Business School Dean of the Year: Yale’s Ted Snyder

It is not an overstatement to say that when Yale University announced that Edward ‘Ted’ Snyder would become the new dean of its School of Management, expectations were extraordinarily high. After all, Snyder would be coming to his position with two successful deanships already behind him, at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Just four-and-a-half years into the job at SOM, Snyder has not merely met those high expectations, he has clearly surpassed them. On virtually every single metric of quality—from application volume and average class GMAT scores to MBA rankings and starting compensation for graduates—Yale SOM can boast major improvements. For bringing Yale SOM new prestige and prominence, the 62-year-old Snyder has been named Dean of the Year by Poets&Quants. It is an honor that has been bestowed on only four other business school deans since 2001.

The facts speak volumes about his accomplishments. This year’s entering class of 326 students—up from just 231 when Snyder took over—claimed an average GMAT of 721, up two points compared the previous year. The school’s acceptance rate has dropped three full percentage points to 20.7% from 23.7% in 2014. And for the first time since Poets&Quants has been ranking the top MBA programs, Yale became a Top 10 U.S. school this year, up from a rank of 14th when Synder arrived. Indeed, the school’s rankings from The Financial Times, Bloomberg Business, and The Economist have all substantially improved in the past five years. It also helped that Snyder opened the doors to a new $243 million ultra-modern home for the business school, once scattered among several creaky mansions on campus.

Mostly, however, Yale’s gains have come from a major repositioning as a business school that is more deeply connected to its home university and one that is the most global of the U.S. business schools. “We had a big global brand at the university level, but not at the school level,” says Snyder. “The organizing idea was to move us as far away as possible from a standalone business school. Being at Yale made that relatively easy, and that was the big idea coming in.”

The full embrace of all that Yale University offers has worked like a charm. The most recent academic year saw some 1,030 non-business school students come to SOM to take electives, while as many as 900 MBA students went out to take courses at other Yale schools and departments. Some 72% of SOM students now take at least one course outside Yale, and SOM is reserving 10% of the seats in elective classes for students from such Yale schools as law, medicine, public health, divinity, and drama.

Most notably, Snyder has led the development of the first global network of top business schools, a group that leverages faculty and students across 25 countries. The latest school to join the network is UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, giving the network a strong presence in the Bay Area. Snyder also introduced a one-year Master of Advanced Management degree for graduates of the Global Network for Advanced Management, giving SOM a far more global flavor than it would ever have had.

The changes have made the school far more attractive. After a massive 24.8% increase in applications to its MBA program last year, the school says that the number of candidates in this year’s round one pool rose by 29%. “What’s driving the increase is the clarity of our strategy, the new building, better rankings and job placement, but also the activation of the global network,” says Snyder, who is now going through the reappointment process.

His previous experience helped. Coming in, he knew he had to have more firepower at the top so he recruited two highly accomplished deans from Wharton and IE Business School in Spain, respectively Anjani Jain and David Bach. As senior associate deans, Jain runs the MBA program, while Bach leads the executive MBA and global programs. Both of them could just as easily serve as business school deans themselves. But their agreement to work as a team with Snyder has allowed the triumvirate to accomplish far more in less than five years than what would otherwise be possible.

“Ted starts every conversation thanking people,” says Bach. “A lot of what we’ve done benefits from each other’s areas. In nearly four years, we haven’t had a single conflict.”

The end result: A school that is run more like a finely-tuned business than an academic institution. “The school has become more professional,” says SOM finance professor Nicholas Barberis. “It used to be run a little more like a family business. Ted brought with him a great reputation.”

An unlikely path to B-school dean

Though Snyder has done what no one ever has—successfully run three highly prominent schools—his early career showed little sign that he was destined to become a three-peat change agent in management education. He picked up an undergraduate degree in 1975 from Colby College, where had majored in economics and government, and then a master’s in public policy from the University of Chicago in 1978.

“I didn’t have a plan for life,” explains Snyder. “My dad was a World War II pilot and entrepreneur who gave up his business and had a very religious phase, got into civil rights and the anti-Vietnam War movement. My mother was a teacher of history and music in public schools. I’ve got that in my family tree.”

Snyder began his professional career as an economist with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. He switched gears in 1982, joining the University of Michigan’s business school as a faculty member and ending up as an MBA core course coordinator for Applied Microeconomics. Snyder returned to Chicago to earn a PhD in economics in 1984, all while climbing the academic ladder at Michigan, where he developed programs in Central Europe, China, India, and Russia.

The notion of becoming a business school dean occurred early, though not from Snyder. His thesis advisor at the University of Chicago told him that he should be a dean. “I didn’t even have my PhD at the time,” recalls Snyder. “And at Michigan, as an assistant professor, I was told the same thing. I really enjoy what business schools do. It’s a mini-university. You get to innovate and respond to the market. There is a lot of competition, and the students and alumni keep you focused on the slope, the trajectory.”

After a three-year stint as a senior associate dean running all of Michigan’s MBA programs as well as its undergraduate school, Snyder won his first deanship at UVA’s Darden School in 1998. During his three-year tenure at UVA, he led an expansion of the school’s MBA program, worked to improve the diversity of the student body, and significantly increased the school’s executive education efforts. Snyder also brought in what was then the largest gift in business school history, Frank Batten Sr.’s $60 million gift to set up the Batten Institute.

