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The Insider Perspective: Six Decades at MIT Sloan

Edward RobertsEdward Roberts, David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology and Founder and Chair, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship

Perspectives from alumnus and long-time faculty member Edward Roberts, SB ’57, SM ’57, SM ’60, PhD ’62, David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology, Founder and Chair, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

In the mid-1950s, I began taking undergraduate subjects in Course 15 as overloads in my MIT Course 6 (EE) schedule. This continued until 1958, when I came over to work with Jay Forrester in starting System Dynamics, registering for classes as a Course 15 Master’s student, finishing that degree in February 1960, and then continuing on to my PhD studies in economics.

The Department and School were small in faculty and student body and most of the subjects were quite quantitatively oriented. Course 15 in the 1950s and ’60s, both undergrad and grad, was more or less a quantitative industrial engineering program, with various aspects of management as “add-ins.” The student body was almost entirely male Americans, mainly with technical backgrounds, and very little work experience except for the then small Sloan Fellows Executive Program. Today, we are a very different place.

I watched and participated as MIT Sloan transformed into a strong theory-and-practice “real” management school, with male and female students drawn from all over the world. Students now come with varied educational backgrounds and rich work experiences in industry and government, from large firms and entrepreneurial startups. The programs the School offers are now quite diverse. A faculty member might teach marketing to undergraduates and a few days later lecture to 41-year-old EMBAs. But at all levels, the students today are much smarter and far more experienced than we were 55 years ago, with knowledge coming from their own years of work and from interactions with each other.

Since coming to MIT Sloan as a full-time RA in 1958 and then joining the faculty as an assistant professor in 1961, I have devoted the rest of my life to multiple areas of research, teaching, and outside related action. It has been my good fortune to participate in three revolutionary developments that have produced great consequences.

Together, a small number of us created System Dynamics from scratch—the ideas, tools, techniques, classroom materials, practical applications—and brought it to the world. We raised the bar on how comprehensive and complex managerial problems might be tackled and resolved, and affected managerial thinking about large-scale issues. That System Dynamics pioneering continues today.

Nearly concurrently in 1962, with NASA funding, we launched the first major business school attack on managing research, development, and technology-based innovation. Our research studies persuaded large industrial firms and government agencies to change the way they organized, funded, and directed R&D people, projects, and programs. With the creation of the MIT Management of Technology (MOT) program, MIT’s first educational effort with degrees granted by both the Engineering and Management Schools, our research and teaching methods were adopted by over 200 universities worldwide, creating lasting global impact.

Next, we initiated an ambitious program in cross-campus entrepreneurship that brings potential MIT Sloan company founders into contact and collaboration with their technology counterparts. Over the years the recruited faculty’s teaching and research grew apace, and, even more impressively, the student activities contributed to MIT alumni launching an economic miracle of job-providing new enterprises. Today, MIT Sloan is unique among management schools as a leader in stimulating rigor-based innovative entrepreneurship. New companies are created each year, by younger and younger entrepreneurs, with each one increasingly likely to found multiple companies over his or her lifetime. And in doing this with the rest of MIT as partners, MIT Sloan’s example inspires and instructs the world.