01 Aug 2002
For Alumni Only: Breakthrough Insights Program Debutsby Laura SingletonTopics:
Rapid changes in technology and the shifting realities of the global marketplace make
lifelong learning a necessity for all professional managers, and those in the HBS
alumni community are no exception. To give alumni the chance to sample the latest
faculty thinking on some of the most pressing business issues of the day, last May
the School launched Breakthrough Insights, a new Executive Education program
developed especially for alumni.
Commenting on the program, Professor Howard Stevenson, senior associate dean for
External Relations, emphasized the unique learning environment that exists in a
classroom of experienced alumni students. Building on this knowledge, Breakthrough
Insights is content-rich, designed to stimulate the sharing of a variety of useful
new ideas for business leaders rather than to focus on a single topic. For people
who are doing important things, even one thought-provoking idea can create a ripple
effect when participants return to their companies, said Stevenson.
In creating the program, Professor Richard Vietor, senior associate dean for
Executive Education, sought to achieve broad-based appeal by selecting five faculty
presenters with recently published research in several different areas. The approach
evidently succeeded, as the program sold out, attracting eighty attendees from
nineteen different countries. Just over half were MBA alumni, with the balance
divided evenly among AMP, OPM, and PMD graduates.
Participants got acquainted Sunday at a reception and dinner, and classroom
discussions began Monday morning with Associate Professor Michael Watkins, author of
Breakthrough Business Negotiation. Watkins taught a case exploring the unexpected
challenges faced by M. Douglas Ivester in exercising effective leadership during his
two-year tenure as chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company.
Professor Richard Tedlow then dealt with leadership issues from a historical
perspective, focusing on Charles Revson, the colorful Revlon founder who was among
those profiled in Tedlow's recent book, Giants of Enterprise. His session examined
the roots of eth-ical decay in America's quiz show scandal of the 1950s, which was
driven in part by the aggressive tactics of key sponsor Revlon.
The next morning, Professor Debora Spar also turned to history for context. Advancing
themes from her book Ruling the Waves, Spar illustrated how recent revolutionary
technological developments in fact can be seen as replays of past situations where
pioneers of free enterprise tangled with the interests of government. Her case
focused on Network Associates' efforts to market its encryption software algorithms
globally, despite national security concerns raised by the U.S. government.
Tuesday afternoon, participants seemed to have settled back into the classroom quite
comfortably, as Professor David Yoffie observed at the start of his session: Two
minutes late starting, and half a dozen seats are empty — some things don't change.
Yoffie launched a case discussion analyzing Microsoft's success, using it as a
springboard to introduce the principles of judo strategy from his recent book of
the same name. Yoffie suggested that using the judo strategy approach allows small,
agile start-ups to turn an opponent's size into a disadvantage.
The closing presentation was delivered by Senior Research Fellow and Director of the
HBS Life Sciences Project Juan Enriquez, who described the wide-ranging effects of
the mapping of the human genome. He asserted that having incomplete understanding now
doesn't lessen the technology's impact.
Not knowing what the continents looked like didn't alter the fact that the world had
changed in 1492, said Enriquez, invoking the voyage of Columbus. He illustrated his
argument with a case on the biotechnology firm Biogen, where a seemingly innocuous
decision to license databases of new proteins discovered through genomic research
wound up completely transforming the company's product-development process.
As Vietor led the group in a final discussion evaluating the program, many
participants felt that they learned as much from each other as from the presenters.
Said Jacqueline Heslop McCook (MBA '84): The power of this program is in the
diversity not only of the faculty members but also of the attendees.
They also expressed appreciation for the diversity of ideas shared, echoing the
sentiments of Giles Bateman (MBA '71), who said, I'll be learning from this for the
next six months. Vietor told the enthusiastic group that a similar alumni seminar
will be held next year, incorporating feedback from this initial event. Stevenson
added, This was an experiment, but it worked out incredibly well.
— Laura Singleton (MBA '88)