Snyder then moved to the University of Chicago in 2001. From July of that year to July 2010, Snyder led the school to increasing prominence and favor. He reeled in the largest gift to any business school ever–$300 million—nearly doubling the school’s endowed professorships, tripling scholarship assistance, and increasing the school’s endowment from $197 million to $475 million, not including the impact of David Booth’s gift. Chicago Booth moved from 10th in the Businessweek rankings to 1st and held onto its No. 1 status for eight years. The Economist also ranked Booth at the top of its list twice during his tenure. No less impressive, Booth ranked in the top 10 in 74 of 78 rankings during his deanship.

Major change, and major results, at Yale

After accepting the deanship at Yale SOM, long a small and quirky institution that rarely competed with the business schools of other Ivies, Snyder chose not to jump into the job immediately. Instead, he took a year off to refresh and create a viable strategy for the school. “I talked to a lot of thoughtful people,” he says. Out of those conversations came a plan that focued on three core objectives: To be the business school that smartly leverages its home university; to be the most global U.S. business school in ways that are differentiating and meaningful, and to be recognized as the best source of leaders for all sectors and regions.

That last insight was crucial because both students and alumni cherish the notion that SOM was founded with the dual mission of producing leaders for both the social sector and business. “The school benefited from a focus beyond the business sector,” says Snyder.

The school launched the Global Network for Advanced Management in April 2012 with 22 members, ranging from the London School of Economics in Britain to the Technion in Israel. It was and is a highly novel idea and not one easily implemented given the number of players in the network and the logistics of making it all work. Since the launch, however, a half dozen other schools have joined the network, including HEC Paris in France and Lagos Business School in Nigeria.

So far, more than 2,000 students across the network of schools have participated in Global Network Weeks in which subsets of schools offer a week-long course that takes advantage of its faculty expertise. Nearly 300 more students have taken what Snyder calls SNOCs (small network online courses) across the network schools. This fall, nearly 90 students enrolled in one of three of the online courses, and this spring the network will serve up five different SNOCs.

The dean’s team believes that the global network has contributed to Yale’s surge in applications. While the number of students taking the GMAT test has fallen by 5.6% between 2012 and 2015, applicants to Yale’s full-time MBA program have risen by 35%. The biggest increases, however, have come from countries where a global network business school is located. In global network countries, for example, GMAT sign ups are up 14.6%, but SOM’s applications from those nations are up a whopping 51.6%.

“We’re getting students who are applying to be global or are already uber-global,” says Bach. He estimates the school has received about 1,000 additional applications than it would have as a result of the increased exposure.

Snyder also put in place a new, required Leadership Development Program for all Master’s students, vastly expanded the school’s entrepreneurial offerings to a dozen courses, and forged stronger relationships with other Yale professional schools. One very compelling example is SOM’s dual-degree program with the university’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Bradford Gentry, who teaches in both schools, gives Snyder credit for revitalizing the program. “We were down to two or three dual-degree people a year and the program was on life support,” says Gentry. “It was benign neglect. When Ted and his team came in, they saw it as embedded with their values. We focused on it and the effort included coordination with admissions, scholarships, connections with alumni and faculty collaboration. We now have 25 dual-degree students and that is our sweet spot. We have a whole bunch of people in the program who think that business is the enemy and a whole bunch who think that business is the solution. We’re having powerful and important conversations as a result.”

The triumvirate gives ample credit to what they inherited: A school with an Ivy League pedigree, strong faculty and students, and an innovative MBA curriculum. “We are all building on a foundation of what has come before,” says Jain. “But the clear vision and strategy for the school comes from Ted.”

A few ruffled feathers and stumbles

Not all of the changes have come without debate or conflict. When he tried to combine his one-year master’s students with MBAs, some MBA students complained. “There are MBAs who want cutting-edge content but don’t want to be slowed down by those who haven’t had the same core, language, or work experiences,” says Snyder. “It caused high friction. But it’s the real world. I don’t mind people being blunt.”

Some students worried that the new ultra-modern home for the school would destroy its intimate culture. And students also groused about the increase in MBA enrollment under Snyder, who believed that SOM needed to produce more graduates to attract greater attention from corporate recruiters and to build on the school’s alumni network.

When complaints reached Snyder, he held a town hall and quickly responded by adding another cohort. “A lot of us had chosen SOM because we thought the smaller community would foster deeper bonds,” says Brittan Berry, president of the student government. “People were really upset and were vocal about it. Snyder talked to everyone and afterward agreed not to increase further….”

Concedes Snyder: “I made a mistake when we went to an incoming class of 345. I should have increased the number of cohorts. Instead, the size of the cohorts got up to to 81. We’re back to 65 students in a cohort.”

Still, MBAs praise Snyder’s leadership style and his responsiveness. When students gathered for a discussion of racial issues after an unarmed black teenager was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Snyder showed up not to lead but to listen. “He left his deanship at the door and became a concerned member of the community,” says Jake Dreier, a second-year MBA student. “There aren’t many deans who would do that.”

Snyder’s first five-year term is up this summer, and the university will almost certainly sign him up for another five years. Whether Snyder completes a full second term is doubtful, but there is still more progress he wants to achieve before calling it quits. You can bet that by the time Snyder leaves his third deanship, Yale SOM will have climbed even higher in the ranks.

More from Poets&Quants:

Ten Top Business School Rankings of 2015

The Most Innovative Business School Ideas of 2015

The Most Lucrative Six-Figure MBAs

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