The spirit of Kellogg: research and teaching
Associate Dean David Besanko
Associate Dean Robert Magee
is an edited transcript of a Kellogg World interview
with Associate Deans for Academic Affairs Besanko and Magee
in which they discussed aspects of the Kellogg School's research
and teaching agendas. More details about Dean David
Besanko and Dean Robert
Magee's professional endeavors may be found on their vita
Dean David Besanko
Dean Robert Magee
Kellogg World: From an institutional perspective, what are
some of the ways that Kellogg has built its academic strengths
over the years.
Dean Robert Magee: One of the things that's been part of Kellogg
for as long as I have been here, which is 25 years, has been
a dedication to research. It is, for faculty, if not their first
responsibility, a responsibility that is equal to their classroom
responsibilities. Research is something our faculty and administration
focuses on and talks about every day, every week. Our departments
have frequent research seminars where outside speakers present
what they're working on. Research is something that gets a lot
of attention among our faculty. We're going to continue to give
academics at Kellogg more attention and a broader audience.
Dean David Besanko: The preeminence of research is put first
and foremost here, and it's a differentiating feature of Kellogg.
When the Allen Center opened in the late-1970s, Dean Donald
Jacobs strategically positioned the school's executive education
program by saying that these courses were a place where our
faculty could go and test ideas that they had developed in their
research, forge those ideas through interaction with very bright
- in some cases skeptical - executives, and then bring those
ideas back into the Kellogg full-time and part-time classroom.
So research was a very important part of the mixture when Kellogg's
executive education strategy was formed, at least at the Allen
Center. Of course we had executive education before that.
In addition, Kellogg has always encouraged a very collaborative
research environment that is consistent with other parts of
the Kellogg culture. This school is a place in which co-authored
work from faculty members at Kellogg or with other faculty from
other schools has always been very highly valued. The tangible
way in which we value this work is shown in our personnel process.
We don't divide by two or three when faculty members have co-authored
work with two or three other authors. In some schools, if a
faculty member had a co-authored piece of publication, the impact
of that work gets adjusted to reflect the number of authors.
So you receive half-credit if you share publication with another
scholar, etc. That's never been the case at Kellogg. Co-authored
work is considered to be the same as single-authored work in
the eyes of the Personnel Committee which evaluates research
for the purpose of making decision about tenure and promotion.
Dean Magee: This policy arrangement is a critical part of the
faculty research culture because it means that faculty are eager
to work together and to embrace new professors who come into
The more one considers that point, the more important is
becomes, because the policy encourages cross-pollination of
ideas and a general dynamic interplay among faculty and departments.
Dean Magee: Our presumption is that this arrangement creates
better research in almost all cases. We end up with better intellectual
output, better trained doctoral students, more successful junior
and senior faculty. Kellogg becomes a more interesting place.
Dean Besanko: This research climate really mirrors the teamwork
environment that exists at other levels in the school with respect
to our full- and part-time students, and with respect to our
executive program - also in the way the school has been historically
governed. With research, too, we see another tangible sign of
the collaboration and support that has been so characteristic
of Kellogg over the years.
It seems that Kellogg's collaborative environment would serve
as a powerful recruiting tool for faculty. Talk about some of
the challenges associated with recruiting and retaining good
faculty in competition with other peer schools.
Dean Magee: It's always been difficult to recruit faculty, because
you are always trying to hire the very best. What happens in
thick years and in thin, is that we go through our search process,
we interview people at meetings, we send out announcements,
we make phone calls and receive applications. Our objective
is to find whom we believe are the top six or eight people in
the market that year, then schedule them for interviews. Of
course, at the same time Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Chicago
are all looking at exactly the same set of candidates. You always
end up in competition with some very good schools. So I don't
know that it gets materially harder from one year to another
to recruit good faculty. It is always a challenge. For most
junior faculty coming out of a doctoral program, their principle
concern is finding a place where their career can be launched
They're going to be looking for a place where the temperament,
research support and quality of colleagues are in accord with
their own predilections.
Dean Magee: That's exactly right. We have tried to find faculty
in those areas at Kellogg where the research fits best with
the school, with our research and with the student interest.
For instance, we don't have many students who want to know about
auditing or who want to pursue careers in auditing, so we haven't
hired faculty whose principle interests are in auditing. In
each of these areas, there are certain strengths that Kellogg
has, and one of the effects of those strengths is that we're
more attractive to prospective faculty who want to work in those
areas. We have the ability to collaborate and do joint research,
we have people who read your research and make good comments
on it. We know that faculty need time, resources and good colleagues
to be successful in their research.
That brings up an interesting point: how do we build new strengths
in the curriculum from an organizational standpoint?
Dean Besanko: Certainly we are a school with more than one strong
department. We believe we're a school with six strong departments.
Over the years those strengths have waxed and waned. Some departments
have gone through periods where we've had to make a concerted
effort to build them. Frankly, 10 years ago my department -
strategy - was probably not one of Kellogg's strengths. But
it's a very important area both from the teaching and curriculum
perspective, and from an intellectual research perspective.
