By Warren Yates '15 and Pushya Jataprolu '16
Harry Davis is one of Booth’s living legends. As a professor and former dean, he is known for bringing us the program now known as LEAD as well as the school’s first foray into international expansion. Professor Davis, now in his 52nd year at Chicago Booth, teaches some of the most popular classes in strategy and continues to innovate in management education. ChiBus recently sat down with the namesake of Davis cohort.
This is the full transcript of the interview of Professor Davis with Warren Yates and Pushya Jataprolu of Chicago Business. March 5, 2015.
[Warren Yates]: What’s new with you? I know we’re taking valuable time.
[Harry Davis]: Oh come on. It’s an interesting notion. People will often say to me, “I know you’re incredibly busy and you probably will say no, but is there any chance that before I graduate, we could have lunch together?” To a lot of them I say, “well, how about the day after tomorrow?” Then people say, “what?!” There’s some implication there. If you want to have a conversation with someone, for whatever reason, I think it’s good not to hesitate. Just ask if they have any time available. I worry a little bit that there aren’t perhaps as many connections between students and faculty—more on the personal side—and I’m not blaming any side. But there’s a sense that students have a lot going on, and the faculty are very busy in terms of their research and workshops--which is absolutely true, but there are still opportunities. If students were to say, “any chance we could just get together and have a cup of coffee? I’d love to talk about X,” I think more often than not, faculty members are likely to say yes.
[WY]: Did that sense of intimacy or connection use to exist more, and did Booth lose it?
[HD]: Well, I wouldn’t say “lose it.” I think two things are different. First of all, the student population today is very diverse and interesting, and it’s twice as large as it was when I started. So it’s a very large constituency of interesting people, and all of you are doing very interesting things that go beyond just the classroom--in terms of travel together, conferences, and so forth. There’s a lot going on amongst the students that perhaps was not the case when I first came. I do think that because the school was smaller, there were more connections—natural connections—between faculty and students. For one thing, when I started, we taught six courses a year. Now the teaching load is three. In that era, and I’m not suggesting we could go back to it, we taught a campus class each quarter—autumn, winter, spring—and the classes met twice a week for an hour and a half. I’m a sociologist by training, so I just think about what that means in a sociometric sense. You just bump into people more often.
[WY]: You’re around.
[HD]: You’re around! You would walk over—we were in two sort of lousy buildings—to the classroom building. And the large class in those days was 35 people, about half the size of our current classes. Since you were over there a couple times a week, you’d often have a chance to have more conversation. At least for me, there were more opportunities for faculty and students to bump into one another. Many companies are really trying to encourage people to bump into one another—think about the building that Apple is building. This building, in some ways, works against that. It’s kind of vertically segregated, even though for the first time in the history of the school, we’re all together. Like most spaces, there’s good news and bad news. I would hope that over time we could continue to think about ways that students and faculty could bump into one another. We don’t want to do it in a programmatic way—like we’re going to have an event, and we’re going to try to force conversations—but try to find ways to get to know one another outside of our roles as teacher and student.
[WY]: My understanding was that the Winter Garden was created to facilitate those connections.
[HD]: What do you think? Does it do that?
[WY]: I think it does, although you are right about the building being vertically segregated. What incentive does a professor have to hang around the Winter Garden? Students bump into each other all the time.
[HD]: I think the Winter Garden has been a terrific contribution to the building community among the students. One of the purposes of the LEAD program, in addition to raising the question of leadership and thinking about action skills, was the notion of trying to create more of a community for the students. Prior to LEAD, while the content and the material in the courses was very important and very cutting edge—as it continues to be—it was really a function of people going to their classes and not really getting to know one another very well. I think that has had an impact on students’ and alumni’s connection to the institution over time. It was a much more transactional experience in many ways.
[WY]: Back then?
[HD]: Back then.
[WY]: Do you think the students, or maybe both sides of the equation, are busier now?
[WY]: Maybe just because of the modern age?
