For Drucker School dean, small is beautiful
Ira Jackson was used to the big budgets and clout of places like Harvard. But the Claremont management school's ethical purpose clicked with him.Ira A. Jackson had never heard of the Drucker School until he was approached to lead it as dean.
And when he arrived in July 2006, the campus looked "startlingly small, almost to the point of being invisible."
Jackson, 59, appeared to have little in common with the business school known officially as the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management.
For years, Jackson had held a string of prestigious posts in government, business and academia. By age 40, he had helped engineer rapid growth at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and overhaul Massachusetts' tax collection process.
In those jobs, he had access to enormous coffers and staffs. At Drucker, he's making do with about 20 core faculty members and a lean $54-million endowment.
But the school's driving purpose -- to train ethical entrepreneurs to focus on the greater good -- clicked with Jackson.
"It felt almost like coming home," the Boston native said.
Tucked away in sleepy Claremont as part of Claremont Graduate University, Drucker seems far from Los Angeles but close enough to top-tier business schools such as USC and UCLA to be overshadowed.
With fewer than 300 students, Drucker is a "boutique school," Jackson said. Harvard's MBA program has about 1,800 students.
"Maybe size and scale is less significant than purpose," Jackson said. "The space we occupy is needed now more than ever."
In 1971, modern management guru and self-styled "social ecologist" Peter Drucker spearheaded development of the country's first executive MBA program for working professionals. The Claremont program expanded and was named in his honor in 1987.
Drucker died at age 95 in 2005, after finishing his 39th book. He pioneered the idea of management as a liberal art, because, as Drucker once said, "it deals with . . . the nature of humankind, good and evil."
Drucker's groundbreaking social entrepreneurship model is in high demand, Jackson said, because of a backlash against recent corporate scandals.
John Perez, 40, began pursuing a post-master's degree in 2006 after meeting with Jackson. Months later, Perez used ideas from his classes to land a position as a commander with the Pasadena Police Department.
"Ira chats with you as if you're the most important person," Perez said. "At other schools, they forget about you once you're in."
The intimate environment, where professors know students by name, has placed Drucker on the Princeton Review's top-10 lists for classroom experience and faculty.
"It seems like we're on the right path," Jackson said. "There must be something in the sauce here."
But Jackson is frank about Drucker's disadvantages.
BusinessWeek and U.S. News & World Report routinely snub Drucker in their school rankings, which, among other things, are based on reviews by recruiters as well as schools' size and graduates' starting salaries. The school holds little clout with headhunters. And as other schools catch on to "profits with principles" management, Drucker's niche is getting crowded, Jackson said.
"But we're not trying to dominate," he said. "It's not like we have an exclusive franchise on wisdom." Describing himself as a "curious George," Jackson said he succeeded by being "self-confident and stupid enough to ask basic questions."
By age 26, he had advised the mayors of Newark, N.J., and Boston. At age 32, he was building a program at the Kennedy School to teach administrative skills to mayors of major cities.
During five years at the head of Massachusetts' Department of Revenue beginning in 1982, Jackson helped engineer a period of economic growth that was later touted as the "Massachusetts Miracle."
The state was facing a $300-million deficit when Jackson and his team sped up refund-check mailings, publicized raids on tax delinquents and introduced simplified tax forms in several languages. A tax amnesty program drew in $86 million from 60,000 tax evaders. To celebrate, Jackson served his staff a 600-pound cake decorated like a refund check.
From 1987 to 1999, as executive vice president of BankBoston, descendant of one of the country's oldest banks, he helped start an operation catering to inner-city residents and a separate branch to serve low-income investors.
He worked with several philanthropies but insists he is "not in Peter Drucker's league," having co-written just one book.
In 2006, he finished a stint as president and chief executive of the Arizona State University Foundation. Fundraising doubled during his tenure and the endowment grew 45%.
He moved to Southern California, he said, because "it feels like the future."
But he's still settling in, trying to put into practice Peter Drucker's many mantras, including "Do well and do good" and "Make value with values." Then there's the key question, asked of all students: "What do you want to be remembered for?"
Jackson still struggles with his answer.
"I'm still on my own odyssey professionally," he said. "I just want, in some small way, to leave the world better than I found it."