01 Feb 2002
It's academic. (Not!)Topics:
If your idea of a Ph.D. in business conjures up visions of spectacled scholars toiling in solitude in the library's darkest, dustiest corners, think again. At HBS, students in the School's Doctoral Programs are doing much more than theorizing and crunching numbers.
by Julia Hanna and Margie Kelley
by Jared Leeds
"Our students use traditional academic theory
to take on problems that have fundamental relevance in today's
business world," says Janice McCormick, executive director
of the HBS Doctoral Programs. "Many come in with practical
business experience and a strong academic background, and they
have a good idea of what they want to do with that experience
when they get here."
The flexibility and freedom of academia has an entrepreneurial
appeal that is extremely rewarding for those who want to set their
own agenda, adds McCormick. Students can pursue a doctorate of
business administration (DBA) in accounting and control, marketing,
policy and management, or technology and operations management.
Another option is a joint program with Harvard University's
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences that grants a Ph.D. in business
economics, health policy (management), information technology
and management, or organizational behavior. That broad range of
choices, coupled with the satisfaction of conducting research
in the field, generates an extraordinary demand for the handful
of available places each year. Last fall, 22 students were admitted
out of an applicant pool of 732. Once they clear the formidable
hurdle of admission, some 89 students in the programs receive
a level of backing and resources for field research that sets
HBS apart, thanks in large measure to alumni generosity.
"There's an enormous support system at HBS," observes
doctoral candidate Boris Groysberg. "The stipend, the budget,
the library - there are faculty at other schools who
don't get the same level of assistance."That assistance
means students can take on the topics that interest them most
without worrying about funding for in-the-field interviews and
other research expenses.
The School's investment in its doctoral programs creates
intellectual capital with widespread effects. After receiving
their degrees, most graduates of the DBA and Ph.D. programs go
on to influential faculty positions at HBS and other top business
schools.What they have learned will have a direct impact on shaping
and influencing the way tomorrow's leaders will change the
world. The need for management faculty has never been greater;
in recent years, a wave of faculty retirements, combined with
a shortage of graduates with advanced business degrees, has created
an intense competition among top schools seeking to hire new professors.
In the stories that follow, the Bulletin presents four members
of the next generation of business education leaders, a group
as diverse in their backgrounds and interests as they are committed
to what one student calls "the intellectual hunt."
The Big "Aha": Noam
Taking the Game to a New Level: Zeynep Ton
Finding Reason in the Irrational: Ulrike
Star Search: Boris Groysberg
On the Case: First-Year Professors Develop
a Taste for Teaching
Noam Wasserman enrolled in the MBA Program in 1997 (from
which he graduated in 1999 as a Baker Scholar), he never envisioned
a future in academia. It did not take long for his plans to change.
"During spring semester of my first year, I reflected on
what I had seen in the classroom," says Wasserman, who arrived
at HBS with five years of experience at American Management Systems
(AMS), an international business and IT consulting firm. "The
impact the professors were having on my sectionmates and me made
a deep impression." Wasserman recalled that one of the most
enjoyable aspects of his work life had been helping new recruits
at AMS develop leadership skills. "I realized that my professors
were doing what I liked to do, but with all the people in a section,
the impact was multiplied eighty times," he observes.
During his second year in the MBA Program, a research project
on CEOs with Professor Nitin Nohria confirmed Wasserman's
decision to apply to the Ph.D. program in organizational behavior.
"I love the intellectual hunt behind research," he says.
"It's a process of trying to understand elements that
initially don't seem to have any relation to one another.
When they come together, it's a big ‘aha.' You
want to be able to craft that insight in an understandable way
and communicate it to help people comprehend a world that may
seem very scattershot."
Now in his third and final year of the program, Wasserman's
research interests have broadened to include management dynamics
in entrepreneurial and venture capital firms. Despite attention
from the media, relatively little hard information exists on these
companies; Wasserman is using data collected from two hundred
start-ups over the past two years to consider issues such as compensation
dynamics, board evolution, entrepreneurial finance, and founder-CEO
He's also turning the spotlight on venture capital firms.
