Doug Breeden profile

Published in Duke Exchange magazine, Summer 2007

Doug Breeden is known for many things, but in Leavenworth, Indiana, the town of 300 in which he grew up, he is lauded for his singing voice. That is, at least by the eighty-year-old choir director of Leavenworth Presbyterian Church, a woman Breeden also calls “Mom.” That’s right, Doug Breeden: a captain of financial markets and entrepreneurship,renowned researcher, barometer of world economies, and phenomenally successful outgoing Dean of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, still sings in the church’s annual cantata when he returns home each December. At age fifty-six.

Next time you have trouble getting your twelve-year-old to finish his homework, tell him this story. Because when a man like Breeden, who is as sought after by Duke MBA alumni in Tokyo as Justin Timberlake is by the world’s prepubescent population, still listens to his mother, it must be a sure-fire strategy to becoming a global success.

Truth is, as Breeden steps down from the Dean’s post this summer after six years of building Fuqua to new heights, the footprints of his Leavenworth roots are evident in many of his accomplishments, so deep that there has been room for all of Duke’s Fuqua community to step inside them. To learn, as Breeden already understood, that those Midwestern, simplistic-but-powerful ideas like a can-do attitude, creative know-how, and helping others can be translated into business acumen and exported to mint a Duke MBA brand powered by organic leadership, top-flight research and entrepreneurship, and the effervescent guidance of positive world impact.

Something to sing about, indeed.

“Doug has led as an entrepreneur,” said Gordon Soenksen, associate dean for development and alumni relations at Fuqua. “He is continually looking for new ideas, always chasing kaizen, that Japanese term for continuous innovation and improvement. Twenty years from now, people will look back on Doug’s time as Dean and remember it as the era when Fuqua’s academic strength and power began its global rise. And a lot of that history will be driven by the men and women he brought here to work.”

It’s no secret that Breeden’s most important task when he returned to Duke in 2001, where he had taught finance from 1985 to 1992, was to increase both the size and depth of the business school’s faculty. And he did, pushing the number of tenure-track faculty from seventy-nine in 2001–2002 to ninety-six this year. He not only hooked them, but he lured them from the best and brightest of places: Wharton, Stanford, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon, to name a few.

“The pitch for me has been the school’s strategy, and the same reason I decided to become Dean here and not at other schools that approached me,” Breeden said. “Duke has a lot of students and faculty who want to change the world, and I like that. We do it with both research and teaching, and we don’t want to choose between the two.”

Breeden has been so successful at increasing the quality of Fuqua’s faculty that he has found himself on the other end of the professor chase these last couple of years, with his faculty now the target of attempted poachings by those same big, bright places from which he became accustomed to plucking people for Duke.

“I take it as a compliment,” he said with a smile. “This is a problem you want to have.”

Breeden’s ability to rapidly increase Fuqua’s faculty strength also shows his fidelity to and understanding of academia said S. “Vish” Viswanathan, the Robert L. Dickens Professor of Finance at Fuqua, and a man whom Breeden helped recruit to Duke in the mid-1980s when he was a senior finance professor.

“Doug is very unusual in that he was first a very successful academic, he built a finance faculty group at Fuqua, then co-founded and successfully ran the money-management firm, Smith Breeden, and then he came back (to Duke),” says Viswanathan. ”But he’s always been true to the basics, he’s always valued academic excellence. What Doug always emphasized was that the quality of the faculty had to be top 10. Not just in one area or two areas, but across the board.”

The foundation of a great business school

Breeden knew a little bit about the influence of an exceptional teaching and research squadron among the world’s greatest universities. Everywhere he studied as a young economics and finance student in the late 1960s through the 1970s, future Nobel prize-winning teachers seemed to fall from the sky and land in his lap: Myron Scholes and Robert Merton, Franco Modigliani, Robert Engle, William Sharpe, and Joseph Stiglitz. These were the sorts of experiences that made him confess his love for academic research, the kind of people who made him realize the importance of the work—and later, as Fuqua Dean, the significance of institutions who hired the kind of men and women who held in their intellect the potential to change the world.

And so Fuqua now has bright minds like Wes Cohen, whose study of how patent policy and intellectual property rights encourage research is particularly relevant among pharmaceutical companies in the Raleigh-Durham area. And husband-wife duo Gavan Fitzsimons and Tanya Chartrand, who delved into the unusual science of nagging, yielding information on compliance behavior that sheds light on both roommates and coworkers. And Dan Ariely, who does fundamental research in behavioral economics.