[HD]: Absolutely. I think we all have more on our agendas. When I started, there was one woman in the MBA class, and there were no women on the faculty. We still don’t have as many women on the faculty as I would like to see, nor as many women in the student body as I would like to see. However, we are certainly much more diverse. Back then, for most of the faculty, very few spouses worked full-time. So they were able to spend a lot more time with faculty work, given the division of labor. Now, when you have dual careers, that complicates life in a wonderful way. But it also has a trade-off. I don’t have as much time to hang around and do things because we’re both very busy, both at work and home. We have very full schedules.
Clearly there’s much more going on with the student body today in terms of all of the various clubs, interests, and conferences. People take trips to Europe over break. That never happened before. To fly to Europe before the jet, which was the case—well, the jet age was just coming in when I joined the faculty—was very novel. It’s given many more opportunities for all of you, which is wonderful.
[WY]: Many more temptations and distractions, as well.
[HD]: Yes. There’s also the sense that we no longer have the opportunity to sit like we are and have a conversation. There’s a purpose for the conversation. Some of the most powerful things that have happened in my life are when I simply got together for lunch with somebody and the lunch ended up going on for two or three hours, never anticipating that. It’s face to face—this was long before email—conversations have a way of creating connections that one never thought might’ve been there. I’m hopeful that we can continue to utilize and make great use of the technology we have but I hope we don’t abandon the human connections that bond us together as human beings.
[WY] There is a purpose for this conversation, but that might be because there is this feeling that there has to be a purpose for the conversation. As you alluded to earlier, why is it that now we feel like we don’t have time? Last night, the Business Solutions Group— the student consulting group—we had an event in which the teams roasted their engagement managers. And towards the end it turned into a conversation—the event was supposed to last just until 9:30, but it went until 1:30—
[HD] Wow. Big applause.
[WY] —there were maybe ten of us who stayed until the end and discussed how you make connections at Booth. I happened to mention that I couldn’t stay up too late because I had this conversation today. That prompted a lot of discussion about the trajectory of the school, questions about the state of the curriculum, for example. One of my classmates felt that there’s a great appetite for classes like Business Policy, and The Firm and the Non-Market Environment, and Negotiations—classes that are either based on soft skills or big, overarching questions. These classes fill up fast, consistently, for high bid point prices, whereas the bulk of the curriculum available is technical in nature, and those classes are slower to fill up, for lower prices. So he felt that there’s this conflict between the technical fields and what’s being offered, and what the students want--this yearning for reflection and identification of purpose. Is that something that you sense as a faculty member? Is it something that is given thought by the administration? Any tension between research and the desires of students?
[HD] It’s a very large question. You may be surprised with my answer in that I think what makes Chicago unique is the commitment of the faculty to take the work they do very seriously. To try to pose tough questions and, rather than develop ideological perspectives, really bring data to bear, experiment, and test, using the scientific method to grapple with these issues. And to attract students who have real intellectual curiosity. The buildings are great, but if you get faculty who are serious about what they’re doing, and you get students who have intellectual curiosity, great things happen. Now, can you predict exactly what’s going to happen? Absolutely not. In a sense, the history of the school has never been to say, “here’s what the students want, so we need to deliver that.” What the students want changes so much over time. If I were your age, I’d probably be in the same situation, I’d think, “Boy, something’s really important,” and ten or fifteen years later I’d realize, “You know, I thought that was important, but it turns out it wasn’t all that important.”
I’ll give you an example. When the whole idea of Total Quality Management was hot—this was back in the ‘80s—I was in the Dean’s office at the time--and students kept saying, “we have nothing in the area of Total Quality Management. We really should have a concentration in Total Quality Management.” They kept saying, “let me show you how other schools have concentrations in Total Quality Management.” The demand for courses that had that title was just going through the roof. So the faculty had a meeting, and we put in a concentration for Total Quality Management. Which was really putting together some existing courses that we had, but to give it this title. And literally two years afterward, no one took this concentration. Total Quality Management basically is bringing data in dealing with problems. It’s statistics, it’s operations, but it wasn’t a separate world.