"VC firms have an interesting organizational structure compared
with other organizations - more of an upside-down triangle
than a traditional pyramid," notes Wasserman. "They
have a lot of senior people at the top and very few junior people
below them. Several other industries that started out that way
- such as investment banking and consulting - have evolved
into big, pyramid-shaped structures. Will VC firms go that route?
If so, what will the pattern of transition look like, and what
can we learn from it? And how will it affect the career paths
of individual venture capitalists?" Analyzing this process
has put Wasserman hot on the trail of many more areas of inquiry
that promise to expand the general perception of the VC firm as
an anonymous, black-box entity linked to a start-up with a dollar
A Los Angeles native, Wasserman, 32, met his wife (now a practicing
obstetrician) as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania,
where he received joint degrees in management and finance and
computer engineering. The couple now live in Brookline with their
five children, who range in age from one to nine. When asked about
outside interests, Wasserman smiles and gives a one-word response:
"Kids." Arriving on campus at 8 a.m. and returning home
for dinner at 5:30, his strategy is to complete the day's
work between those bookends of time and reserve evenings for family.
"I love what I do," Wasserman says modestly. "I
just try to keep as many eggs in the air at a time without having
them splat on the pavement."
Game to a New Level
Ton just wanted to play volleyball. So the teenager convinced
her parents to let her move from Bursa, Turkey, to play in a more
competitive volleyball league in Istanbul. There was a trade-off,
however: The athletics were great, but her new high school was
"I was frustrated that I couldn't get a good academic
experience," says Ton, who expects to complete her DBA in
technology and operations management this year. "Then I learned
that if I went to college in the United States, I could have both
academics and athletics."
Ton applied to colleges based on their rankings in Volleyball
magazine. In 1993, she enrolled at Penn State on a full athletic
scholarship, where she excelled in her chosen major of engineering.
"I loved that I had the opportunity to play volleyball and
study. I realized, if I love the academic environment so much,
why not continue this as a career? When Harvard accepted me, I
knew that was it."
realized, if I love the academic environment so much, why
not continue this as a career?"
Ton credits her faculty advisor, Associate Professor
Ananth Raman, with helping her to thrive in the challenging environment
at HBS. "Since I came right from college to the DBA Program,
I needed guidance in framing my field of interest," she says.
"Ananth has been a great friend. It makes me feel so good
to know that my advisor is interested in my career and my well-being."
Raman and Ton have been studying retail operation, focusing on
an operational execution issue - namely, misplaced products
at retail stores - that is costing retailers millions of
dollars in lost sales and customer goodwill. Ton is currently
working with a nationwide chain to estimate the magnitude of this
problem and identify its drivers. "We have found large and
systematic variation in performance in 250 stores of this retailer,
which is surprising because the stores are owned and operated
by the same company, have the same IT systems, and have the same
incentives for employees. Much of my research is focused on identifying
the sources of this variation." She has found that problems
in human-resources management practices, as well as some structural
issues, are to blame. Ton's findings contributed to reducing
this problem by 22 percent from 1999 to 2000 at her research site.
Determining her research focus was the most challenging aspect
of the program, Ton notes, because "your first impulse is
to take on very broad issues. It's difficult as a doctoral
student to focus on a specific area and understand it completely."
Now that she's nearly finished and looking for a faculty
position, Ton says she knows she chose the right path in more
than just the professional sense. "I've taken some great
classes and had wonderful professors, but the friendships here
made it really special for me. I've learned so much from
everyone in the program."
Volleyball isn't a big part of her life anymore, but it did
lead Ton to one other momentous change. When she first arrived
at Soldiers Field, she looked for a game at the HBS Volleyball
Club. It was there that she met a player named Carlos Gonzalez
(MBA '98). They were married in Turkey in 1999.
