01 Dec 2002

Think Globally, Teach Locally

by Julia Hanna

When HBS professor F. Warren McFarlan moved to Vevey, Switzerland, in 1973, it was his first experience living outside the United States. “I had three degrees from Harvard, and my major lifetime move had been from the western suburbs of Boston to Cambridge,” he recalls. That changed when McFarlan was selected as one of the first faculty team members to teach in the new International Senior Managers Program (ISMP), an eight-week Executive Education course that was offered by the School in Vevey until 1983.

“It was a remarkable success,” says McFarlan. “We developed a wealth of new material, all of which found its way back into the HBS curriculum.” Staffing the program, however, was no easy task. “People were dragged kicking and screaming — I agreed to go because I was coming up for tenure,” he says with a smile. “Yet each of the faculty members involved described the experience as a turning point in terms of how they thought about the world and their research.” Today, McFarlan is senior associate dean, director of the School's Asia-Pacific Initiative, and chair of an Executive Education program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Nearly thirty years after that first foray abroad, he now has plenty of company: More than half of the School's faculty conducts research overseas each year. HBS professor Thomas R. Piper, who also taught in the ISMP program, currently heads two Senior Executive Programs in Africa and the Middle East. Professor Debora L. Spar is working with faculty to develop an executive training program in Africa that will use digital technology to reach students in remote areas of the continent — and allow for customization of course materials.

These and other programs continue a history of involvement that began in the 1920s and has resulted in the founding of schools around the globe, including the Instituto Centroamericano de Administración de Empresas (INCAE) in Costa Rica; the Philippines' Asian Institute of Management (AIM); the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) at Ahmedabad; and the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland, among others.

According to HBS professor Tarun Khanna, the support provided in establishing these schools (most of which were founded in the 1960s) can be seen as just one stage in the School's ongoing commitment to international research and business education. “Historically, we've always encouraged others to consider using the case method, and that has brought us into contact with constituencies overseas,” says Khanna, who is researching the influence of U.S. schools and HBS in particular on international business education. “Now we are enhancing our effort to work collectively with businesses and academics worldwide to generate globally relevant knowledge.” The formation of the HBS Global Initiative in 1996 and the opening of research centers in Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and Paris is clearly part of that movement. “It is important to our increasingly international student body — 33 percent of the MBA Class of 2003 — that our course materials are drawn from diverse country environments that illustrate cross-border and cross-cultural issues in business management,” notes HBS professor John A. Quelch, senior associate dean for International Development. “This material will help develop a respect for cultural diversity and a sense that the United States is not the only source of business best practices.” “We live in a global world, where an understanding of and presence in international issues has become a core competence,” says McFarlan. “That's why it's of such vital importance for our faculty to spend time outside the United States. You get out and see new things, new parts of the puzzle — and in the process, your work becomes more relevant.”

In the stories that follow, the Bulletin checks in on some of the School's most recent ventures in the international realm.

Teaching Teachers: CPCL Energizes the Classroom
Porter Course Goes Abroad
What You Know Depends on Where You Go: Developing An International Perspective on Research
Building a Network for Social Enterprise in Latin America


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