I’m not in any way suggesting that students’ perspectives shouldn’t be paid attention to, but I think it’s wrong to say that students are customers, and we’re here to satisfy customers. I much prefer to think about us as co-creators of an experience. We both have to find ways to make that meaningful. Meaningful not just in the short term, but also in the longer term. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about, “what kind of tools can we provide our graduates that are going to help them become more effective over time after they graduate?” I am very interested in what we’re doing that impacts people’s lives going forward, not just “what was the course evaluation?” And that’s a big challenge because I think most educators have a hard time grappling with what’s the long-term impact of what we’re doing while we’re here. Therefore, I think that in order for Chicago to remain vibrant and really cutting edge, we should allow our faculty to pursue the things that they’re interested in. We need to have vibrant dialogues between students and faculty that really see us as co-creators of the experience, not just while they’re here, but in the longer-term sense. Secondly, that it’s OK to use the term teacher and student. Those are both archetypal roles in societies. Look, I taught marketing for twenty-five years, to call students “customers” strikes me as strange. I mean, how many people knew they wanted this (holds up cell phone) until it came on the market? How many people knew the impact that we would’ve had in areas of finance? If we’d asked people at the time, when finance was largely studying institutions and not the behavior of markets, we’d have heard very different answers than what you see today. So I’m happy that there are people who are excited about the courses dealing with human behavior and softer skills. Even though the school has a very discipline-based perspective, no one at the school has ever said to me, “well Harry, you can’t teach a course where you bring in music or poetry from time to time.” There’s incredible freedom for the faculty to bring forth what they’re particularly excited about. That is, to me, one of the great comparative advantages of Chicago compared to other institutions. In some other institution, if I’m teaching class X, you all have to teach it in exactly the same way. Here, Class X, the same number, differ in lots of ways depending on the particular energy and background experience of the faculty member. I love to think about this institution as being a vibrant work in progress. It’s continually experimenting and trying things. And resisting fads. I, by the way, don’t think the soft skills are fads. As you know.
[WY] (laughs) I know. I didn’t take it that way. And this desire among young people to find a purpose in life is not a fad.
[HD] No, it is not. I require a final paper in Business Policy, which you are now currently working on.
[WY] I brought a draft.
[HD] Ah, great! I think one of the things I’ve seen over the years—I’ve done this paper since 1995, so quite a database—is that clearly, students are spending more time thinking. It used to be a little bit about work-life balance. That’s sort of gone away now. It’s much more a question about, “what’s my purpose? Where am I really headed?” That destination is being thought about at a very deep level. It’s tough, but I think it’s a valuable question to pose.
[WY] When did you start thinking about that question for yourself?
[HD] was getting my MBA at Dartmouth, the Tuck School, and in those days it was a 3-2 program (3 years of college and 2 years of the MBA program). None of us knew anything about business. We had to pretend we knew something. We wore jeans, but we had to wear a coat and tie and come to class and talk about cases, about firing people or whatever. But it was a great educational experience for me. In my second year I was in class one day, and we were having this conversation with a faculty member who became the dean, a man named John Hennessey. It had to do with firing somebody because they were having problems with alcohol, and how do we think about that. Of course, none of us had any experience with such a thing, other than drinking a lot of beer at Dartmouth, but I looked at the faculty member and thought, “Does he get paid to do this?” Which had to be the dumbest question ever asked. But it was the best question ever asked. What it said to me was, I’d like to do that. I’d like to have fun, and help other people to have some fun and learn. So I would suggest to anyone, if you see something going on and ask, “Is that person getting paid for that?” Pay attention to that question. It’s probably a very good question to ask.
[WY] So you identified your calling at a very young age.
[HD] Well, I was, what, twenty-two or something?
[WY] And you happened to be good at it! So that’s handy!
[HD] I wasn’t so good at it at the beginning! To get better at anything, it’s an ongoing process of work. It takes a lot of practice. A lot of people say, “I’m not a good teacher,” and my sense is, with practice, anyone can be a good teacher. It takes effort. The same with research. People that are good at research work hard at it. They make mistakes. They write some great papers and they write some papers that aren’t so great. It’s hard work. To me, it’s been really wonderful work, and this institution has given me an incredible amount of latitude to do things.
[WY] Is it too soon to talk about the app that you’re working on?
[HD] No, we’re going to introduce it in Strategy Lab! In fact, I want to get some of you that were in it last year together to take a look at it.
[WY] I’d love to.
[HD] Yeah, in fact I wanna get back to you on that. (To Pushya) We have this mobile app where people are going to, I don’t know…
[WY] She hasn’t heard about it.