Reason in the Irrational
year before she enrolled in the Ph.D. program in business economics,
Ulrike Malmendier was immersed in the history of Roman
law, a subject she grants is somewhat atypical for a business
school academic. Having already completed undergraduate degrees
both in economics and in law at the University of Bonn, she went
on to receive her doctorate in law there after two years of practical
experience at Deutsche Bank. As it happens, the connections between
ancient Rome and today's business world are stronger than
one might think. "The topic of my thesis is actually very
hot in business economics today. I analyzed the effects of large-scale
privatization in the ancient corporate world. Roman society was
highly privatized - much more than even the United States
today," remarks Malmendier. "During the times of the
Republic, the Romans had a very small government, which outsourced
all kinds of economic activities. They even took bids for services
such as tax collection and street construction. The companies
that formed in the process had many elements similar to the modern
The Cologne, Germany, native says she was drawn to the HBS program
for its combination of rigorous training and applied research.
"My field of interest is the intersection of behavioral economics
and the theory of the firm, incentives, and corporate finance,"
she says. "It involves taking the biases and irrationalities
of people seriously and trying to incorporate them into economic
Most recently, that focus has led Malmendier to examine
the effect of overconfidence on corporate investment decisions.
Corporate investment, she notes, is often more driven by available
cash flow than opportunity, which doesn't follow logically
- if cash isn't available for a prime investment opportunity,
external financing should be obtained for that purpose. Reason,however,
doesn't always rule. "If the CEO is overconfident, he
will feel undervalued by the equity market, and an equity issue
will seem too expensive," she observes. "An overconfident
CEO will therefore end up investing less than he would like to
- unless internal cash flow is available."
Malmendier tested the theory by constructing a measure of overconfidence,
using the indicator of when a CEO exercises his or her stock options.
She found a strong connection between executives who habitually
hold their options longer and continue to buy stock of their own
company - suggesting their belief that the stock has nowhere
to go but up - and the CEOs whose investment activity is
linked to available cash flow.
With her degree expected in June, Malmendier is in the midst of
applying for faculty positions. She hopes to stay in the United
States. "At universities in this country, the interaction
between students and professors is much more direct. I also really
like the fact that my being a foreigner doesn't matter so
much. People are more interested in what I'm doing and what
kind of person I am."
Malmendier admits missing friends and family in Europe, however,
as well as the lifestyle of its cities. "I love the atmosphere
of the restaurants and little shops in the historic districts
there, but on the bright side, I don't have much time as
a doctoral student to sit in cafés," she laughs.
Groysberg can tell you how stars develop, what makes them
move, and the reasons they fade, without peering through a telescope.
That's because his stars aren't heavenly bodies but
"My dissertation examines how firms can achieve competitive
advantage in a knowledge-based industry," says Groysberg,
who will receive his DBA in policy and management in June. "I'm
specifically interested in ‘star' knowledge workers
- in this case, the analysts in investment banks." He
and Associate Professor Ashish Nanda have spent three years building
a proprietary data set and examining how investment banks leverage
The main question that Groysberg studied was whether or not star
knowledge workers can move from firm to firm and remain high performers.
"It was like being in search of Bigfoot - the professional
knowledge worker whose performance does not depend on the firm's
capabilities and who can move freely between firms," notes
is a school full of Michael Jordans. It makes you want to
produce because you have been given resources, time, and
more than enough attention."
He found that, like Bigfoot, this person probably does
not exist. In fact, the performance of star analysts often depends
not only on how smart or educated they are, but also on the firms
they work for. "My research found that star achievers who
switch employers show an immediate decline in performance, which
persists for at least five years," states Groysberg. "We
tend to discount how much effect a firm has on an individual employee.
But firms do have a significant impact on worker performance."
Groysberg concluded that firms that are unable to develop their
own stars usually need to hire them away from someplace else and
tend to overpay them for the level of performance they get. "So
basically, if you want to stay competitive, you have to figure
out how to develop your own best and brightest," he explains.
Born and raised in the former Soviet Union, Groysberg emigrated
with his family to Brooklyn, New York, at the age of 18 and enrolled
at New York University to study accounting. After graduating in
1994, he went to work as a financial analyst with IBM's Latin
American division for three years, planning all along to go back
to school after gaining some work experience.
"Harvard expects you to do research that has certain managerial
implications. That was attractive to me - being able to contribute
not only to theory but to practice," says Groysberg, who
seems well on his way in this regard. He was recently honored
by the Strategic Management Society (SMS) with the Booz-Allen
& Hamilton/SMS Best Ph.D. Conference Paper Fellowship for
his paper on star knowledge workers.
