Is John H. McArthur the Most Powerful Man at Harvard?

The dean of the Business School, like everyone who had attended the meeting, was disappointed.

Harvard's five teaching hospitals were trying to negotiate a merger backed by Dean of the Medical School Daniel C. Tosteson '46. But talks between them had just broken down.

Business School dean John H. McArthur, however, wasted no time trying to put a deal together. Within minutes after the talks ended, McArthur, who is also chair of the board of the Brigham and Women's Hospital, was out in the parking lot pitching a more limited merger to Massachusetts General Hospital trustee Colorado Mansfield.

"It was out of the meeting [among the five hospitals] that the two of them [first] talked next to the parking lot," recalls Dr. Samuel H. Kim, the president ofthe Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Physicians Corporation. "If five couldn't do it, wouldn't it make sense that the two could do it?"

Meeting in secret--the way McArthur prefers to do business--MGH and the Brigham eventually struck a deal last fall to become one health care porvider known as Partners HealthCare Inc. Tosteson didn't learn about the merger of two giant hospitals affiliated with his Medical School until after the deal was done.

And the merger certainly wouldn't have happened without McArthur. The dean brought business experience to the table that was crucial to final negotiations, says Dr. Robert J. Boyd, chair of the MGH Physicians Corporation.

"He is a brilliant planner and organizer," Boyd says. "He is a politically very skillful person. He was very much of a facilitator."

He may be a better facilitator than anyone else at Harvard. In fact, for all of Neil L. Rudenstine's talk about how he wants to bring Harvard's different schools closer together, the president hasn't been able to pull off anything nearly as grand as the MGH Brigham merger.

Rudenstine has a pulpit, and is trying to use it to change Harvard. But McArthur, by operating behind the scenes and getting things done at wrap-speed, may now be the most powerful person at the University.

Observers disagree on the nature of dean's influence. Some say he hurts Harvard as a whole by putting the Business School's interests first in an era when cooperation is the University buzzword. Others praise him as a skillful negotiator who, unlike many administrators here, actually accomplishes what he sets out to do.

Francis H. Burr, an honorary trustee of Massachusetts General Hospital, subscribes to the latter theory.

"He was very instrumental to this," Burr says of the hospital merger. "The dean is a very powerful guy."

He's Changed Little'

As a student in the Business School's class of 1959, John H. McArthur was already thinking about holding down an administrative position in academia, says professor of Business Administration William J. Bruns Jr., a former classmate of the dean.

"He had the same style and the same way of working [then]," Bruns says. "He's changed very little."