01 Mar 2016

HBS Fund Helps Fuel Faculty Research and New Learning Experiences


Data’s Double Duty: Research and the Real World

As Raffaella Sadun was wrapping up her Corporate Strategy course last fall, one of her students sent her a four-page analysis of the private equity industry in India, a topic the class had touched on during a case discussion. On his own initiative, the student had interviewed industry leaders to better understand the barriers to growth that Indian private equity firms face — his analysis echoing findings from Sadun’s own research. “It built on intuitions that I already had, but seeing firsthand experiences was great input,” says Sadun, the Thomas S. Murphy Associate Professor of Business Administration. An enterprising MBA student independently working to further existing research, she says, is “one of the interactions that you won’t find at other schools.”

This kind of real-world input is especially relevant to Sadun, an economist who sees her research as helping firms build actionable solutions to their business challenges. Sadun’s research is developed from management practice data that she and her colleagues compiled by interviewing business leaders across the globe. For instance, to determine how competing priorities can affect a family business, her team spoke to more than 1,100 CEOs, eventually finding striking differences in managerial styles and productivity in firms run by family members relative to their external counterparts. Over the past several years, Sadun and her colleagues have interviewed 15,000 managers in 34 countries, leading to observations on everything from incentivization to the effects of competition on how firms are organized. “There is a branch of my field that is closer to philosophy,” she says. “Ultimately, though, I want to have an impact on the real world, not just academia.”

Insights pulled from the data, Sadun says, can extend beyond private firms. She wants to see if her research can help decrease mortality rates in neonatal intensive care units by increasing accountability and communication and teaching doctors to be better managers. “I’m trying to understand how my work can impact the public sector,” she says.

This is, admittedly, a daunting undertaking that will require untold amounts of data and research — and funding. But Sadun says that’s a credit to another unique characteristic of her work-place. “HBS is very open to developing big ideas,” she says. And thanks to the support of her research from the HBS Fund for Leadership and Innovation, she feels a bit less like an economist and a bit more like an entrepreneur.

(photo by Russ Campbell)

“I want to have an impact on the real world, not just academia.... HBS is very open to developing big ideas...”

Raffaella Sadun, Thomas S. Murphy Associate Professor of Business Administration


An Immersion in Private Equity and Real Estate

A. Eugene Kohn (far right), chairman, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, and a senior lecturer at HBS, with students in the firm’s New York offices. (photo by Dana Maxson)

“...we had the opportunity to meet some of the most brilliant people who are contributing to the life of the city...”

Arthur Segel, the Poorvu Family Professor of Management Practice

During the week in early January when the Dow dropped more than 1,000 points, 33 second-year HBS students were, coincidentally, in New York City discussing the post–Great Recession economy with investors Bill Ackman (MBA 1992), Ray Dalio (MBA 1973), and Stan Druckenmiller. The students were participants in an Immersive Field Course (IFC) led by Arthur Segel, the Poorvu Family Professor of Management Practice.

The course, Private Equity and Real Estate in New York City, provided hands-on learning through unscripted student-led discussions with some of the sectors’ most influential players—many of them HBS alumni—and opportunities for students to work on group projects at nine companies, including Barclays Capital, Barneys, Elliott Management, and Jonathan Rose Companies. The issues they tackled ranged from crowdsourcing and e-commerce, to renewable energy generation and development of buildings for use by charter schools.

IFCs are topic-oriented and designed to give MBA students in the Elective Curriculum deep engagement in the field by working with local organizations for up to two weeks. The NYC course included four on-campus sessions in the fall that laid the groundwork for the 10-day immersion. It gave students access to numerous innovators in investing and securitization, as well as leading real estate developers, including Mike Fascitelli (MBA 1982), Barry Sternlicht (MBA 1986), and Owen Thomas (MBA 1987), who shared insights about industry trends and challenges.

At Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, architects of 10 and 30 Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate project in the United States, Chairman A. Eugene Kohn explained how an idea moves from drawing board to skyscraper, after which students toured the site. They also met with US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and Sir James Wolfensohn (MBA 1959), former president of the World Bank, to gain a better understanding of America’s financial capital from a global vantage point.

The course exceeded students’ expectations. “We were able to talk with real estate and investment people who shared their perspectives on what’s going to happen with the economy during a tumultuous time worldwide,” says Keir Evans (HBS 2016). For classmate Caitlin Haught, the biggest takeaway was that “as MBA students we can make a large impact on the world not only through investing and real estate, but also by giving back.”

Observes Segel: “New York is still the center of the world, and we had the opportunity to meet some of the most brilliant people who are contributing to the life of the city and the global economy. They have extraordinary stories to tell, and it was fascinating for the students to hear about the paths they’ve chosen, especially as they look to the next step in their own careers.”


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