Looking back on his experience at Harvard, Groysberg sees a correlation
between his doctoral research subject and the way HBS supports
"I truly believe that if you placed us in a different environment,
we would be less successful," he remarks. "HBS has the
best faculty in the world - it's a school full of Michael
Jordans. It makes you want to produce because you have been given
resources, time, and more than enough attention. My dissertation
committee spent countless hours with me on my research. I'm
very grateful to be here."
On the Case:
First-Year Professors Develop a Taste for Teaching
found my lugar en el mundo - my place in the
world," remarks Instructor Francisco de Asís Martínez-
Jerez (MBA '91). The native of Spain expects to finish
his Ph.D. in business economics this spring and has taught
the first-year MBA course Financial Reporting and
"It's my dream job," he says. "Harvard offers
the best combination of teaching and research, and you couldn't
ask for a better group of students." Martínez-Jerez
worked as a McKinsey consultant after earning his MBA, returning
to Harvard for his doctoral studies in 1996. His early research,
which focused on mergers and acquisitions, analyzed the impact
of accounting information. The stock market, he found, reacts
positively to an open disclosure of a merger, coupled with independent
corporate governance. His current research concentrates on Internet
stock bulletin boards and their impact on stock market behavior.
This research is the basis for at least one case that Martínez-Jerez
used in his class. "Teaching with the case
method is extremely challenging," he comments. "I've
learned to listen to my students a lot more. They surprise
me all the time with new ways to face problems."
Clark Gilbert (DBA '01) agrees. "With the case
method, you have to feel the pulse of the classroom. You
facilitate rather than control the exchange. I'm convinced
it's the best way to learn." This month, the newly minted
assistant professor will begin teaching a section of The Entrepreneurial
Manager course to first-year MBAs.
To prepare, Gilbert has been refining teaching plans, writing
cases, and getting advice from the eight faculty members in his
teaching support group. Gilbert says that support is critical,
since the case method requires intense preparation. "I spend
more than fifteen hours on each case, and then we walk through
of each teaching plan collectively as a group. The attention to
detail is tremendous."
It was this environment and the School's extensive resources
that attracted Gilbert to HBS. Formerly a consultant with the
Monitor Group, Gilbert now advises companies in the media and
technology industries. His
doctoral research assessed the newspaper industry's response
to the Internet by looking at the new-media
ventures of one hundred U.S. newspapers. He found that many newspapers
perceived the Internet as a threat
and managed it defensively, instead of harnessing its power as
an independent vehicle of growth.
Gilbert has won several awards for his work and credits the unparalleled
training the School offers. "A lot of business schools train
you rigorously, but only within specific disciplines," says
Gilbert. "There isn't an equally
vested interest in fitting that rigor around actual managerial
challenges. At HBS, you pursue problems that matter to real managers."
The appeal of practical research also enticed HBS assistant professor
Robert Huckman, who received his Ph.D. in business economics
last year. A former principal with Stamos Associates and associate
with Booz-Allen &
Hamilton, Huckman had consulted to clients in the health-care
industry. But the fast pace of project-to-project
consulting left him little time for a deeper exploration of the
management issues he was addressing. He came
to HBS for the background required to tackle in detail the issues
he found so fascinating.
"I wanted to combine my work experience with additional exposure
to economics and research methods. HBS provided me with an ideal
setting in which to do that," he notes.
Huckman's research continues to be focused on the health-care
industry - in particular, how an organization's
history and structure can affect its adoption of new technologies.
Over time, certain technologies can become entrenched, he found,
making it difficult for an organization to innovate.
If the intellectual challenges of research initially drew Huckman
to the Ph.D. program, teaching the course in Technology and Operations
Management has proven to be equally rewarding. "The classroom
has been an amazing experience," he says. "When we discuss
a case, someone can always offer an analogy from an entirely different
sector. It makes the preparation a real challenge, but the ultimate
reward comes in hearing what eighty students have to say."
- Margie Kelley
Class of MBA 1999, Section D
Class of DBA 2002
Class of PHDBE 2002
Class of DBA 2002
Class of MBA 1991, Section H
Class of DBA 2001
Class of PHDBE 2001