So the school put resources into hiring faculty at the senior
and junior levels, and we developed that area. With a group
of dedicated, hard-working faculty members, we have been able
to develop a very nice international reputation in strategy.
Strategy can be approached from a number of different perspectives:
behavioral, economic, etc. What we've done with this department
is develop it using an approach that focused on economics. To
really build up an academic area, a school needs to develop
a critical mass in terms of faculty and research resources.
Now we have that.
You try to build on your strengths to gain critical mass, but
you also build research areas because of their intrinsic importance.
These are not mutually exclusive strategies. It just depends
on where a department is in its life cycle. We're talking about
departments here that have 20-25 faculty members, so the loss
of a few key faculty can change the character of a department.
That's why departments will sometimes go through periods where
it becomes necessary to build from the ground up, whereas other
departments, like finance or strategy today, enjoy existing
strengths we can build on.
Dean Magee: One of our competitors made a joint offer to three
of our faculty in MORS last year. We were successful in keeping
them here, but having three key faculty members depart in a
faculty of this size would create a huge hole to fill. In addition,
we ought to give credit to the people who were here around 1970,
including then-Dean John Barr, because the school then went
in the direction of concentrating on research-active, quantitative
economics faculty: Stan Reiter, Mort Kamien, Nancy Schwartz,
David Baren, Mark Satterthwaite, John Roberts and others. These
were people doing quantitative, game-theory-based research in
economics and in contracting, and they became a magnet for others.
That's what attracted me here in 1976, and what attracted many
of the stalwarts of the finance department. There began to be
a focus on information and quantitative economic analysis that
has had a lasting impact, especially for managerial economics
and for MEDS and the finance department and management and strategy
For MORS it was probably the growth of dispute resolution research
that has significantly formed them. It's a measure that's had
a big impact on them. Marketing has been a force on its own
for a long time. For the other four departments, though, it
was those choices made back in the late 1960s and early 1970s
that put the school on a course. So often there are factors
at work that are invisible to the outside world, and maybe even
inside the school too, that push us on an intellectual course
that has had a lasting impact on the school.
It's easy to overlook some of the foundations and just adopt
an attitude that focuses on more recent times and developments.
Dean Magee: There was a time in the late-1970s or early-1980s
where you could say that Kellogg had the best economics department
in the country. They're very good now, but at the time that
department was a magnet for many of the people who are here
It sounds like the nature of how higher education works today
is that Kellogg could work to tip a very good department into
an outstanding department with the strategic acquisition of
a couple key faculty members. It's interesting how departmental
status can change so quickly.
Dean Magee: We have some of those irons in the fire even as
Dean Besanko: I think it's fair to say that the faculty hiring
strategy here has been more of a growing our own faculty as
opposed to raiding other schools. You'll find at Kellogg a mix
of people who have come from other schools. I came from Indiana-
Dean Magee: I came from the University of Chicago.
Dean Besanko: But the general thrust of the strategy here has
been pretty continuous: to hire the very best rookie faculty
Dean Magee: I think that's always the objective. To hire the
best young minds coming into the field and to provide them with
an environment in which they succeed and in which they thrive,
and then they want to stay.
Dean Besanko: There are different ways of managing the hiring
of faculty. One way is to run things in such a way that you
hire three faculty members expecting that only one will get
tenure. We don't run things like that; we run things with the
expectation - the expectation - that they will all move through
their careers, get tenure and be promoted. Now that's not to
say that all three of them are guaranteed to get tenure, or
that all three do in fact get tenure. But we hire faculty members
with the expectation that they will do research of sufficient
quality, and have the potential to develop their classroom capabilities,
to go through our system and eventually obtain tenure.
We're expecting excellence, knowing that reality may intercede.
But this approach is more in line with the collaborative model
that's so prevalent here and about which we spoke earlier.
Dean Magee: Faculty here are not competing against each other.
It's not the case that as you look around at the other people
in your cohort as a junior faculty member that it's a she-or-me
or him-or-me situation. When the Personnel Committee meets,
we try to establish a proper benchmark for tenure and if a candidate
is over the benchmark, then that person clears that hurdle.
It's not who has gone the farthest; it's who has satisfied us
that they have made a substantive contribution to their field.
Dean Besanko: Not only do we not set up direct competition among
faculty members for specific slots, but we also avoid setting
up competition among faculty for specific resources. If you
need to go and buy a data set, there are resources that allow
you to do that. If you need to run an experiment, the resources
are there to do that. If you need computing power, the resources
are there. So we feel very, very strongly that there should
never be a faculty member who cannot do research for lack of
Dean Magee: That is true, but there are some requests out there
that haven't been entirely addressed.
Dean Besanko: We don't want to convey the impression that we
have every last resource. We can always use more support to
pursue compelling areas of inquiry.
What can you tell us about the connection between teaching
and research? How does one function inform the other?
