05_David H. Blake

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It’s a study in change. Five years ago, the school was in danger of falling off the map. David H. Blake led a campaign to reshape the curriculum and upgrade the student body.


David H. Blake
Dean, University of California, Irvine,
Graduate School of Management
Irvine, California


Describe one or more of your core leadership principles.
The energy and creativity of talented people must be encouraged and unleashed. The organization, though, should be open to challenge and change so that people feel that they can create a new future, not merely live out the present. Leadership, like power, needs to be shared.

Show us your leadership in action: a decision that you made, a situation in which you led and that put your principles to the test.
Our business school was in danger of becoming less competitive because we were stuck in an old paradigm that prohibited future growth and success. Yet change was going to require widespread participation on the part of many faculty and staff, some of whom were uncomfortable with the prospect. By identifying champions, giving them portfolios of areas and people to lead, and constantly communicating that this could be done and be done rapidly, the school dramatically revised its curriculum and approach in less than a year. The strategy for rapid change was risky: for one year, the school would have no graduates. The risk added to the urgency and the excitement–and the success of the effort.

Describe the biggest obstacle you were up against.
Skepticism, fear of change, and awareness that they had not succeeded before represented the biggest obstacles. As dean, I had to overcome doubt and disbelief resulting from seven years of talk but no action. To accomplish significant personal and organizational change, people had to believe in the worthiness of the goal, the importance of the broader institution, and the likelihood of success. It was my job, in concert with lots of others, to generate excitement, to focus on the opportunities but with a realistic acknowledgment of the complexities, and to elevate people above and beyond their own personal goals and comfort levels.

Document the results of your leadership style.
Within less than a year, the school revised and lengthened the MBA program from one to two years. A new class was recruited with substantially higher GMAT scores. By the second year, enrollment had far exceeded the previous high, and our reputation and ranking shot up. Within six years, the program broke into the ranks of the top-25 business schools, and the school was highly regarded as a pioneer in leadership training. All of this happened as a result of giving others the reins of leadership while providing a clear view of the future and our ability to get there.