Entrepreneurial Skills Seen as Sahlman's Forte

Some Question Tenure in Publishing Division

Class of 1995 Professor of Business Administration William A. Sahlman is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word.

A member of the Business School faculty since 1980, Sahlman created the second-year course "Entrepreneurial Finance" in 1985. The professor also researches and writes about investment decisions in entrepreneurial ventures and holds a chair endowed in honor of 1955 Business School graduate and successful entrepreneur Dimitri V. d'Arbeloff.

Sahlman may soon undertake another enterprise: that of leading the Business School (HBS). The 45-year-old senior associate dean and director of publishing activities is one of the favorites to succeed retiring Dean of the Business School John H. McArthur, faculty members said last week.

Others whom faculty members have listed as potential contenders for the deanship include:

Robinson Professor of Business Administration James I. Cash.

Figgie Professor of Business Administration Kim B. Clark.

Baker Professor of Business Administration Leonard Schlesinger.

Leading Like An Entrepreneur?

As dean, Sahlman's belief in the benefits of entrepreneurship might move him to decentralize administration at the Business School, some faculty members said.

"Sahlman specializes in the entrepreneurial, and it could bear upon the future of the Business School," said a professor who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"He would probably tend to encourage individual initiatives rather than try to run [the school] as a bureaucracy," Professor of Business Administration Francis J. Aguilar said. "Not to imply that McArthur did--he also had various initiatives, but probably more of a central control. We might find less of that under Sahlman."

Publishing

But turmoil in the Business School's publishing department in the past four years could hurt Sahlman's chances of being appointed dean, some faculty members said.

"[The] publishing [department], it's like chaos over there," said a professor who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I'm not sure there would be the right confidence in [Sahlman]."

"A lot of people say things haven't goneright--there's been some missteps," he added.

Harvard Business School Publishing, Inc.oversees the creation and marketing oftheHarvard Business Review, case studiesused in the classroom and video documentaries ofcompanies which apply business techniques.

Sahlman, who assumed the directorship of HBSPublishing in July 1991, was featured in a NewYork Times article last October.

The article portrayed a struggling companywhich had made a number of expensive mistakes. Oneof the mistakes, according to the article, wasspending $10,000 creating four-hour managementinstruction videos which corporations laterrefused to buy.

"Customers told us they couldn't use it,"Sahlman told The New York Times.

"They'd have to shut down their entire companyfor two weeks to absorb it all."

The unwanted videos weren't the publishingdivision's only mistake. According to the Timesarticle, school officials expected Sahlman toboost the publishing company's annual revenuesfrom $38 million to $100 million in five years.

Yet when the deadline arrived, revenues were adisappointing$49 million.

Had Sahlman achieved that 100 million dollargoal, the New York Times suggested he would be a"shoein" as the next dean of HBS.

But some faculty members said that it was hardto tell whether Sahlman was responsible for allthe publishing division's woes.

"There's been a real mess over there. What Idon't know is did [Sahlman] inherit the mess andhave to clean it up, or did he contribute to it?"Aguilar said.

McArthur appointed Ruth R. McMullin, former CEOof John Wiley & Sons Inc., as president of thepublishing division the same year Sahlman wasnamed chair of the board of directors.

Associate Dean and President of HBS PublishingLinda S. Doyle replaced McMullin last March. Noone seems to know whether to blame McMullin ofSahlman for the publishing "mess."

But many faculty members give Sahlman creditfor performing well at a difficult task.

"You have to give him high marks when youadjust for degree of difficulty--kind of likediving or figure skating," said a professor whospoke on condition of anonymity.

"He's done a very, very fine job in handling avery difficult and demanding job for which hedoesn't have a good model to follow," theprofessor said.

`Terrific' Teacher

Although there may be doubts about Sahlman'sadministrative ability, faculty membersuniversally praise him as an excellent teacher.

"He's an enormously respected classroomteacher," said a professor who requestedanonymity.

"There are two things involved: He created aterrific course, and he teaches the terrificcourse terrifically," the professor added, citing"Enterpreneurial Finance" as "one of the mosthighly regarded courses [by students]."

"Sahlman is tremendously popular amongstudents," said another professor who alsorequested anonymity.

Last year, about 400 students--over 50 percentof the School's second-year class--enrolled inSahlman's course.

Background

Sahlman earned an A.B. in Economics fromPrinceton and an M.B.A. and Ph.D. in BusinessEconomics at Harvard.

Sahlman and his family can occasionally befound canoeing on Squan Lake in New Hampshire,colleagues said