01 Feb 2001
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Porter Appointed to University Professorship

Re: Kim Clark; Robert Merton
by Doug Gavel

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His books can be found on the shelves of CEOs, heads of state, academicians, and business school students alike. Countries and companies all over the world have embraced his theories on competition and strategy in the expanding global marketplace. His work has been applied to a variety of important social issues, from the economic development of U.S. inner cities to environmental concerns.

Michael E. Porter (MBA '71), the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration, whose prodigious research and course development efforts center on both economic theory and business practice, has been appointed to a University Professorship, the highest professional distinction for a Harvard faculty member.

"It's a great honor," said Porter. "I am also proud to follow in the footsteps of my late HBS teacher, mentor, and friend, Chris Christensen, as a University Professor. This appointment is particularly important to me since the scope of my work has broadened considerably over the years." Porter's first area of interest examines how firms compete in industries and gain competitive advantage. The next focuses on locations and why some cities, states, or nations can be more competitive or prosperous than others. And the third area, which arose from the second, looks at ways to apply competitive thinking to social problems. "This University Professorship will multiply the opportunities I have for cross-disciplinary research and enable me to work with many other Harvard scholars," commented Porter.

Porter will hold the Bishop William Lawrence University Professorship, named after a member of the Harvard Corporation who played a key role in raising the funds from banker George F. Baker that led to the building of the HBS Soldiers Field campus in the 1920s. It is the twentieth in a line of venerable positions endowed at Harvard since 1936. University Professors are encouraged to cross over disciplinary boundaries in their research and often divide their time between their "home" departments or schools and other units.

HBS Dean Kim B. Clark called the appointment "a wonderful tribute to Mike, who during almost three decades on our faculty has been a pioneer in using economic principles to solve important problems in competitiveness. In an array of groundbreaking books, articles, and papers that combine deep and rigorous scholarship with real-world relevance and applicability, he has created a body of work that is required reading for students, academicians, practitioners, and political leaders around the world," Clark said.

Clark noted that the impact of Porter's ideas has long stretched beyond HBS to classrooms and boardrooms, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, and numerous nations abroad as well as U.S. inner cities. "As the fourth University Professor in the 93-year history of HBS — a group that includes Nobel laureate Robert C. Merton, the late C. Roland Christensen, and the late Sumner H. Slichter — he can now use his great skills in teaching and research to make important contributions throughout the University," said Clark.

Porter joined the HBS faculty in 1973 after earning his doctorate in business economics at Harvard, and he soon became one of the School's youngest tenured professors. A prolific scholar, he has written 16 books and more than 75 articles. His 1980 volume Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors, which has since been translated into nineteen languages, is considered the pioneering treatise on corporate competition and strategy. His Competition and Strategy course is a core requirement in the School's MBA curriculum.

"Mike Porter is probably the world's most influential business academic and one of a handful of the most influential who has ever lived," said HBS professor Thomas K. McCraw, Isidor Straus Professor of Business History. "His insights and models regarding competitive strategy have become the canon in this area of study and the starting point for a considerable amount of work by other scholars around the globe. In short, he has reconstituted the field of business strategy."

— Doug Gavel

A version of this article was published in the December 7, 2000 edition of the Harvard UniversityGazette.

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