Spokane Grad Leads Harvard Business School Young Rebel Refused To Get Straight A’S, Picked Harvard Instead Of Byu
After seventh grade, the future dean of Harvard Business School vowed never to get straight A’s again.
His friends at Spokane’s Sacajawea Middle School had mercilessly teased him because of his perfect scores.
“Do you know what I did?” asked Kim Bryce Clark, who became dean of the prestigious business school last October. “I never got straight A’s until I was back at BYU.”
It was part of a rebellious phase - seemingly the only one in his life - that Clark went through during the eight years he lived in Spokane.
Rebelliousness for Clark created a son most parents dream of having. It meant he got a few B’s. He played in a rock-and-roll band. He applied to Harvard without telling his folks, who had their sights set on Brigham Young University.
Now 47, the Ferris High School graduate leads the most influential business school in the world. Harvard churns out managers, investment bankers and consultants whose starting salaries are between $60,000 to $80,000 a year.
Those former students are tomorrow’s CEOs. They’ll head companies that employ thousands. They’ll help set economic policy for presidents. They’ll influence Wall Street with their economic assessments.
Current CEOs also hone their management skills through Harvard’s executive education classes. Research and teaching materials produced by the school’s publishing arm are used worldwide.
As dean, Clark interprets the direction the business world is taking, then sets the school’s course.
His biggest challenge will be replacing about 30 of the 90 senior faculty members retiring over the next 10 years. Those new professors will shape the school’s future.
Though no school can lead every field, Clark sees Harvard concentrating more on the globalization of business.
He’s increasing the international content of students’ coursework. He pushed an $11 million computer upgrade in an effort to focus on rapidly expanding information technology.
And he sees the school devoting more time to entrepreneurship and small business, which fits with his expertise in manufacturing and creating new products.
William Laidlaw, executive director of the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, said Clark is the right person to take Harvard into the next century.
“What the business community is saying is, ‘Let’s put more emphasis on making things and adding value to our society,”’ Laidlaw said. “Kim really understands that.”
Clark has spent the last 25 years at Harvard, as a student, professor and now dean. He’s the ultimate insider.
Still, as a Westerner and devout Mormon, he is not the establishment-type leader one expects for the nation’s most prestigious business school. The Boston Globe calls him the Boy Scout. His dad grew up in southern Utah, breaking horses and herding sheep.
“I never planned on doing this,” Clark said from his office overlooking the school’s tennis courts. “I already thought I was at the apex of my career as a professor. This has opened up a whole new chapter of my life.”
Daily at noon, Clark jogs along the paved path that skirts the Charles River alongside Cambridge, northwest of Boston. Rowing teams glide past the Harvard boathouse, across from the plush green lawns of the business school campus.
Gates stop unwelcome vehicles from entering. Students in chino shorts and tennis shoes stroll past red-brick, ivy-covered buildings swinging copies of The Wall Street Journal.
Clark’s office is spacious and bright, but lacks personality. Ten months into his new job, he hasn’t really moved in yet. The only adornments on his desk are numerous pictures of his wife and seven children. Half the shelves in his bookcase are empty.
Clark is at the top of his field. He’s an expert in product development, technology and management.
“He is probably the world’s leading scholar in product development,” said Eitan Zemel, who directs a management in manufacturing program at Northwestern University’s business school.
Product development is what the company goes through when it creates a new product - whether it’s a car or a bar of soap. Clark’s research has been praised for cutting the time it takes a company to create an idea, then get it on the store shelves.
Colleague Kent Bowen, who five years ago moved from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Harvard to work with Clark, said Clark’s research helped cut in half the time it takes some American auto manufacturers to develop new cars.
One Harvard student who did a field study at Ford Motor Co. last year said Clark “is regarded as a demigod” at the automobile manufacturer.
At Harvard, Clark is trimming management and bureaucracy and giving faculty more responsibility.
He’s also reaching out more - to students who praise him for holding open forums, and to other factions of the university who applaud him for forging stronger links with the schools of medicine and government.
“He’s super bright, he has a fabulous grounding in values and he’s hard working,” said Jack Brennan, a former student who now runs The Vanguard Group, a $200 billion mutual fund. “He’s not constrained by conventional thought.”
