Rich Lyons begins final year as dean

Rich Lyons, dean of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business (photo: Copyright Noah Berger)Dean Rich Lyons, who for 11 years has led the Haas School of Business through a defining culture initiative, construction of a state-of-the-art academic building, and the creation of two new degree programs, will step down at the end of his second term in June 2018.

Noting that it’s customary for deans to transition out after two terms, Lyons—who also served one year as interim dean—said it’s the right time to welcome new leadership and return to his faculty role.

“Serving as your dean has been the most fulfilling job of my career, and I plan to remain engaged with Haas for years to come,” he wrote in a message to the community. “And we still have a lot to accomplish together this coming year!”

Dean Rich Lyons codified the school's unique culture into four Defining Principles
Dean Rich Lyons shows off his Defining Principles t-shirt at the 2014 Berkeley-Haas Alumni Conference.

Strong footing

Lyons, BS 82, will leave the school on strong footing. Its academic programs are in the top 10 in all major rankings: the new Connie & Kevin Chou Hall will open for classes this summer; the first class of students will start this fall in the Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology (M.E.T.) program—a unique dual-degree offering from Haas and Berkeley Engineering. And the four Defining Principles at the heart of Lyons’ culture initiative—Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself—have become deeply embedded in all aspects of the school and alumni experience.

“Rich is a visionary and a path-bending leader who has led Haas to a different level of competitiveness and impact. Perhaps his most important contribution was understanding his role as ‘chief purpose officer’ and the power of culture to transform,” said Haas School Board Chair Jack Russi, BS 82, a national managing partner for Deloitte. “Rich treats everything from a ‘servant-leader’ lens, going out of his way to attend nearly every event. Besides being an outstanding dean, he is a wonderful human being. He leaves some big shoes to fill!”

Search committee formed

Lyons, an economist with a charismatic personality known for livening up events with his considerable guitar-playing chops, is much loved by Haas alumni, students, and faculty. A campus search committee, made up of Berkeley-Haas board members, faculty, staff, and students along with UC Berkeley representatives, has begun work earlier than usual to ensure that a new dean is in place when Lyons wraps up his term.

“In so many respects, Dean Lyons has gone beyond himself,” said Prof. Toby Stuart, the Leo Helzel Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, who will serve on the search committee. “He has worked tirelessly to the benefit of Haas and the university. He has done so with an infectious enthusiasm and optimism. His service to Haas will long be remembered.”

Dean Rich Lyons performs for MBA students at the annual Dean’s Scotch Tasting fundraiser in February 2017. (Photo by Jim Block)

A career tied to Berkeley

Lyons has devoted most of his career to the school he credits with transforming his own life. After earning his bachelor’s degree with highest honors from Berkeley-Haas in 1982, followed by a PhD in economics from MIT in 1987, Lyons spent six years on the Columbia Business School faculty before returning to Haas in 1993 as an assistant professor of finance and economics. He gained tenure three years later, served as associate dean for academic affairs in 2004, and acting dean from 2004-2005.

As an international finance professor, Lyons was a six-time recipient the Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching—the school’s top teaching honor—and also won UC Berkeley’s highest teaching award in 1998. From 2006 to 2008, he took a leave to serve as chief learning officer for Goldman Sachs, developing leadership among managing directors and partners.

Berkeley-Haas Defining Principles Question the Status Quo
The Defining Principles are deeply embedded in the school—and in the courtyard, renovated in 2013.

Upon his appointment as the Bank of America Dean in 2008, a board member told him, “leaders set culture.” Lyons took the advice to heart, plunging into a strategic planning effort that led to the overhaul of the MBA curriculum and—after an extensive process involving input from alumni, students, faculty, and staff—launching the Defining Principles in 2010.

“We codified the culture of Berkeley-Haas—which had been latent in the school for generations,” Lyons said.

Culture as differentiator

The Defining Principles have since become a strong differentiator. In surveys, students say the school’s distinctive culture is one of the top reasons they chose Berkeley-Haas, and more than 90 percent of graduates from the past decade say they are familiar with them, and frequently share how they have served as beacons in navigating their careers.

“The Defining Principles distinguish Haas as a school that values and produces leaders who are capable, curious, community-minded, creative, and humble,” said Prof. Jenny Chatman,  the Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management and an expert on culture. “Sharpening that message has been an essential source of the Haas School’s growing success, and we have Dean Lyons to thank for that.”

Below: Dean Rich Lyons broke out his guitar for the 2015 Big Give fundraising blitz.

Growth in gifts

A talented fundraiser, Lyons has helped bring in eight of the school’s nine largest gifts and galvanized donors to record levels of participation and engagement. He is responsible for the school’s largest fundraising years on record, and during his tenure, the school brought in nearly double the philanthropic contributions of the previous decade.

He also led a transformation of the Haas campus, first with the renovation of the O’Donnell Courtyard into a larger, flexible outdoor space in 2013, and next with the development of Connie & Kevin Chou Hall, which will be entirely devoted to student learning and interaction. The $60 million project was fully funded by donors, including a gift of up to $25 million from Connie Chen and Kevin Chou, BS 02—the largest ever from a UC Berkeley alum under age 40.

Dean Rich Lyons greets Kevin Chou, BS 02, and Connie Chen, naming donors for the Haas school's new academic building.
Dean Rich Lyons greets Kevin Chou, BS 02, and Connie Chen, naming donors for the Haas school’s new academic building. (Photo by Noah Berger)

New programs added

With regard to academics, Lyons oversaw the launch of the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program in 2013, after a joint program with Columbia University was dissolved, and launched new executive education and interdisciplinary programs. He has forged stronger ties with other UC Berkeley colleges and departments. He sees the new M.E.T. program with Berkeley Engineering as a model to expand on, particularly with other science disciplines, eventually leading to a suite of interdisciplinary dual-degree programs at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

“Berkeley and Haas grab you by the collar and insist that you take advantage of all the degrees of freedom you have to live your life and conduct your career,” Lyons told students at last year’s MBA commencement. Now, as he returns to his position on the faculty in July 2018, Lyons says he is interested in exploring opportunities in the digital education or fintech areas.