Slaughter aims to refine Tuck mission — in one sentence

by Noah Goldstein | 11/16/15 9:25pm

This article is a part of our new culminating beat experience initiative, in which our beat reporters write longer-term investigative articles within their areas of expertise. The author is our graduate schoolbeat reporter.

When meeting Tuck Business School Dean Matthew Slaughter for the first time, he will frequently pounce on the interviewer with a spate of questions.

“How are you? Where are you from? What are you studying?” he asked during a conversation last week in his office — leaving hardly any opportunity for a response.

Slaughter said he hopes to refine a vision and strategy for the school, which remains near the top of many business school rankings. But he will also grapple with challenges both endemic to Tuck, like its disadvantaged location, and those that business schools around the country face, like identifying the best way to build faculty and student relationships.

Slaughter, who began as dean on July 1, has served on the Dartmouth faculty for 21 years and at Tuck for 14. He is married with two sons and two dogs — the family enjoys skiing together, he said, and they frequently buy season passes at the Oak Hill nordic ski trail. Slaughter also hits the links at the Hanover Country Club — he is a self-described “avid but mediocre” golfer.

Slaughter is an economist by training — he received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the top programs in the country, and was offered multiple posts as a professor before settling on the College. But he has a humanist background, too. As an undergraduate at Notre Dame University, his economics major had a concentration called “philosophy and politics of economics,” which involved reading philosophical classics. His interest in distributive justice’s intersections with economics led him to a career in academia, he said.

Former Tuck Dean Paul Danos said that Slaughter balances scholarship and teaching, which, coupled with his expertise on economic policy and international trade — and his charisma — made him a strong choice for the post.

His honesty and sincerity will also serve as an example for students, Danos said.

“I predict that he is going to be one of the great deans in the history of management education,” Danos said.

In an interview, Slaughter stressed how he hopes to build a vision for the school. For example, he hopes to create a distilled mission statement of a single sentence by the spring.

The current draft of the sentence reads: “The Tuck community prepares wise leaders to become the difference in the world of business and beyond.”

When composing drafts of the mission statement, Slaughter said he talked to as many people as he could.

In fact, communication is a theme of Slaughter’s approach. At school, he drinks coffee with students once a month. And he has paid visits to alumni in New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and London — cities with large groups of alumni — Justin Purnell Tu’13 said. Purnell said alumni are crucial for mentoring and networking, and he said alumni have been “thrilled” with Slaughter.

As a professor, Slaughter has interacted with over one-third of alumni in some form, Purnell said.

“We have a very strong level of trust in his approach. As an academic, he has a keen insight into where education is going and where the Tuck school should be,” Purnell said.

Tuck frequently tops rankings of most alumni dollars brought in, a signal of alumni support for the institution.

“I only get 24 hours of the day, still, so what is really important is that I have a lot of colleagues that understand and share that vision, and they are equally excited at bringing that into reality every day,” Slaughter said.

Student Board president Omar Abdelsamad Tu’16 said he meets with Slaughter on a monthly basis, and he said Slaughter has sought to interface with students, citing a town hall Slaughter held last week.

“I think when you have an institution as old as Tuck you start to get concerned that internal candidates may not be the best person for the job, but as soon as you meet [Slaughter] and speak with him and understand his vision you become more confident in Tuck’s future,” Abdelsamad said.

Slaughter stressed the importance of a robust Tuck community — the environment, he said, encourages students to feel like they can take risks.

In one course, for example, students frequently participate in class debates. The debaters’ ideas, he said, are frequently torn apart, but students know they can trust their peers, so they do not shy away from the intellectual exercise.

In comparison to other top business schools, Tuck must meet the challenges of its small scale and its rural location, Danos said. For instance, business schools that are proximate to large cities are more easily accessed by recruiters, he said. Slaughter agreed, noting that the location can serve as a disincentive for some to attend Tuck.

Tuck professor Howard Anderson said Tuck’s strong alumni support can help in addressing these location challenges.

But Slaughter said that the solution to Tuck’s challenges with respect to location is messaging. Namely, the school should promulgate the vision that its smaller community will permit deeper engagement with the global economy.

To complement improved public relations about the school’s global opportunities, Slaughter said Tuck plans to offer TuckGo — the requirement that all Tuck students, starting with this year’s class, will have to take one of the study-abroad courses that Tuck offers.

Danos also said that messaging matters.

“There is always being really good and being recognized as being really good. They’re kind of two different things. If you just try to get recognition without doing good things then that won’t last long, that is not sustainable,” Danos said.

Tuck professor Robert Shumsky said that while he has observed that Tuck has refocused on a long-term strategy since Slaughter assumed the role, daily life has not seen major changes. But he said Slaughter brought fresh energy and a new perspective.

Shumsky has enjoyed going on walks with Slaughter — Slaughter’s replacement for a sit-down meeting and perhaps a signal of Slaughter’s intentions to interface directly with professors.

Anderson noted that not all of Tuck’s successes can be attributed to Slaughter — he had the luck of assuming the mantle at a time when the school was already booming.

Tuck professor Laurens Debo said the transition between deans has been “seamless.” Like his colleagues, he said that Slaughter is an approachable dean.