[HD] The idea is, the way we get better—we need to find a way to collect data on ourselves. Rather than depending upon other people to give us feedback, we can give ourselves feedback by experimenting and trying things. So we started in the laboratory courses, trying to include not just working on a project for a client and doing good work, but also working at the team level and personal level. And last year we had very clunky ways of collecting data. This year, we’re gonna have a mobile app that people can use and track data. Actually Chris Collins in the LEAD program is gonna embed this for the Facils this fall. What we’re hoping to do—my long term goal—is to give our students here the framework and the tools and the opportunities to practice this. If people can develop that practice while they’re here, just like exercise or healthy eating, I’m hopeful that it might continue on after they graduate. So that we can give—and this is going to make me sound like the quintessential Chicago faculty member—we’re gonna bring experimentation and data analysis to the soft skills.
[WY] I’m having trouble envisioning exactly what the data would look like aside from being journal entries. Like, “oh I tried this skill, and it worked or didn’t work.” But you mentioned that the data could be plotted somehow.
[HD] Well, I haven’t seen the final version yet, but we’re incorporating some sliding scales. So there’ll be both text, you know, what actually happened—“here’s what I tried, and here’s what happened”—but there’s going to be a scale like, was it favorable or unfavorable. So you can just slide something very easily. So over time you can see what you’ve been trying, is it going up in favorability or is it going down. Or it could be a scale on—and I’m just making this up—was it what I expected or different from what I expected. So you’d be able to do that very quickly and you’d be able to plot that over time. Is what’s happening continuing to be unexpected, or am I getting responses that now I’m… So we’re going to do more of that kind of work.
[WY] I’m seeing similarities to the action/insight skills survey that we conducted in Strategy Lab.
[HD] It’s exactly that. We’re just trying to put it into a much more accessible and easy way to collect data.
[WY] Will it be accessible to alumni?
[HD] That’s what we’re looking at. This is still very much a work in progress, but I was talking to one of our alums who graduated from the school in 1992, and I was talking about the mobile app. He got very excited by it. He talked about using it in his own company. The kind of feedback that people are getting, he doesn’t find very helpful. He was really interested in pursuing this. I think it’s another way that we might be able to engage alumni. For example, let’s say some of the people you know here are working in different countries and different industries, and you know them well and you respect them. Maybe you’re both working on things, collecting data, so every once in a while you become insight partners--which we have in the lab--where you get on the phone or you get on Skype and say “here’s what I’ve discovered, here’s a question I have, whaddya think?” I think if we could build an ongoing community of learning, at a personal level, that could carry on for many years. That’s in the future. Given my age, I don’t want to think about too long in the future. I’d like to do this. We have the technology to do this.
[WY] In Business Policy yesterday, you said that one thing we should do more of is keep in mind that there are low probability events. What’s the danger in thinking far into the future, right? (laughs)
[HD] I think one of the things that’s happening is that there are more people today working on these kinds of issues, thinking about these kinds of issues, at the school than we’ve ever had. It’s not all about me. I mean, the fact that Chris is so anxious to pilot this in LEAD is great. Dan Adelman is going to do something like this in his healthcare lab. We’re utilizing this perspective in a number of our executive education programs that I’m involved in. So people in executive education are beginning to think in these terms. I think the people in leadership roles currently doing it day-to-day are a wonderful target audience. Like alumni who continue to utilize these ideas. So there’s a lot of low risk, high return experiments they can make. Those of us that are involved with this are planning--once we finish this in the spring quarter--are going to take some time in late June or early July to sit down together and say, “what have we learned from the data, how do we make changes and improvements?”. We can roll this out in a broader way next year.
[WY] Is this your biggest project right now?
[HD] I think so. I also like the idea of trying to find some funds to have a visiting artist hanging around here.
[WY] Ah, yes! (Harry laughs) We have an artist in residence in John Michael Schert.
[HD] We do. Canice Prendergast and I, we got a lot of energy to think. A lot of places have executives in residence—there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s great—but I’m a big believer in bringing in perspectives from other domains as well. I think the world of the arts, and how we think about creativity from those areas, is just something very interesting for us to be exposed to. I think that world can learn something from us! We’re pursuing creativity in the scientific realm, but I think there’s an artistry to science as well. How do we know how these conversations are gonna go, exactly?