Dean Magee: I find that I get most of my good research ideas
from preparation for teaching. As you're getting ready to discuss
a topic in class you try to imagine the questions that students
might ask. Some of these questions you actually want them to
ask, because they serve as an opportunity to discuss some interesting
issues or embellishments. Then there is another set of questions
that you hope that no one will ask, because you're not sure
what the answer is. But those questions give rise to the possibility
for research ideas, because if you can't find the answer anywhere,
and it's an important question, then that means it's something
that you should pursue.
Dean Besanko: I teach a course called Competitive Strategy and
Industrial Structure, which is an elective. It's a very popular
course with long waiting lists. Every single topic and idea
that is taught in that course has been informed by modern research
on the economics of competition and industrial organization.
That's a course that, without a body of knowledge that's been
developed in that field over the last 20 years, much of which
was developed at Kellogg, that course could not be taught the
way I teach it. There is almost a direct link between the research
history and the course content and the way it's taught.
Our MBA students are not trained as PhD-level researchers in
these fields. That's one of the things that makes teaching so
fun around here. You have to figure out how to go from the idea
expressed in a very abstract way, to an idea that's very usable
by a student who is going into a career in management consulting
or brand management.
You are again blending theory and practice by making the
classroom experience relevant to actual workplace challenges.
Dean Magee: When you think about the knowledge capital we have
at Kellogg, a lot of it resides in the faculty. They are the
most stable representation of that capital. But the students
bring in a lot of knowledge capital through their observations
and experiences, and they have their own ideas about cause and
effect in the marketplace. One of the things I encourage departments
and faculty to do is to teach in areas that are synergistic
with their research. To have people teaching in an area or topic
that doesn't fit in with their research interests seems to me
to lose a real opportunity to get deeper and to build on those
synergies that exist. There are loads of areas like game theory,
auction design, real options or negotiations strategies where
what we teach today is directly derived from research that was
done here at Kellogg over the last 20 years.
So there's a constant feedback loop where you're generating
new material based on previous research?
Dean Besanko: The ideas start up here [gestures near head] as
part of academic research, and then they filter down to PhD
classes. Then, if the ideas are compelling, they will make it
down to the next levels: the MBA classroom and practice. Obviously
when looking at the faculty research up at the top of that chain
we're looking for the ideas that will prove to have the most
impact or that promise to have durability.
What aspects of the research in your respective fields excites
you most? Can you offer a glimpse into the future of your disciplines
to say what developments might be on the horizon in the next
Dean Magee: We've asked the departments to think about these
questions as part of our introduction to our roles in the dean's
office. Talking about my own field, accounting, what's happened
is that we've begun to look at behavior issues, at the ways
in which people misprocess information. That's a very difficult
area to do good research in, because what it means is that the
potential for people's misinterpretation can pull prices away
from where they should be. But there are also market forces
that pull those prices back to where they should be. It's easy
to construct conceptual models where prices go off in a silly
direction. It's easy to construct models in which they never
go off in a silly direction. It's very difficult to construct
models in which prices go off, but then there are forces that
pull them back to where they should be, where the dynamics suggest
a constant approximation and movement around where prices should
be. It seems to me that accounting, specifically the way that
information is presented and when and where that information
is presented, will have a lot to say about how those processes
work. That's an area in which there are a few people beginning
to work. That would be the place I would put bets as a researcher
for discovering the things that will be important 10 years from
Dean Besanko: A couple areas seem to me potentially very interesting.
One spans both microeconomics and strategy. That's what I would
characterize as trying to understand the microstructure of markets.
What I mean by that is you take a market for some particular
good - automobiles or healthcare or whatever it might be. Typically
these markets consist of many complicated consumer segments.
For decision making in marketing and strategy in terms of pricing
or advertising, you would really like to know the nature of
that microstructure. What is the nature of the collection of
segments in that area? There are people in economics and in
marketing, some of whom are at Kellogg, who work on methodologies
to estimate the behavior of demand in light of this interesting
microstructure that typically obtains. That area is eventually
going to be very important to businesses because it will help
them understand the microstructure of a market on the basis
of limited data which should enable them to make reliable inferences
about the market.
Kellogg faculty in the economics area interested in this research
include: David Dranove, Mark Israel, Mark Satterthwaite, Shane
Greenstein, Mike Mazzeo.
Another potentially interesting area that could prove to have
impact is what I'd call industry dynamics, which tries to construct
models of how industries evolve over time. The problem with
these models is that they are dynamic and can be very complicated
to solve. You can't solve them using pencil and paper; you have
to use computers. As access to computing power has developed
over the last several years, researchers have been able to develop
better and better models.
There may well be other areas of research that will fall into
this category too. We're looking at it simply from the perspectives
of our own disciplines. The nature of this kind of research
is such that you really don't know what's around the bend. It's
a big conversation. We don't know all the parts of that big
conversation that will filter down and have that durable impact.
It sounds as if there's no lack between how theory and practice
may evolve in fascinating ways over time. One thing we know
is Kellogg faculty will continue to work at the forefront of