,” Antle says. “He knows who he is, what he values, and he is not afraid of work. As a colleague and as a friend, Stan was someone I could always count on to back me up if I was doing the right things and to let me know if I wasn’t.”
Sharon Oster, Yale SOM’s former dean and the Frederic D. Wolfe Professor Emerita of Management and Entrepreneurship, concurs. “Stan is irreverent and yet deeply loyal to Yale,” she observes. “Over the years I’ve been able to count on his sense of humor and his sense of what is right. Stan has been loyal to the junior faculty while also sensibly challenging his senior colleagues. He truly is one of a kind.”
Five years after joining the faculty, Garstka was appointed associate dean. At the time, he says, the school was trying to carve out a unique role in the pantheon of business schools. The school focused on leadership in the public and nonprofit sectors as well as in for-profit businesses, and the degree it offered was a master’s degree in public and private management (MPPM), not the traditional MBA.
“The first years at the school were interesting,” Garstka says. “The environment was a collaborative one—students, faculty, and staff all worked together to define the vision of what the school was to become. It was a very entrepreneurial, exciting time.”
In 1994-95, Garstka was named interim dean. At the time, he remembers, the school was at a crossroads. “The question was how to differentiate ourself, as a business school—how to be academically rigorous in a professional business school setting.”
Yale’s youngest professional school was also still solidifying its position within the university. When Garstka served on the search committee that selected Jeffrey Garten as dean in 1995, he says, “We tried to find someone who would be great at building bridges to the rest of Yale.”
After Garten’s arrival, Garstka was named deputy dean, with responsibility for faculty recruitment and other administrative oversight; he would serve in this role for 27 years.
Under Garten, the school began offering an MBA degree rather than an MPPM, while retaining its cross-sectoral focus. “We were worried stiff when we did that,” Garstka says. “The MPPM was sort of sacred, and we were monitoring feedback from alumni very carefully.”
But the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. “Everyone said, ‘Thank you,’” Garstka recalls. “They said they were tired of sitting at board meetings and trying to explain what an MPPM was. They felt like we gave them more legitimacy.”
A decade later, under the deanship of Joel Podolny, Garstka played a major role in the creation and launching of Yale SOM’s signature integrated core curriculum, which was designed to teach students to see business problems from the perspectives of various stakeholders.
“I thought we were really onto something,” Garstka says. “The core represented a big move toward real learning, not just training.”
It was also a community-wide effort, involving more than two years of research and planning. “Every faculty member was on a committee related to the curriculum, and we used to meet every other week with the whole staff to explain what we were doing,” Garstka says. “We went nuts, but it was such an exciting time. It was the period when I felt most energized here.”
In his final years as deputy dean, Garstka helped oversee the effort to build a new campus for Yale SOM, traveling to examine the campuses of peer schools and working with architect Norman Foster’s team to design classrooms for the integrated core curriculum. The result, the glass and steel Edward P. Evans Hall, opened in 2014, a final step in the school’s journey toward maturity.
All along, Garstka was also a favorite teacher in Yale SOM classrooms. One of the school’s most beloved traditions is named for him: the Stanley Garstka Cup, an annual hockey game between first- and second-year MBA students.
While Garstka, an authority on bankruptcy, has been a professor in the practice of accounting since 1983 and taught a core accounting class for years, he notes that he wasn’t trained as an accountant.
“Even though my PhD was in operations research, specifically in stochastic programming, my interests were always much broader,” he says. “In fact, in my sixth year on the Chicago faculty, I switched into the accounting group.”
The practical applications of accounting appealed to Garstka, and he enjoyed exploring real-world business problems with students.
“We’ve always been fortunate to have very bright and capable students, and I’ve always tried to push and challenge them in my courses,” he says.
A business school education, Garstka explains, should be equal parts conceptual and practical.
“Education means pushing students to comprehend more than just facts or techniques, so that they learn how to structure, analyze, and solve problems in very messy, complex environments.”
In 2005, Garstka got the chance to help shape a new learning initiative when he co-founded the MBA for Executives program. Garstka partnered with his friend Dr. Howard Forman, a radiologist and economist and the founder and director of Yale’s MD-MBA program, to create the program, focusing on healthcare leadership.
The program, which has since grown to includes focus areas in asset management and sustainability, was designed to address the balkanization of the healthcare industry into siloed groups, such as physicians, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies.
“We tried to sample from the whole industry to get them all together and get them talking,” Garstka says. “These were people who truly were passionate about what they were doing and wanted to have more skills in their roles as managers.”
Another longtime friend and colleague is Edward Kaplan, the William N. and Marie A. Beach Professor of Operations Research. Among other interests, they share a passion for sports, which led to a much-discussed 2001 paper that uses operations research tools to propose a method for competing successfully in NCAA basketball tournament pools.
“For 33 years I’ve watched Stan navigate the good ship SOM,” Kaplan says. “Stan loves puzzles and sports, but nothing more than the game of life. He has his own way of making decisions given the uncertainties—no wait, curveballs—life throws at you, but he has a lot of fun placing his bets and, hey, he keeps score. To those of you watching from home, Stan’s winning!”
Interviewed on September 9, 2020