One faculty member praised the way Clark built his administration.
“The thing that leaps out at you is the absolute inclusiveness,” said Senior Associate Dean F. Warren McFarlan. “He’s surrounded himself with young Turks, medium Turks and old Turks.”
Clark was born in Salt Lake City, the first of three children.
Merlin and Helen Clark recognized their eldest son’s intelligence early.
At 10 months, Kim needed orthopedic braces for his legs. Merlin Clark said the doctor came out of the examination room shaking his head. The baby was asking questions in complete sentences: “What are you doing?” and “What’s that?”
Clark said he’s like his father - the “kind of person people really rely on.” But it was his mother, with boundless energy and high standards, who made him believe he could do anything.
“She drummed it into me,” Clark said.
When Clark was 5, his mother began trotting him off to the Grace Nixon Stuart School of Elocution for five hours every Saturday.
At age 10, he memorized the Gospel of Luke and presented it to the class.
Religion has always been an integral part of his life. “Growing up in my family meant growing up in the church,” he said.
Clark’s great-great-grandfather was one of the pioneers who marched across the Great Plains to establish Mormon communities in Utah in the 1840s.
As a Mormon, Clark believes each person is an eternal being, who has lived before and will live after.
“There’s meaning beyond the immediate for a Latterday Saint,” Clark said. “Everything you do in life has religious value and impact. Every activity is not only consistent with your faith, but informed by it.”
He’s been bishop of a congregation and even started a new church in an underserved Boston suburb.
“That’s an unusual thing for a bishop to identify a need and say, ‘I’m going to create a new congregation,”’ said Mitt Romney, a fellow Mormon and close friend of Clark’s who ran against Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1994.
Still, Clark said he doesn’t impose his beliefs on anyone. His colleagues see only hints of his faith in school operations.
As a Mormon, Clark does not smoke or drink alcohol or caffeine. A daily staff meeting used to be called the Morning Coffee Group. It’s now simply called the Morning Group.
“But coffee,” McFarlan said, hoisting a huge cup of java, “continues to be served.”
Clark moved to Spokane at age 11, when his father became advertising manager for Northwest Unit Farm Magazines in 1960.
Larry Kissler attended Ferris High School with Clark.
“I’d be sitting there busily taking notes,” said Kissler, now a U.S. Bank vice president. “He’s sitting next to me reading a novel and he’s still able to pick up everything that was said.”
Even in high school he was a leader, sparking the offense in basketball and pitching for the baseball team. He and his friends - now attorneys, bankers and businessmen in their own right - spent their time attending dances, hanging out at the A&W;, and eating dime burgers by the bagful at Dick’s Drive-in.
“We used to comment that Spokane was the last Puritan stronghold west of the Mississippi. We were very sheltered,” said Joel Lassman, a high school friend.
Clark was guided by the integrity and example of his basketball coach, Larry Reid.
“Things came very easy for him, whether it was in the classroom or on the basketball court,” Reid said. “You could tell that the other students looked up to him.”
Clark said his Spokane years created new possibilities for him, beyond what he called the “homogenous” Mormon community of his childhood.
“It was a time when I became a person,” he said. “I’m pretty sure if we’d not moved to Spokane that I would not be here today. It was like a launching pad. It’s made all the difference in my life.”
His parents wanted him to attend Mormon-run BYU. Unknown to them, Clark also applied to Brown University in Rhode Island, and to Harvard.
He was accepted at all three, and settled on Harvard.
Clark’s first year at Harvard was miserable.
Going east, alone and in the middle of the free-wheeling ‘60s was overwhelming. He was home-sick and surrounded by hundreds of people just as smart as he was. His highest grade was a B. He began to doubt his ability.
Other students forced him to re-examine and defend his guiding force - his faith.
“I had all sorts of people telling me I was off my rocker to believe this stuff,” Clark recalled. “They’d use a lot of words I won’t use to describe what I believe in.”
“He wasn’t prepared for Harvard,” Merlin Clark said. “A young man with high moral standards living in a dorm with three or four people. It was a new world for him.”