[WY] Right. How would you hope that our interactions with the artist in residence would go?
[HD] That’s a good question. I think we’ve gotta create an environment where they can do what they do, rather than asking them to try to do what we do. We need to let them somehow observe and see how we create. Also, we need to have opportunities to observe and participate in how they create. It’s really much more a function of understanding each other’s process rather than looking at output. It’s like looking at the process of research rather than the final paper. The process of creating rather than the piece of art on the wall. I think we’re really very interested in the process side. For example, John Michael, I brought him into class—not what happened in Business Policy—he’s actually worked with a dancer to actually choreograph a piece, showing the relationship between the choreographer and the dancer, which is a really interesting dance—metaphorically—that they play together. Last Friday, I worked for the OnBoard  conference, for—
[WY] SEI [Social Enterprise Initiative]
[HD] I was introduced to a man who was a saxophonist—also a lawyer—and he brought in four other jazz musicians and they performed. And literally, within an hour and ten minutes we explored the way in which a jazz ensemble works together and thought, “what implications are there for the way a board works together?” You might think that’s an unusual thing to do, but it turned out to be very, very productive in terms of the conversation. I’ll send it to you; we put together this little handout in terms of “what might we learn?” These five people had never played together before, and they came in—opened up the program, this piece of music—and played “Stella by Starlight.” Everyone said, “wow, they must’ve played together forever.” I said, “by the way, these five people have never played together before.” It’s like, how is it possible? To some extent, you think about a board, you say, “you’re a lawyer, you know a lot about the domain, I’m a CEO of a company. So I understand about leadership, so we’ll be great board members.” Well that’s like hiring a résumé. How do the three of us work together? Do we add value to the person that’s running this nonprofit? That’s the kind of question the jazz ensemble needs to conquer. We all come in with our instruments, we all come in with our talents, but how do we really work together? To listen to each other, to support each other, to know when to follow, to know when to lead, are really critical skills.
[WY] A talented jazz musician like the one you mentioned can play with people he or she has never met. Do you think that that can be achieved for a board member too?
[WY] Capable of being on a board with any group of people, and being effective?
[HD] Well, if I know that you’re a keyboard player, that you’re really good at it, I’m going to be able to listen to you, to follow you, even though I may not know you deeply. I will respect your particular expertise. We don’t tend to think about that. There’s gonna come a time when you’re gonna throw the ball in my court, and you’re going to support me. And I may be speaking from another world, as a sociologist or as a drummer! The ability to really try to get into each other’s shoes and see the value of what we bring to the table, I think is a really incredibly important skill.
[WY] Just to continue the metaphor a little bit, it seems like it would only take one person to mess up a jazz ensemble. Does it only take one person to mess up a board?
[HD] It could. Sometimes it can take only one person to mess up a class! Right? (WY laughs nervously) Again, that’s another interesting issue. In a jazz ensemble, people don’t dwell much on mistakes. They just go on. There isn’t--you can argue--a mistake. We never stop and say, “we gotta stop because Warren came in with the wrong note”. If you come in with the “wrong note,” I figure, “what can I do with that note?” It’s an opportunity to create, rather than something to shut us down or to blame you. I tell you, jazz musicians, really—they understand sunk costs better than anyone I’ve ever met. Every note, once it’s played--it’s gone! You gotta go on. What a useful thing to think about, that we don’t tend to perhaps devote enough time to. That’s another reason why I think the arts can be useful. Because sunk cost is relevant there as well. These worlds are not as diverse, as different as we sometimes think. So that’s another thing. That’s something that I obviously have interest in. But the work on action and insight skills is what I spend the most time thinking about these days.
[WY] Fantastic. You’re teaching another class next quarter—
[HD] The Strategy Symposium.
[WY] --which filled up in the first phase--
[HD] Did it?
[WY] --at least the one on Friday--
[HD] Friday night.
[WY] The two times that are offered are Friday night and Saturday morning. What’s the reasoning behind that?
[HD] We’re looking for the hardcore!
[WY] (laughs) Yes, I know.
[HD] And it’s downtown. And it’s a small classroom.
