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The power of a good education
Published on Friday, 23 Dec 2011
David Schmittlein
Dean, MIT Sloan School of Management
Photo: Andy Kwan

David Schmittlein, dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, embraces a simple idea that gives him a strong sense of purpose and motivation: he believes that a good school of business management education helps to empower and inspire managers with ideas.

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Schmittlein is a specialist in creating effective communication, promotion and interactive marketing strategies – one of his specialities, particularly as professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was deputy and interim dean.

Schmittlein was also consultant for companies such as Ford Motor, Gianni Versace, Hewlett-Packard and Time Warner, and has published numerous articles in  marketing, management, economics, and statistics journals.

What does your work involve?
Part of my job involves setting a vision and mission amid advances in the theory and practice of business management education. My responsibilities also include overseeing the faculty, programmes, alumni relations, philanthropic relationships and interaction across MIT.  The more boots-on-the-ground aspect includes liaising with our education partners globally, including those in Hong Kong.

What do you feel is the most exciting part of your job?
The daily experience of being close to knowledge creation is rewarding, but working with smart and passionate people who care about impact is where the real excitement is. You wake up in the morning and know you are part of an organisation that cares. 

How does one become an effective leader and build a strong team?
I didn’t arrive at MIT to change the way things had been done previously. I believe in encouraging those around me to have a voice in setting the goals and pace for where we want to be. I am lucky that I lead a team that understands MIT’s mission and vision.

Understanding what an organisation is about, the people who drive it and where it is heading, are some of the key aspects of leadership.

How do you unwind? 
My family jokes that work is my relaxation time. I like to take a few minutes at the end of each day to deconstruct the day’s various elements, learn what I should from them, put them back together and then put them to one side.

What should people consider before enrolling in an MBA programme?
It is important to work out what professional goals you are aiming to achieve, and lifestyle choices you are intending to make, before enrolling in an MBA programme.

Whether you choose an online or face-to-face MBA – or any other type of business degree – it should be done on the basis of what is best for you.

I would say it is important not to become caught up in someone else’s hierarchy by joining an MBA programme for the sake of it.

What drives you and which people or events have most influenced your outlook on life?
Life is short, so my motto is: “If you want to paint on a big canvas, why wait?”

There have been several people responsible for positive influences in my life. I credit my father for helping me to set my compass regarding a refusal to fail, appreciation of the importance of knowledge and doing the right thing. As an academic, I also had a wonderful adviser when I was writing my doctorate at the Wharton School who helped me to see some of the work I was doing was too narrow.

I also learned what a caring social fabric means from colleagues who insisted on covering my duties for me when I was ill for a long period when I was in my early 30s.

Do you read for work or for pleasure?
I read a lot of work-related material, which can be quite turgid at times. But I would single out Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and The Magus by John Fowles as two favourites. Although written years apart, both book focus on similar themes.

In the beginning, they lure the reader to wrongly empathise with the protagonist and then oblige the reader to share the chagrin, when the error of the protagonist’s ways become clear – a good lesson on the need to think things through before reacting to situations.

What are MIT Sloan School of Management’s short- and long-term goals?
Our business school is part of MIT’s rich intellectual tradition of education and research. Our goal is to continue adding worthwhile elements to our leadership development and knowledge experiences, while protecting what is important. This includes conducting cutting-edge research and providing management education to top students from more than 60 countries.

An important challenge is ensuring that MIT’s mission remains financially sound. Unlike many business schools that make a profit from their MBA programmes, MIT’s programmes contribute about half of our fiscal income. Therefore, it is important we maintain a close relationship with philanthropists, donors and the government departments that believe in and support our mission.