With Professor Steve Kaplan on Entrepreneurship, Public Schools and everything in between
Named one of the top 12 business school teachers in the country by BusinessWeek, Steven Neil Kaplan enjoys a legendary reputation that extends far beyond the hallowed portals of Harper Center.
While an early passion for economics and finance drove him to get a PhD in Business Economics at Harvard, he chose to come to Booth, rejecting offers from MIT and Harvard. “First because for what I do, this is the best place in the world and second because my wife didn’t like Boston”, he says. In 1995, the dean at the time asked Steve to do entrepreneurship given the school only had three courses in entrepreneurship at the time, all taught by adjuncts. “I didn’t know any better so I said ‘yes’.” He became the Faculty Director of the Entrepreneurship Program and started teaching a class on Entrepreneurial Finance in 1996. In 1997 he started the New Venture Challenge.
“The big moment was hiring Ellen Rudnick to become Executive Director of the program. She devoted all her time to developing entrepreneurship. Every year, she and I would do something extra. First we did the NVC and turned that into a course. Then Ellen did the New Venture lab and the PE/VC Lab. Then Scott came in and did Commercializing Innovation. We had Waverly do Building the New Venture, we had Craig do Entrepreneurial Selling, then we did Hyde Park Angels, we have the SPITC competition and the SNVC. We make sure that what we do, we are doing well. It is very student driven. Most of the things we do, are because the students come and tell us they want it. And if we hear enough from the students that they want a certain new program, we figure out that there is probably demand and we should be doing it.”
Thoughts on students: “I always tell my students and alums that students get better each year. Over time the students have gotten more polished and more ambitious. There are more really good students now than there have ever been, so it’s quite fun on my end to be here.”
On what he would say to comments on him being a tough professor, he says, “The only thing I always say is students can be more ambitious. I can tell you I teach and I’m pretty tough and some students are scared of me and think I’m too tough and that really annoys me. In the real world there are going to run into people much tougher than I am and the right response is to push back and argue. So I would encourage people to be more aggressive.”
What does he do outside of work? “I spend a lot of time with family. I have 2 kids -- one is a sophomore in college and the other in junior high school. I support my wife who is on the senior leadership team at Chicago Public Schools. My wife was the Chief Administrative Officer at CTA and is now a senior person with Chicago Public Schools, and I support her to help her fix the city. I am on a couple of boards which keeps me busy. I run. (Shikha expresses doubt -- “Oh really?”) -- in 15 years I have run a half marathon 13 times and my best time is 1:43 and I usually hit 1:50. I like to go to good restaurants and travel. I am very fortunate in that the stuff I do for work I do for pleasure too. I read business and the economy, politics, political economy (laughs).”
Does he have any memorable experiences from the class? “One quarter when I was a little too tough in class, someone wrote on the evaluation form, ‘If Prof. Kaplan won the Nobel Prize, it wouldn’t justify his arrogance.’ So that was a little tough.”
“In the old classrooms, I used to lock the door and this one guy showed up two minutes late and knocked on the door and said I’m sorry. And I said you’re late. Go back.”
Shikha is a first year who is surprisingly still enjoying the Chicago weather and Paritosh is a second year, soaking it all in before he graduates.