Monday, March 12, 2012

Teaching leadership is easier than practising it: Nitin Nohria, Dean, HBS

When he took charge as dean of Harvard Business School (HBS) 18 months ago, Nitin Nohria announced five strategic themes that would guide his administration in the years to come, all starting with the letter I: internationalisation, inclusion, intellectual ambition, innovation and integration with the rest of Harvard University. The last two he's partly achieved through the setting up of the Harvard Innovation Lab, which is now used by students and faculty from every discipline at the university.

This week, the dean was in Mumbai to take his first theme forward, with the inauguration of the Harvard Classroom at the Taj Land's End hotel. "This classroom is hugely important to us. It's designed as an exact replica of the classrooms we have at HBS and its architecture is central to our educational technology, which is the case study method," he said.

Administrative duties usually leave deans of major academic institutions with little time for teaching or research, but Nohria still manages to teach a three-day 'New CEO workshop', at HBS thrice a year, meant for first-time CEOs of companies with a turnover of at least $2 billion. "Teaching leadership is much easier than being a leader," he said ruefully. What's the greatest challenge? "Staying focussed on your priorities. It helped that I declared what my priorities were, right at the onset. Otherwise, it's very easy to get buffeted by millions of things that clamour for your time."

The new Harvard classroom at the Taj was inaugurated by Ratan Tata in the presence of a select set of HBS faculty and alumni. The inauguration was followed up with a symposium on corporate social responsibility (CSR) on Saturday, attended by top leaders from government and industry, including Union minister Praful Patel, Anu Aga, Nadir Godrej, Rajashree Birla, Roberto Zagha of The World Bank, Kishore Chaukar of Tata Sons, Ranjit Sahani of Novartis and Onne van der Weijde of Ambuja Cement. Not an easy collection of people to bring together, but as Nohria said, "Our power lies in being able to convene high quality groups for interesting conversations. This process is distinctive to us."

The new classroom, earlier the hotel's gymnasium, constitutes a CSR initiative on the part of the Tata Group, albeit one that is guided by enlightened self-interest. HBS will have free use of the classroom for 12 weeks a year for its executive development programmes, but participants will have to pay for rooms and meals. The project has been three years in the making and Nohria says there are no plans to create any more classrooms in Taj Hotels. "We really don't need any more. We're not in India to chase demand. We're here to chase knowledge."

Meanwhile, HBS is closely watching the government of India's plans to legislate a mandatory 2% expenditure on CSR for all companies with a profit after tax of 5 crore and plans to do a case study on the project in the future.

Source: The Economic Times, March 12, 2012

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