The Harbus Interview

Steve Nelson has spent most of his working life at HBS, but time has not dimmed his enthusiasm for his new post as Executive Director of the MBA Program. He graduated here in 1988, and has since had a number of roles within HBS, as well as working in the private sector at Stepan Co. and Eli Lilly and Co. Before being appointed as head of the MBA program late last year, he was Executive Director of the Initiative on Social Enterprise – community work remains one of his priorities.
Harbus: What did you say to HBS that convinced them to give you the job?
Steven Nelson: I don’t think it was so much a matter of “convincing” as much as conveying my genuine interest and enthusiasm for the position. I had several reasons for my own interest in this position which still hold true, including my deep affection for the School, my respect for the leadership of HBS and the MBA Program, a personal commitment to the field of higher education, and a desire to work alongside talented students and committed faculty, not to mention a strong team of managers and staff within the six key operating units of the MBA Program (Academic Affairs, Admissions and Financial Aid, Career Services, Course Services, Program Administration, and Student Life).
H: How have you found your first hundred days?
SN: It’s been terrific. A lot has transpired in the last 3+ months, and in some ways, it feels as though I’ve been in the job much longer. Within the past few months, we’ve welcomed the January Cohort, opened and dedicated the Spangler Center, launched a new and improved external MBA website (, and after months of IT development time and effort, implemented a new Student Information System enterprise database, which is streamlining our work in Admissions, Financial Aid, Course Services, and other departments. We are also working closely with our IT department to look at ways to improve the functionality of our current student-based applications.
H: We have heard about a new scheme for international students – CPT that has just bee passed. What is it?
SN: CPT (or Curricular Practical Training) will benefit many of our international students in the RC who elect to work in the US during the summer. In short, CPT is a program authorized by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) which allows international students to work in the US with minimal processing by INS. This is a highly desirable program for many of our international students whose alternatives are to apply for a much more complicated, burdensome Optional Practical Training (OPT) status or else to forego working in the US altogether during the time between their RC and EC years. Stay tuned for more information via the cohort pages, section international representatives, and the “What’s New at HBS/MBA Version” email communication from the MBA Program office.
H: What do you plan to do over the coming months?
SN: In addition to overseeing the annual budget, planning, and performance management processes over the winter and spring months, I will be working closely with the MBA management team on issues relating to technology, marketing and outreach to prospective students and recruiters, curricular support, and the transition to a single-entry date for the incoming MBA Class of 2003. We’ve also had an excellent relationship with the Student Association, Harbus, and other student organizations over the past year, and we look forward to working with the incoming group of student leaders this term. Finally, Kirsten Moss, who’s been leading our efforts in Admissions and Financial Aid, will be assuming a new role in our HBS California Research Center, so the search for a new director is a major priority for me right now, in addition to working closely with our very strong transition team in the interim.
H: What do you think about the fact that we are no longer #1 in any MBA ranking?
SN: It’s worth noting that in 2000, HBS was ranked #1 in three of four of the major business school rankings. While we do care about the School’s reputation and standing, we don’t rely on rankings to tell us what to do or how to do it. We’re in the business of educating leaders, which is demonstrated by the unparalleled number of HBS alums who have founded and are leading enterprises around the world. We keep our focus on our mission, rather than on rankings.
H: What do you do when you are not working?
SN: After very full days at work, my life at home and within the community certainly keeps me busy as well. Family time is a real priority for me. My wife Ellen and I have children ages 8, 11, and 13, and we really treasure the times we have with them at this stage in their/our lives—whether it’s cheering them on at sporting events; attending their concerts and plays; helping with homework; or generally making time to hang out with them and talk about the big and (seemingly little) things in life. Ellen and I are also involved in our local church, as well as with some nonprofit organizations where we volunteer and serve on boards.
H: What’s your dream job?
SN: At this stage of my life, I’m in it right now.
H: Who’s responsible for the lines at Spangler?
SN: After my new position was announced, Pete November (OC), co-president of the Social Enterprise Club, asked jokingly if I could do anything about the sandwich lines in Shad. Well, I think we may well have solved that problem with the opening of Spangler! In any event, we’re certainly well aware of the issue and are looking at ways to handle the demand that Restaurant Associates is facing during meal times. I have great confidence in the TOM problem-solving abilities of our community to address this need going forward.

February 5, 2001
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