Racing sailboats. Managing a radio station. Studying anthropology. These are some of the experiences that led Will Lamb to become a business professor and, last summer, Murata Dean of the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business.
When Lamb was young, he was an avid sailor thanks to a father with a love for sailing. In middle and high school, Lamb raced sailboats. At 17, he and his brother (one of Lamb’s four siblings) together won a national championship. Sailing, says Lamb, is one of the ways he became interested in strategy. “It’s not unlike business,” he says. “There’s the more machine-like skill of having a better boat and making your boat go faster than the others. Then there’s the creativity and thinking, like seeing a situation and having a feel for what you should do next based on what everyone else is doing.”
As a youth, Lamb also was fascinated with the local radio station, often wondering how the outfit operated and made money. In college, Lamb learned the answers, working at the University of Virginia’s radio station and getting his first taste of running a business. “I started out as a disc jockey and then was the person who trained the disc jockeys and then was the general manager,” he says.
Lamb didn’t study business as an undergrad. Initially, he was a mechanical engineering major, but craving the freedom to choose more electives, he soon switched to drama and then settled on anthropology, an interest he credits to his mother. “My mom was a nurse, but she took a lot of classes related to anthropology, sociology, religion,” says Lamb. “She was always reading and talking about stuff related to the humanities.” When Lamb carried on with his studies, earning a Master of Education in instructional technology and a PhD in strategic management, he continued studying the humanities with a minor in philosophy. Lamb says his research, which in part looks at the history of high-tech industries as well as the links between corporations’ financial and social performances, has been influenced by these interests.
Now Lamb brings his multifaceted outlook and talents to Babson. We recently asked him to share some of his initial ideas.
What have you been doing since you came last summer? Mostly talking and listening. Part of what I’ve been doing is an idea board. So I’ve been talking to people and taking notes and adding them to the board. Then about every two to three weeks, I stare at it and just try to distill the ideas that are on there. Some people want to talk about the big picture. Then some people have a topic they want to talk about—a new thing they think we can do, a new class, a new program, like certificates or degrees. Some have ideas about what we should do with our existing programs. And then there are other issues, such as what’s the strategy for Babson. What’s the strategy for San Francisco and other international locations where we could begin to have more programs. So that’s part of it. I’m trying to distill what everybody is saying and put it in a form that we can more easily talk about.
In the short term, what are you hoping to accomplish? It’s a brutally competitive environment right now for business programs, especially at the graduate level. There’s less demand in general for the GMAT, and there’s more specialized master’s programs cropping up. A lot of people want to go for their health-care degree or the information systems degree or the analytics degree as opposed to the MBA degree nowadays. And there’s an explosion of new programs in the online space, so those seats are being added while demand is down. People aren’t getting as much support from their employers to earn an MBA and are wondering whether or not the MBA is the one they really need. Those are some big shifts to navigate. I think in the short term, getting a grip on what all those shifts mean for us is probably the most important thing of all.
What do you think it means for us? One thing it means is that people may not be as oriented toward a degree as they are toward the content. So I do think that we could see more people gravitate to certificates, smaller clumps of content where they don’t have to make a commitment to as big of an investment or as long a period of time as they pursue their studies. I also think that there’s probably going to continue to be a shift toward the more flexible programs we offer. I would think our Blended Learning program is probably the one that’s the most likely to grow. Some schools are getting out of the full-time business. I think that would be nuts for Babson. There are a lot of advantages for Babson being in the full-time market, and we do something unique that I think we’d be foolish to walk away from. Everybody I’ve talked to, their biggest concern is protecting our uniqueness and finding ways to continue being unique.
Many schools are on the entrepreneurship bandwagon. Babson put it on the map. Now we have to continue taking things to a new level. A lot of faculty have said they’d like us to do more with integration and experiential learning. Integration, where we don’t just teach in silos but present students with problems where they have to apply skills from different areas and come up with an integrated, holistic sense of what to do.
Because that mimics the real world? Being connected to the real world is one of the other big things. That’s part of where experiential learning comes in, wanting to be relevant to our recruiters, wanting to have students and prospective students understand that there are certain things about how they’ll function in the real world that they can get from Babson that they might not get from other places. And making sure that the things we’re doing in the classroom are cutting-edge. They relate to what’s happening in industry, and they’re relevant to what companies need. —Donna Coco