01 Mar 2013

A Conversation with Dean Nohria

In December, the Bulletin sat down for an informal discussion with Dean Nitin Nohria. Highlights of his remarks follow.



Under your leadership, there seems to be an emphasis on involving HBS alumni in advancing the School's objectives. Is that fair to say?

We've long benefited from alumni engagement in the work of the School as case protagonists, student conference speakers, and the like. But there is tremendous benefit to doing more, as is evident from our recent experience with the School's US Competitiveness Project. In pondering how to better understand the prospects for American competitiveness, we realized that our alumni represent a unique resource. Indeed, their response to our first survey was strong—we heard from roughly 10,000 graduates—and deeply insightful. And a number of alumni clubs are helping us translate our findings into action. We are seeing the same enthusiasm for our "Life and Leadership After HBS" survey in conjunction with the Women's 50th, where we are exploring how we can best accelerate the advancement of women leaders in support of the School's mission. We have a capital campaign upcoming, and one of its principal goals is to foster new types of engagement between our alumni and the School. These examples illustrate why I very much hope that will happen.

Speaking of goals, one of your priorities is to ensure—through FIELD and other initiatives—that the School, though Boston-based, is a truly international institution. What are some of the ways that "global" manifests itself at HBS?

It's important to remember that HBS has been global from its founding:
Our very first MBA class included students from Brazil and Canada. Today, 34 percent of our students and 42 percent of our faculty hail from outside the United States. Additionally, this past year more than 50 percent of the cases written were global in focus. Beyond that, we think we can offer a unique depth of insight on a global scale. Consider, for example, an annual conference for Brazilian leaders we've been hosting with some of our University colleagues. What's interesting is that we don't necessarily try to teach the Brazilians about Brazil—we'll rarely replicate the sort of expertise that can be developed regionally. Instead, we offer cases on India, China, and other emerging markets to help the participants better understand the world.

Later this year, we're opening our eighth global research center, in Istanbul. Rich in history, Istanbul provides a vantage point from which we can understand not only Turkey but also the many Eastern European, central Asian, and Middle Eastern countries that border it.

Every day, in highly visible ways and others that are less so, HBS is a fully engaged international institution.

What's ahead for HBS after the University's launch of its online portal, EdX?

We're thinking hard about how we can develop a suite of distinctively HBS online materials—what we're calling HBX. One effort, pre-MBA, includes courses to help people learn the fundamentals of business before they begin their jobs or enroll in an MBA program. Another explores how we can re-create a virtual section experience. A third focuses on entrepreneurship, combining the best of what we have learned at the Harvard i-lab and the Rock Center. Although online learning isn't new, new technologies are opening up a wide range of intriguing possibilities—it's definitely an interesting moment in this arena, and one we find exciting.

What other developments are you excited about?

The success of the FIELD course, though still a work in progress, has greatly enriched the required curriculum and inspires us to find ways to ensure that the second-year experience is equally compelling for our students. In November, faculty from our Healthcare Initiative partnered with colleagues from Harvard Medical School to host a conference on healthcare innovation; we hope to find similarly effective ways of connecting research to practice among our other initiatives. The i-lab continues in its extraordinary role of bringing together students from across the University and turning new ideas into practice. Meanwhile, our yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the enrollment of women in the full-time MBA Program is providing us with a wonderful series of commemorative and forward-looking events. And all this only hints at the energy and activity unfolding around us every day.

What are your thoughts as next year's capital campaign approaches?

The campaign will be a celebration of our alumni, and a commitment that HBS will continue to transform lives and send forth graduates who make a difference in the world. There isn't a sphere of activity in the world where you won't find our alumni playing leadership roles. So in the coming months, we'll begin to make the case for Harvard Business School to our alumni to earn their support for our work.

As I said, this process of engagement with our alumni is an important end unto itself. That outcome is key to us because it will be a leading indicator of our success in meeting the goals—financial and otherwise—that will secure the School's mission and future.


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