Uncommon Interview: Ted Snyder

By Jen Glickel

With the new Hyde Park campus of the Graduate School of Business (GSB) up and running, we saw fit to interview the dean of the GSB, Ted Snyder. A former U of C Ph.D. student in economics, Snyder shed light on how he ended up a dean at the University for the new GSB campus and shared some interesting personal stories.

Chicago Maroon: Where are you from originally? What were your childhood and schooling like?

Ted Snyder: I was born in Pennsylvania, but grew up in New England. My schooling was haphazard, but I had some great public school teachers along the way. My parents had a pretty wide view of the world, and so I grew up with a consciousness about big issues, like race, the Vietnam War, and religious conflicts. Like a lot of ’70s kids, I became skeptical about those stating good intentions, laying a foundation for a more disciplined approach to analysis.

CM: What attracted you to the University of Chicago in particular?

TS: The specific decision in spring 2001 to take the job was greatly influenced by my confidence in the University’s leadership. Mr. Randel visited me and we talked at length. The bottom line is that I know that he valued the GSB and that we wouldn’t waste a lot of time and effort on internal stuff.

CM: What was the stimulation behind the construction of the new Hyde Park GSB campus? What does it have to offer that is different from the Gleacher Center campus downtown?

TS: Well, before my time the GSB saw the need for more space and faced the choice between yet another building in Hyde Park (Rosenwald, Stuart, Walker, and Edelstone) or build a new center that brought everyone together. The sitting was a source of big-time conflict within the University and the site on Woodlawn raised a lot of concern in the Hyde Park neighborhood. The main differences from Gleacher are that this is where our faculty spend the vast majority of their time, and the space is designed so that our full-time students can be productive and comfortable over a long day.

CM: Ostensibly, the new GSB campus seems to be thriving quite successfully. Just how successful is the new GSB from your perspective?

TS: It’s a 10 and we knew it immediately. The Rothman Winter Garden is like a town square. We’re all in the center. Plus, compared to other business schools, I view the Hyde Park center as a great platform for our work as opposed to a great building. It doesn’t overwhelm with an over-the-top feel. Many nights when I leave I thank the people who made it possible and say to myself, “Raphael Viñoly (the architect) is a genius.”

CM: What inspired the recent decision to move the GSB’s European campus from Barcelona to London?

TS: London is such a great stage-the most globally connected city, our third most important city in terms of alumni, and a base of operations for the vast majority of our corporate partners. With a decade of success in Barcelona, we feel confident that we can compete effectively in London. Early signs are good.

CM: Apparently, you’re a big Risk player. I was told that you played Risk with Mayor Daley and his son last spring. Could you elaborate on this?

TS: Here’s the background to a memorable evening. My wife Kim and I donated a Risk game (with a decent cash prize, food, and beer) for the annual charity auction run by our MBA students. Mr. Daley’s son put in the winning bid and brought his dad to the game. After early exits, the mayor and I talked politics—local, national, and international.

CM: What was the University of Chicago like when you were here as a graduate student? How has it changed since then?

TS: I benefited greatly from the toughest intellectual challenge of my life. “Transformational” is the word that comes to mind. But it was more—I recognized the power of an environment where ideas competed in something close to a meritocracy. Hyde Park and the city have gotten yet better. The only thing I miss is the old Bartlett—the best gym I ever experienced.

CM: I know you are an accomplished athlete, as you still hold Colby College’s Individual Record for the Triple Jump that you set in 1972. What role do athletics play in your life now, 30 years later?

TS: The lesson here is go to a small school and focus on an obscure event. My only sport now is golf, but competition remains very important to me and it influences how I frame my job—competition for world-class faculty, the best students, influence, and so on.