Since its founding in 1898 as the College of Commerce and Administration, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business has again and again set out paths that other institutions have followed.
It established the first business doctoral program in 1920 and the first executive MBA in 1943; it was first to award a business degree to an African American student and a business PhD to a woman. In 1982, Booth’s George Stigler, PhD’38, became the first faculty member of a business school to receive the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (followed by nine more Booth professors since). Today Booth sits alone atop the U.S. News and World Report business school rankings.
In September of the school’s 125th year, Madhav Rajan, dean since 2017 and the George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting, spoke to the Magazine about Booth’s enduring characteristics, its latest ideas, and what lies ahead.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What brought you to the University of Chicago?
I spent 11 years at Wharton, then 16 years at Stanford, whose MBA program I had run for the last six years. Richard Leftwich [the Fuji Bank and Heller Professor Emeritus of Accounting and Finance], whom I’d known for years, was on the search committee, and he called me. My family had moved to California 16 years before and we were settled in, so initially I said, Let me think about it. I’m not sure I want to make the change. But for somebody who wants to be a dean of a business school, this is probably the biggest job there is in terms of the scope and the impact you can have.
Were your impressions of Booth before you arrived in Chicago borne out?
Mostly. A lot of people tried to warn me about coming here. One of the search firm’s questions was about the reputation that Chicago faculty have no interest in change: Did I think I’d be frustrated trying to be dean? That’s not been true at all. I have a vision for what I want to achieve, but that has very much been driven by faculty input. The faculty have been very open to change, and we’ve had an amazing number of changes that we’ve been able to realize.
The big risk, of course, in UChicago hiring me was that I had no connection to it. I’d never been a student, never been faculty, and dropping somebody from outside into a place with a very strong culture—you know, you could get organ rejection pretty easily. That didn’t happen.