[WY] (joking) It’s pretty exclusive! But you made sure to make it accessible to those in the evening and weekend program.
[HD] I have a lot of commitment to our part-time program. My first class was in the part-time program. I have a lot of admiration for the part-time students. They really work very hard—it’s the same with campus [students]—but the notion that these are two separate groups is not productive, in a lot of ways.
[WY] It’s been said that the part-time students and the full-time students don’t interact enough.
[HD] That’s right.
[WY] How can that be mitigated?
[HD] I think it’s actually better today than it maybe was in the past. There are more full-time students who will take a class at Gleacher.
[WY] A lot of us live downtown.
[HD] There’s a lot of you, most of you live down there. And demographically, the similarity is much greater than it was when I started. When I started, all the campus students were basically right out of undergraduate programs and had no work experience whatsoever. Whereas the part-time students in those days were probably in their 30s. So there was a big, big age and experience gap. Now that is really gone, it’s not anywhere near what it was before. So I think there’s a lot more similarity.
What makes Chicago unique is that we have not viewed—and this goes back through the history of the university—part-time students as second-rate students. We’ve always said to people who want to learn and have the academic credentials, “welcome to the University of Chicago.” That was very, very unusual for a university that was setting itself up as a serious, research-based, elite university. This goes back to William Rainey Harper who started the extension division, which is now the Graham School, at the very beginning of this university. A lot of universities view that kind of work as a way to raise some money, and would not use the regular faculty to teach in those programs. We’ve always, always, used the regular faculty. When I started, it was two classes a quarter: one downtown, one on campus. Winter quarter: one downtown, one on campus. When we started the executive MBA program overseas, the notion of using other faculty was never something that we ever took seriously. We would send our faculty over to teach so that the MBA from our executive MBA program, in Singapore and now Hong Kong, is the same degree—it doesn’t have underneath it “Executive MBA,” it doesn’t have “Part-time MBA,” it doesn’t have “Full-time MBA”—as the University of Chicago MBA. It’s limited us in some ways, in terms of reach and expansion. There’s lots of opportunities if we partnered and so forth, but I think we’ve been very true to our traditions that supply limits our ability to satisfy demand. So be it, because we’re not going to increase supply if we can’t hold onto the quality and commitment of the faculty.
[WY] Why did the teaching load change to what it is now?
[HD] Competitive reasons. In terms of trying to get the best faculty, other institutions have lighter teaching loads. If we were to try to recruit faculty and say, “by the way, you’re teaching six courses—two courses each quarter,” I think we’d have a hard time attracting faculty in the sense of marketing.
[WY] Are you an outlier in that you love teaching?
[HD] I think a lot of our faculty really love teaching, they’d do less of it [otherwise]. I am an outlier in the sense that, over the years I’ve been much more committed to the teaching side, the educational side of the school than a number of faculty. Discovery, education, and the transmission of our work is, to me, part of our mission. We are not just producing research; we are also educating. So from that point of view I’ve been much more committed to the educational side, let me say, on a longer term basis, trying to do more experiments in this way. I think many of our faculty here do their best work when they try to be who they are. By the way, I think that’s true of all of you [students]. If you can get in touch with that part that makes you special, it makes your contribution somewhat unique. I think work is more sustainable if it’s less like work, more like life. I think for a lot of our faculty, even if they’re doing research primarily, the reason they’re doing it is there’s a real--it isn’t just for extrinsic rewards--intrinsic energy about discovery and going after something that is controversial, when you know that other people are going to say it’s silly, it’s ridiculous. But I’m gonna agree with you, that’s not ridiculous. And that’s the way we evolve our knowledge. You can argue—and I haven’t thought about it this way—that we’re going to bring experimentation and the scientific method to soft skills, and some people could say, “you’re out of your mind.” But I don’t think so. I think we’re able to help people really significantly improve. You don’t have to go to class, you don’t have to pay a lot of money, go to [Franklin] Covey or something, you can take care of it yourself.
[WY] They might’ve told Frank Lloyd Wright he was out of his mind.
[HD] They did! Completely.
[WY] That could be a hallmark of good sense.