According to the Financial Times, Fuqua faculty were ranked seventh in the world in research in 2007. In turn, those minds have helped Breeden achieve another goal at Fuqua that he believes is pivotal not just for the success of a business school, but for the health of markets and economies across the world: the growth of the doctoral program. Not only has the number of PhD students grown from forty-seven to more than eighty since 2001, but Duke’s central administration reported that Fuqua students were at the top of the list in a review of campus-wide doctoral students’ placements at top universities.

“Great faculty attracts other great faculty, which attracts great students and attracts those people who want to hire from the school,” said Gerald Hassell, president of The Bank of New York and chairman of Fuqua’s Board of Visitors. “That’s the foundation of a great business school.”

For Breeden, the doctoral program is a chance to teach Fuqua minds all those lessons that MBA students don’t have time to learn in their two-year stints, an especially exciting concept to a man for whom research serves to inspire innovation.

“You’re really trying to expand the sphere of knowledge, trying to break out of that ball,” Breeden said. “Faculty always try to teach PhD students everything they know, and then have them, through their dissertation and subsequent research, develop new things that none of us know. Doctoral students push us all to think our highest thoughts. That’s what the greatest universities in the world do.”

Breeden, who is well-known for his oft-cited 1979 research on intertemporal asset pricing and consumption, will himself return to teaching and research this fall at Fuqua—satisfying an itch that, for great minds, can only be relieved with the tonic of spending hours thinking deeply through a new question. That’s a luxury that Breeden hasn’t had as Dean. But he has plenty of ideas on tap, including revisiting macroeconomics and asset pricing. Colleagues say his mind is always working, so much so that even Breeden admits that he and wife, Josie, sometimes spend a good deal of their time talking about new ideas.

“Every day, he’s coming up with a new question that could very easily have great impact,” said Soenksen, who adds that he regularly receives e-mails from Breeden that were typed at 2 a.m.

Built to last

In Indiana, the Breeden family were known as entrepreneurs—and as leaders—so it comes as no surprise that their son would take on those characteristics, as well. They built a chicken business and restaurants, and Breeden’s father, Russell, was mayor of Leavenworth for twenty years, as well as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives.

“We were always people who ran the largest businesses and employed people while doing great things for the community,” Breeden said of his family. “I suppose that it was in my blood to be a leader.”

Of course, there was something else, another reason why Breeden founded a money-management firm and owns almost ten businesses, including three banks, a golf course, two restaurants and an inn: “I’ve always been a little bit uncomfortable having a boss who could fire me,” he joked. “If I own the place, that doesn’t happen.”

Mainly, though, Breeden liked the feeling of developing new products or services, employing others, and contributing to the economy in a positive way. That spirit of entrepreneurship and leadership was one he felt Duke must elevate to be a major business school. To that end, Breeden captained the start of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship in 2001, the Fuqua/Coach K Center of Leadership and Ethics in 2002, and the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Fuqua in 2005, which collaborates with the engineering, medical, and law schools at Duke, among others, to help facilitate the transfer of knowledge to other entities—especially businesses in the technology-rich Research Triangle Park.

Breeden’s own experience as an entrepreneur and businessman made his time as Dean more successful. One of his staple business strategies comes from James Collins’ and Jerry Porras’ book, Built to Last: “Try a lot of stuff, and see what works.” As Breeden notes, the simple management idea has worked well at Fuqua, particularly when he decided to turn one idea that was not creating enough revenue—the Fuqua School of Business Europe—into an alliance with the University of Frankfurt. What rose in its place was the dual-degree Duke Goethe Executive MBA program.

“We tried something that didn’t work, but that didn’t mean we needed to give up on Germany,” Breeden said.

Duke Goethe is just one of a growing handful of global alliances Fuqua has pursued under Breeden’s watch, with another dual-degree program at Seoul National University in Korea, and a partnership with the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad. More global alliances such as these likely are on the way for Fuqua, Breeden said, which will add to the more than 1,200 alumni already working abroad. That fact brings the Leavenworth kid in him, the one who once thought no place on earth was better than small-town Indiana, a great sense of pride.

“When this idea of reaching out and sending our students to so many parts of the world first dawned on me, I felt like a megalomaniac as I was laying out our strategy,” Breeden said, laughing. “But Duke University is not going to be bought out in ten years or even fifty years. We’re likely to go on for centuries, and over the centuries, we can build a network, and we can touch almost every part of the globe.”