He took a leave of absence and left on a two-year mission for the Mormon Church, to southern Germany.
In Stuttgart, Clark knocked on doors and passed out pamphlets, telling people about his faith.
People argued with him - “telling me I was a fool and from the devil” - but he also saw people’s lives transform when they converted.
He learned humility. He realized he was capable of great things, but could not do everything alone.
Still, he wasn’t ready for Harvard. Back in the states, he enrolled at BYU, which provided the security of friends and family. His uncle, Martin Hickman, was dean of social sciences, and his younger sister, Marcia, attended.
Giving Clark a list of the best professors, Hickman told his nephew to “take professors, not courses.” Clark enrolled in a huge variety of courses, and got all A’s - for the first time since seventh grade at Sacajawea.
“It was fabulous. I had a great year,” Clark said.
Sue Hunt contributed to his great year. Smitten with Clark’s roommate, she approached Clark at church one morning and invited the pair to dinner.
As Hunt tells it, after she extended the invitation, she sat with Clark at church, then spent the day with him. They talked for hours. He helped cook dinner and clean up afterward.
“By the end of the day, I was so in love with him, I’d forgotten about the curly-haired boy,” she said, giggling like a little girl.
They were engaged two weeks later.
“She is so good as a person,” Clark said, closing his eyes and leaning back in his chair. “Every bone in her body is loving and honest. It’s like being with someone who makes you better.”
Being raised to believe you can do anything, Clark said, is important to success. But it’s easy to become selfish and self-centered.
“I’ve struggled with that,” Clark said. “Because I know it’s not right. What Sue has taught me … is how not to be self-centered and to think about other people.”
Recently, a former employee of Clark’s asked him for career advice. Although he was entertaining foreign dignitaries that week, he cleared a half-hour in his schedule.
“This is amazing. This guy is so busy. But he just sat there for a half hour and really focused on me,” said Maryam Golnaraghi, a staff researcher.
“He doesn’t have a fat head, for a guy that could easily have a fat head,” said Brennan, the mutual fund president. “There’s not an ounce of baloney in him.”
After marrying and earning straight A’s during his year at BYU, Clark gave Harvard another shot. This time, he took it by storm.
“Harvard, for people who know what they’re doing, is a wonderful place,” he said.
By his senior year, he was teaching introductory economics to other undergraduates, and won a teaching prize.
For his doctoral dissertation, Clark studied the productivity of cement mills and visited several factories. At two small plants in Texas, he found the focal point of his thesis.
Two cement mills, just miles apart, drew people from the same labor market, used the same equipment and were about the same size.
But one was 70 percent more productive than the other.
Clark found the less productive mill had a hierarchical management system with multiple layers. Senior management was out of touch with workers.
The other had only three levels of management and strong communication between the bosses and workers. “What I learned was that management made a huge difference,” Clark said.
The rave reviews Clark received for his dissertation won him a spot on the business school faculty.
Clark struggled for years to balance work and family.
In his commencement speech in June, Clark told graduates: “The most important work you do in your life is within the walls of your home.”
Kim and Sue Clark have a simple system: No work at night, and none on weekends.
That means Clark starts his day about 6 a.m., works 11 or 12 hours, and is home for dinner, homework, ball games, music recitals or whatever else. He’s led Boy Scout troops and coached youth basketball.
With four boys and three girls, said Clark, “I’ve done a lot of homework.”
Research for books and articles requires travel to Europe and Asia. Instead of staying and taking in the sights, Clark flies in for meetings and flies back, sometimes on the same day.
“The reason was to simply not spend time away from home,” he said.
Though Clark has spent more than half his life at Harvard, he still feels rooted in the West.
His parents and in-laws live in Utah and Clark says he’ll retire there. Two of his children attend universities in Utah. Another son, a high school senior, is considering Utah schools.
This summer, as he does every few years, Clark brought his family to Coeur d’Alene for a week at the lakeside home of his sister and brother-in-law, Marcia and Doug Romney.
“We feel like the West is our home,” Clark said. “Down deep inside, our roots are in the West.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)
MEMO: Complete text not published in final edition. Republished August 19 in final edition.
Complete text not published in final edition. Republished August 19 in final edition.