The Best Is Yet to Come

Dean Glenn Hubbard is stepping down after a 15-year tenure, but he leaves the Business School poised to thrive in the future.

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Laura Lechner

I. The Teacher

Dean Glenn Hubbard never hits snooze. He always wakes at 4:15 a.m. to his iPhone alarm and brews a pot of chicory coffee from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, then drinks it black while reading the news. A breakfast indulgence is to eat leftovers. “If we’ve been out to a Chinese or Indian restaurant,” he says, “I dream of the leftovers being microwaved for breakfast.”

By 7:30 a.m. one day this past January, Hubbard is striding through Uris Hall toward room 142, his suit jacket breezing behind him as if it is trying to catch up. On his way to teach his perpetually oversubscribed weeklong seminar, Entrepreneurial Finance, the dean is raring to go.

“Even if I’ve done the same teaching point a hundred times,” says Hubbard, “I’m always amazed that our students can come up with something I’ve never heard.”

Hubbard’s passion for teaching will play a large role in his postdean life, which begins in July. After 15 years at the helm of the Business School, he will move upstairs to one of the faculty offices, keeping his position as the Russell L. Carson Professor of Finance and Economics, which he has held since 1994.

He leaves the dean’s office with the Business School transformed. It now offers four new master’s degrees, 50 new immersion seminars, 38 new endowed professorships, and seven new centers and programs. Enrollment among women and international students is up, GMAT scores are rising, financial aid is up 800 percent, and the endowment has tripled. The School has also tapped into New York City’s energy by inviting more practitioners uptown to teach alongside the full-time faculty while sending increasing numbers of students downtown to engage with executives.

“I’m most proud of the fact that we’re living this mantra of bringing theory and practice together,” Hubbard says. “Being in New York, we can do this better than anybody else. It’s in our DNA.”

That DNA is being reinforced in a big way, physically; Hubbard’s most visible legacy is the School’s new home about 10 blocks north of Uris Hall. Of the $1 billion he raised during his tenure, half was for new Business School buildings on the Manhattanville Campus set to open in 2021, which according to University President Lee Bollinger will be a “powerful symbol” of Hubbard’s transformational deanship.

The dean takes a selfie at the 2019 J-Term orientation

II. The Visionary

When Hubbard announced that he would step down as dean, he told the Business School community that “the best is yet to come” for this institution. The line was a nod to Hubbard’s love for the music of Frank Sinatra, whose crooning voice can occasionally be heard echoing from the dean’s office.

In a concrete sense, the best is yet to come from Hubbard’s visionary leadership, which has paved the way for his successor to move the Business School out of Uris Hall, a 120,000-square-foot space built in 1964, and into two new Manhattanville buildings spanning approximately 492,000 square feet.

“I don’t think any of us can underestimate the amount of effort that Glenn put into raising the money to make Manhattanville a reality,” says Russ Carson ’67, co-founder of the private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe and endower of Hubbard’s professorship. A member of the Board of Overseers, Carson notes that Hubbard’s  strengthening of the School’s financial muscle was accomplished despite the 2008–2009 financial crisis. Hubbard not only led through “a relatively difficult market,” agrees James Gorman ’87, chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley, but he brought the School to a place of academic prominence.

“Intellectually,” says Gorman, who joined the board in 2005 and became co-chair in 2017, “he’s repositioned Columbia at the forefront of a lot of the business thinking in this country.”

I’m most proud of the fact that we’re living this mantra of bringing theory and practice together. Being in New York, we can do this better than anybody else. It’s in our DNA.” — Glenn Hubbard

Of the half-billion dollars that Hubbard raised for Manhattanville, $125 million came from Henry Kravis ’69, co-founder of private equity firm KKR, who donated the funds because he has such high regard for the dean. A co-chair of the board since 2005 and member since 1990, Kravis was also close with the previous dean, Meyer Feldberg ’65. Feldberg’s tenure from 1989 to 2004 stabilized the School financially, allowing Hubbard to focus on building for the future through investing in infrastructure and overhauling the core curriculum to include a credit-bearing leadership course, a greater emphasis on analytics and big data, and more entrepreneurial thinking. Kravis says these curriculum changes will be an important part of Hubbard’s legacy, alongside Manhattanville and a bolstered alumni network.

Over the past 15 years, Hubbard regularly traveled around the world to meet with alumni. That engagement encouraged alumni participation, with the number of active alumni clubs now totaling 82, up from 47 in 2004. More than 2,000 alumni attended this year’s reunion, triple the figure from2004, while close to 700 alumni and guests from more than 53 countries attended last year’s Pan-European Forum.

“He is tireless about traveling around the world,” says Kravis, “meeting with alumni to make sure they keep Columbia Business School in their mind and in their sights for giving.”

Hubbard with Professor Katherine Phillips

III. The Scout

This role of booster and fundraiser might sound like one of the most exhausting parts about being dean, but Hubbard says it’s what he’ll miss most. He has cultivated the alumni and donor community through exhaustive networking and constant messaging in small meetings—a skill developed while working as deputy assistant secretary in the Treasury Department under President George H. W. Bush and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to President George W. Bush.

