The (Perhaps) Unexpected and Happy Consequence of Starting a Business School

January 29, 2021

It is difficult to peer into the minds of the Yale leaders who, in the 1970s, conceived of adding a new business school to a venerable university.  It would be the first new graduate program at Yale in more than 50 years, and it could not have been an easy decision. The university’s endowment had been dead money for about a decade, and starting a new school isn’t cheap. 

Was it strictly a business opportunity for Yale? An upfront investment that would, decades later, be repaid through the giving of a presumably affluent alumni base?  Or was it strictly an educational mission, looking to fill a perceived gap in leadership training that existing business schools had left open?

Whatever their thinking at the time, I doubt that they saw the School of Organization and Management, as SOM was originally called, as an incubator of leaders for Yale itself, but in fact that has been one of the happy consequences of SOM’s founding.

The data tells the story clearly.  Among all Yale’s graduate programs, with the exception only of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (which is 3 times SOM’s size and 130 years older), SOM alumni constitute the largest group of volunteers who give time back to the school.  Nearly 250 SOM graduates currently serve in volunteer leadership roles, more than the law school, the medical school, and the combined number from the schools of art, drama, architecture, engineering, nursing and music.

Even more compelling: this statistic doesn’t capture the myriad other ways in which SOM alums give back to the school, like supporting admissions or the Career Development Office. 

The types of roles SOM alumni play are as varied as the members of this global group. SOMers serve as:

  • Alumni chapter leaders
  • Alumni Advisory Board members
  • Guest speakers and lecturers
  • Class Agents
  • Class Secretaries
  • Delegates to the Yale Alumni Association

There may be many reasons behind this disproportionate presence of SOM alumni in the broader Yale alumni community, but I don’t think it is particularly complicated. When your mission is leadership, you attract (and produce) leaders. It’s only natural that many of these leaders would find their way back to the school and the university that nurtured them in the first place, the better to support subsequent generations of leaders.  It is the best kind of virtuous circle.

I have no larger point to make.  When I first learned this startling statistic, I made a mental note to share it with the larger SOM alumni community.  It made me feel proud to be a part of SOM, and I hope it does the same for you.

Do you have questions about SOM or the role that alumni can play in the school’s continuing progress? The AAB is the collective voice to the school administration of SOM’s 10,000 alumni worldwide. If you have a question, a concern, or an issue you’d like to raise with the school, please feel free to drop us a line at ysomaab@gmail.com.

About the author

Matt Broder