“This school will never be finished,” Schmittlein said at the dedication ceremony, echoing a remark once made by Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the 1895 MIT graduate and former chairman of General Motors who helped found the management school. But the completion of the building will create “more two-way traffic” connecting Sloan with the rest of MIT, Schmittlein said, and become a place “where science meets solutions.”
The distinctive nature of MIT Sloan — a leading management school located within an institute focused on science and technology — was a major theme of the day’s events, which included the dedication ceremony, a colloquium with eight panel discussions featuring MIT Sloan faculty, and other talks.
“If innovations don’t reach the marketplace, they don’t matter in people’s lives,” MIT President Susan Hockfield said at the dedication ceremony, which drew an overflow crowd to the building’s lobby.
The new building, as Hockfield noted, has been “carefully designed to foster unexpected collaborations” through its emphasis on public spaces, study rooms and meeting areas, all incorporated within a twisting shape. In business and innovation, Hockfield added, it is those “informal unintended conversations … that will lead to breakthrough insights.”
‘We’re here to start a company’
The new Sloan building actually opened at the start of the 2010-11 academic year, but the formal dedication, occurring at the start of Sloan’s alumni weekend, served as part of the Institute’s celebration of its 150th anniversary. The building was designed by Moore Ruble Yudell, an architecture firm based in Santa Monica, Calif.; its western wing houses the Joan and William A. Porter 1967 Center for Management Education.
Alumni traveled from 45 countries for the weekend’s events. In a panel called “The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” Ed Roberts, the David Sarnoff Professor of Management Technology at Sloan and chair of MIT’s Entrepreneurship Center, elaborated on Sloan’s special focus: bringing science and technology to market. Roughly 25,600 firms founded by MIT alumni were active in 2006, according to Roberts’ research, with a combined 3.3 million employees worldwide and about $1.8 trillion in revenues. Sloan introduced an “Entrepreneurship and Innovation” course track in 2007, and students graduating from it launched more than 40 startup firms in 2010.
As Roberts explained, his instinct is usually to tell graduating students to gain experience before launching firms, often to be told in response, “We’re here to start a company, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Fiona Murray, a Sloan professor and associate director of the Entrepreneurship Center, emphasized the importance of building links from Sloan to science and engineering students at MIT. “We try to bring students from across campus into the room,” Murray said. Earlier this month, the center’s Innovations Teams course made public presentations of several technologies nearly ready for market, from bio-inspired armor to new approaches to tissue engineering and refined solar technologies.
MIT Sloan would also like to encourage further collaboration with other MIT faculty, speakers said. “The majority of the faculty have a huge desire to have an impact,” said Gururaj Deshpande, founder and former chairman of Cascade Communications Corporation, who is now a member of the MIT Corporation and helped establish the Institute’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. In many cases, Deshpande said, managerial expertise can “help them pick and choose which ideas to pursue” with a practical eye towards the market.
The new Sloan building is also regarded as the “greenest,” most environmentally sensitive building on campus, featuring triple-insulated windows and drastically reduced energy use for lighting, heating and cooling, compared to a standard office building today.
That emphasis on the environment also represents one of the growing areas of research and teaching at Sloan. “We are really trying to change the dialogue around sustainability,” said John Sterman, Sloan’s Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management, and a driving force in making the new building environmentally friendly. “A lot of people think that sustainability is in opposition to economic growth. We disagree.”
Speaking at a panel on sustainability, Richard Locke, the Class of 1922 Professor of Political Science and Management, added that facing up to the realities of climate change and other environmental problems can lead people to states of “depression” and “denial,” which are best dealt with through a realistic appraisal of the issues. “Those problems are really, really big, but once you understand them, you can see new opportunities for firms,” Locke said, while describing how some MIT research efforts have helped multinational firms better organize their supply chains.
Sloan now offers a sustainability certificate, Locke said, adding, “We’re being driven [to focus on the issue] because the students are pulling us.”
And while the new building unites all Sloan faculty under the same roof, it also greatly expands the spaces Sloan’s students have for their work. Indeed, even while the dedication ceremony was going on, some students could be seen working together in a soundproof study room nearby on the first floor, just across a hall from the crowds.
To the students who were present at the dedication, Schmittlein added: “Your commitment gives life to the stones and glass.”