“My whole day [in Washington] was groups and meetings and speeches, and I got good at it,” Hubbard says. “Even though I grimace sometimes at the number of events I have to do, there’s no time I don’t leave feeling very good because of all the people and how much they love the School.”

Despite considering himself an introvert, there are myriad examples to the contrary—notably the many times he appeared in a video for Follies, the end-of-semester parody show.

His favorite Follies sketch was a 2006 spoof of the song “Every Breath You Take,” in which a Hubbard lookalike sings about how much he wants Ben Bernanke’s job as Federal Reserve chairman. The skit was such a hit that President Bush called to say he’d seen the video and Bush advisor Karl Rove handwrote a note, which reads, “I ... laughed until my sides split. What a testament to you of their affection and devotion!” The note sits framed on Hubbard’s office bookshelf.

Hubbard says he has embraced Follies as a way of “sharing the air” with students, which also explains why he regularly strolls the halls and eats sushi in Uris Deli. This desire for student interaction is highlighted by his support for CBS Matters, a forum where students share their life stories. The initiative has become a hallmark of the School’s intimate culture. Hubbard himself has given several CBS Matters talks revealing his journey from being a young boy unable to walk and undergoing multiple orthopedic surgeries to becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America, which comes through in his leadership style.

"Intellectually he’s repositioned Columbia at the forefront of a lot of the business thinking in this country." — James Gorman ’87, chairman and CEO, Morgan Stanley, co-chair, Columbia Business School Board of Overseers

“He kind of has that Boy Scout approach, a ‘let’s rig this thing up and make it work’ kind of attitude,” says Katherine Phillips, the Reuben Mark Professor of Organizational Character and director of the Bernstein Center. She sees this attitude reflected in the alumni too. “Columbia MBAs are really trying to make a difference in the world and help people around them, to create equitable environments,” Phillips says. “They all have a bit of Boy Scout in them.”

Hubbard joined the Boy Scouts when he was growing up in small-town Florida, and he now serves on its board in New York. His parents—a high school English teacher and a community college professor—raised him in a Christian church, instilling values that he carried into adulthood; he is today the treasurer of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Midtown, where his wife is an elder and his younger son is a deacon.

After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 1979 and earning a PhD in economics from Harvard University in 1983, Hubbard spent the ensuing decades between Boston and the Beltway. His modest upbringing in the South, however, established a strong connection to middle-class America that he has also tried to build for his students.

President George W. Bush, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and Hubbard

IV. The Economist

In a Wall Street Journal story from May 2018 titled “A Conservative Economics of Dignity,” the dean called for economists to “remember the people that got left behind.” Putting that into action, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Hubbard spurred the creation of a new immersion course to understand industrialism’s decline and populism’s rise. Bridging the American Divide was introduced in 2017, and Hubbard has twice traveled with 20 MBA students to the Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio.

Those trips have helped inform the new book that Hubbard is working on, tentatively titled The Bridge and the Wall, which will explore the economic roots of populism and suggest ways to narrow the divide between those who are well-off and those left behind. One way, he suggests, is for the government to build bridges, be they physical infrastructure that creates economic opportunity or social support in the form of community colleges and skills training.

While it may sound subversive in today’s climate for a Republican to support such social initiatives, Hubbard points to their embrace by the country’s first Republican president—Abraham Lincoln—and their roots in the Scottish Enlightenment that produced the father of economics, Adam Smith. The “most important” function of markets, Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations, is to bring “liberty and security” to people.

How do people find this liberty and security? Part of the answer is in dignified work, says Hubbard, who serves on an advisory council for the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative and is developing a new course at the School exploring how businesses must capitalize on the changing nature of work.

“If you look back at previous big changes like electrification or the internal combustion engine, mainframe computing or the internet, they took a long time to show up in productivity because the way businesses were organized was slow to change,” says Hubbard. “There are huge opportunities for our students in figuring out how to be the first and the best.”

Hubbard sporting Hermes socks

V. The Optimist

Back in Uris 142, Hubbard is delivering the final lecture for Entrepreneurial Finance. He paces the front of the room, peppering his speech with finance jokes and using the Socratic method to prompt students to answer questions. When one woman gives the response of “price elasticity,” the dean appears thrilled. “Yes!” he says. “Tears are welling up in my eyes.”

This kind of interaction is what students say they appreciate about Hubbard. “I personally love his teaching style,” Courtney Andrews ’19 says during a break. “He’s a great facilitator.”

As Hubbard brings the seminar to a close, he recaps his goals for the students: That they learn to better analyze, decide, and lead. That they pivot, experiment, and network. That they seize upon the amazing progress happening thanks to new technological breakthroughs, which he believes are creating extraordinary opportunities for entrepreneurs.

“Stay optimistic!” the dean exhorts. He then ends with this story: years ago, Hubbard was riding through Washington, DC, with a Japanese trade negotiator. As they passed the National Archives, Hubbard was asked to explain the meaning of an inscription on the building’s facade that read, “What is past is prologue.” Hubbard struggled for several moments but couldn’t quite get the message across. Finally, the driver turned around and exclaimed: “It means that the best is yet to come!”

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