07 Sep 2016
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Appreciating the Big Role of Small Business

A class at Harvard teaches MBA students the joys—and opportunities—of running a small firm.
Re: Richard Ruback; Royce Yudkoff

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Photo by Susan Young

“Why isn’t anyone talking about Joe the Plumber in this presidential election?” Dean Nitin Nohria asks in a new opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, in which he makes a case for the vital role of small business in the America’s economic landscape.

In the article, Nohria expresses concern over the conventional path promoted by many business schools—leading students to aspire to join large-scale corporations or to pursue the fast track of the startup world, versus following the less glamorous or seemingly less lucrative work of handling the daily fundamentals of running a small enterprise, in the mode of the fabled Joe the Plumber.

“The neglect of small businesses stems in part from the sense that they aren’t very dynamic—that in contrast with startups, they don’t really grow or change from year to year,” Nohria writes.

At Harvard Business School, he notes, professors Richard Ruback and Royce Yudkoff are leading the course Financial Management of Smaller Firms, in which students learn how to identify, acquire, and run small firms. This popular class has led to a shift in mindset, helping HBS MBAs see new opportunities for innovation and growth, for steady incomes or profitable returns on investment.

This shift may not bring Joe the Plumber back to the forefront of the US presidential campaign, Nohria says, but the future of the US small business sector is a topic worthy of debate.

Read Dean Nohria’s complete opinion piece.

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