[HD] I think Chicago has had a long history of, not just in the business school, but when Milton Friedman came here, a lot of people thought he was out of his mind. When Ronald Coase came here, shared some initial work or even George Stigler was another story, everyone thought what he was writing was insane. By the end of the workshop--it went on for three or four hours like your discussion the other night--everyone said, “Ron, you’re right, and we were wrong.” And that’s what makes this place the exciting place that it is.
[WY] So you won’t mind if, someday down the line, people look back and say, “you know, Harry Davis, he was out of his mind!” Or, “they thought he was out of his mind.”
[HD] And maybe they’ll conclude, “He WAS out of his mind!” (WY laughs) I don’t worry about that.
[WY] Who is gonna do the work of Harry Davis after Harry Davis leaves? Is that something you think about?
[HD] Something I think about? No, I don’t think about it really, no.
[WY] Other people do.
[HD] I think some other people do. But this is a place that... I wasn’t doing as much of this kind of stuff twenty, twenty-five years ago. One of the values of tenure, I suppose, is the possibility of a long career. You can work at it for a long time. So where people are in their forties may not be where they’re gonna be in their sixties. And this school doesn’t really put any serious barriers to evolving.
One of my mentors was a man named Harry Roberts. He got his PhD here. Initially was very interested in marketing; Gene Fama gave some great credit for the work that he did in helping the very early career in finance. He then got very interested in statistics. So he moved throughout areas at the school.
[WY] A happy wanderer.
[HD] He was a happy wanderer. He was wandering, but every area he wandered into, he didn’t do it purposely. He left a mark, just because he was incredibly intellectually curious. That path is perhaps less likely today as work and research has become more specialized. The entry barriers to really contribute in an area like finance are probably higher than they were when Gene Fama entered finance because it was a new, evolving field. In fact, Gene has said that.
[WY] In class I remember you pointed out that hybridization in finches’ beaks was penalized.
[HD] Yeah, that’s right.
[WY] We have that in the world today.
[HD] As the world changes, the hybrids thrive. Certainly, the world is changing. And not all the things that we try are gonna succeed. I think a university is a place where we should allow this evolution, evolution that leads to more diversity. And recognize that some of those branches won’t keep growing. They will die. And that’s OK. Obviously there’s a cost to it, but we need this ongoing experimentation embedded in the institution. Certainly the curriculum committee came up with the notion of, “let’s keep experimenting.”
So again, to think about what happens after Harry--I think we’re fine, actually. But I just hope that there continues to be opportunities in the environment, the budget and so forth, will allow it and that all of you will be willing to pay the tuition and so forth (WY laughs), that they keep us able to hire really outstanding people that can do this type of work, that we’ll continue to experiment and we’ll continue to try things, and we’ll continue to collect data, and we’ll continue to argue about what we’re doing in a really honest and meaningful way. And if all that happens, you don’t have to worry about Harry Davis. It’ll be going on in other ways; there will be four or five other people doing wacky things. And some of them will work and some of them won’t.
[WY] And even if they don’t--we should cherish the people who do wacky things that don’t work.
[HD] Talk about entrepreneurs, right? A lot of entrepreneurs do wacky things that don’t survive. We tend to talk about those that are on the path that the branches keep going. But if it weren’t for these other things moving along, that would never have happened. So we need to create this vibrant cauldron of experimentation. That’s what a university should be, a university like Chicago has done for 100+ years, and we must continue to do that.
[WY] Thank you. Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. Are there any questions you have for us?
[HD] I guess the only question I’d have is… (about the newspaper) When you write an article about a person, let’s say a faculty member, what is it that you hope the audience will take away from such an article?
[WY] I hope that the audience can feel like they were a part of this conversation too. Like they got a chance to know you a little better.
[HD] And why would you want that?
[WY] I think it would be in the best interest of the student community.
[PJ] I think that is the whole point of the paper. Each article we print has to be something people can connect with and feel they’re a part of it.
[HD] So it’s really community building, in a sense.
[WY] The newspaper aspires to be--claims to be--the voice of the student community at Chicago Booth. And while your voice isn’t necessarily a student one, I hope that the questions I’ve asked are questions that are echoing or somehow exist among the students.
[HD] That they’re not totally from a different world.
[WY] Right. So thank you so much for being generous with your time.