Hiring a high-profile Democrat as dean of the London Business School is sure to raise American interest, says Mary Braid

In the competitive world of international business schools, the appointment of Laura D'Andrea Tyson, former national economic adviser to Bill Clinton, as new dean of the London Business School is considered quite a coup.

The LBS is the only British institution to have broken into the US-dominated international business school top-10 and is keen to further raise its game. Tyson, currently dean of the Haas Business School in Berkeley, California, is hard to match for high-powered connections alone.

As a key member of the Clinton administration, she garnered some impressive acco- lades. Robert Reich, former US labour secretary, judged her "extraordinarily effective"; Hilary Clinton couldn't "say enough good things about her". Al Gore once described Tyson as a "superstar" and Bill Clinton himself was a huge fan. It was the Tyson connection that persuaded figures like Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chief, to visit Haas.

"It is a very clever appointment," says Professor Leo Murray, of Cranfield Business School. "A high-profile American fits perfectly into the LBS's current development strategy." Given the dominance of the US in international business schools (only three European schools – LBS, Insead in France and Switzerland's IMD – get a look in against the older, larger and richer US schools), Frances Cairncross, The Economist's management editor, says the question for any big European business school is how to draw itself to the attention of Americans. "One good way is to have a high-profile American in the the top job."

Business in the boardroom or the classroom remains a male bastion. As one of only a few female hard-hitters, Tyson, 54, became used to the label "first female this-or-that" long before the national economic adviser title made her the highest ranking woman in Clinton's team. When Tyson joined Haas, she became the only woman heading up a major US business school. Tyson's appointment to the LBS marks another first. It makes her the first woman to head a top-10 international business school, which must surely be the main reason for her to swap sunny California for London.

While Tyson's appointment ought to advance the LBS's own ambitions, it also deals with complaints about the school's lack of female professors. The appointment may also be a breath of fresh air through an institution still judged by some as rather staid. As a former cheerleader, ardent Democrat, and devoted mother and wife, Tyson was regarded during her White House years as a splash of colour in a rather monochrome and nerdy world.

Her priorities at the LBS when she takes over in January are not yet clear. In an interview in last month's Economist Tyson said she sees the LBS's international character as its unique selling point. Despite boasting of global credentials, US schools teach mainly American students heavily Americanised courses. While many US schools only recruit a third of their students from overseas, about 85 per cent of the LBS's full-time MBA students come from outside Britain.

Professor Paddy Barwise, of the LBS, expects Tyson to continue the fundraising and brand-building strategies started by outgoing LBS dean, Professor John Quelch. To com- pete against the highest-ranking US business schools, with their networks of generous alumni, the LBS is going to have to pull in more money from outside, private sources. "We are already punching well above our weight," he says.

Like Quelch, Tyson may have to spend a lot of time away from school. "He became known as the e-mail dean," says a senior figure from a rival school. But being out there, pressing the flesh, selling the institution, tracking down alumni (Sir Iain Vallance, former chairman of British Telecommunications, Merlyn Lowther, chief cashier of the Bank of England, and Tony Wheeler, founder of the Lonely Planet publishers, have all passed through the school) to solicit donations is the American business school way.

Doing things the American way did not endear Quelch, former marketing professor at Harvard, to all his colleagues. Some believe he oversold himself in the process of marketing the school. "Quelch's portrayal as the dean who took the LBS into the international top league rankled with some," says an LBS staffer. "The feeling here was that it was his predecessor, George Bain, who did most to put the LBS up there, though John certainly did more than George to confront the fundraising issue."

Quelch's salary has been another source of irritation. At £266,000, it dwarfed that of his nearest peer, Sir Stewart Sutherland, Vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, who earned a mere £149,000 last year. Quelch was labelled a "fat cat" by lecturer unions but his argument was simple: if you want to be in the business school big-league, you have to pay big-league salaries.

It is almost inconceivable that Tyson will be coming to the LBS for less money. But her pay packet may ruffle fewer feathers, for, by all accounts, she has a more soothing, diplomatic manner than Quelch. Her managerial style has been described as "breezy" and inclusive, and it is said her particular strength is communications and public relations. Any British business school dean needs almost to contort themselves to satisfy their institution's various interest groups. Tyson learned to find the middle ground in her delicate role as chair of White House Council of Economic Advisers. Even some of the right-wingers who feared that Tyson was too "loony left" to be trusted with the US economy were won over by her steady, sensible approach.

The assumption might be made that her experience at Haas will have taught Tyson all she needs to know about fund-raising. In fact, Haas does not enjoy the huge endowments and alumni donations that schools like Harvard can boast. Its culture as part of UC Berkeley is more like that of the public sector and Haas, at least until Tyson took over three years ago, has relied heavily on public funding and tuition fees. The struggle to bring in more private money to fund Haas's expansion may inform Tyson's approach at the LBS.

Tyson has said her family is the major consideration in her career choices. That her only child has just reached university age may have freed up her options. Her screen writer husband, Erik Tarloff, relocated to Washington when Clinton offered his wife a job. Tarloff adapted. He became a celebrity by writing about his Washington travails. He will now accompany Tyson to Britain. It remains to be seen whether London will offer him fresh inspiration.

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