Thursday, May 06, 2010

There is a lot to be learnt from Indian companies: HBS Dean

Harvard Business School (HBS) may not build a campus in India, but it is committed to expanding its presence and reach through its research centre, which is creating intellectual capital that can be widely used in other parts of the world, said Nitin Nohria. The newly-appointed Dean of HBS said management education is best derived from actual practices of managers and there is a lot to be learnt from Indian companies. We have written over 50 case studies on Indian companies for use in the classrooms at Harvard, said Mr Nohria. They offer learnings on how companies build large-scale distribution systems, how they set up systems for recruiting that touch a vast number of people, and how they fill institutional voids.

Asked what his policy agenda would be, the new dean said that it would emerge from discussions with colleagues and students in the coming weeks. But I do know my priority is to make this a period of innovation at Harvard. We want to be a beacon for education and create business leaders for the next century. HBS is already experimenting with different kinds of pedagogy, including immersion programmes that send students out to different countries and different industries. But theres no plan to move away from its trademark case study pedagogy. The innovations were introducing will complement the case study method and we hope they will be as sticky as the case study method. His new responsibilities notwithstanding, Prof. Nohria hopes he will be able to continue teaching. I'd be very sad if I were disconnected from the classroom. My first love has always been teaching, and I intend to do everything I can to stay connected with students and the classroom.

Last year, he introduced a mandatory course for first-year students called Leadership & Corporate Responsibility. Its a theme he is passionate about and he has even propounded the idea of a kind of Hippocratic Oath for business. I believe business has a vital role to play in society and it needs to be conducted with honour, he said. In the past few years, society has lost faith in business because it has let short-term profit overshadow long-term interests. We've been trying to get our students to understand this. They have to see their careers as a marathon, not a sprint. This means contributing to the world, not just your own life.

IIT-Bombay gave him a fabulous education, he said, providing life-lessons that have served him well in his career. The IIT taught me to survive anything. Being in the USA was challenging in the initial years and my IIT experience really helped. We should be proud of the IITs and what they do for their students.

Prof. Nohria considers the Indian-American immigrant experience to be similar to that of immigrant communities that came to the USA before, a subject that he has explored in his book Paths To Power: How Insiders and Outsiders Shaped American Business Leadership. I am proud to be an American citizen, he said. We all started off in a few narrow fields like medicine, engineering and teaching, but Indian-Americans now see opportunities in all walks of life, from Hollywood to literature to politics. My father taught me to follow my passion and thats the advice I give my students.

That's actually a standard piece of advice. But Prof. Nohria's most important life-lesson, the one he passes on to his students in the very last classroom session on every course he takes, is something else. He talks to them about generosity: Life gives it all back to you in more ways than you can imagine.

Source: The Economic Times, May 5, 2010

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