Bharat Anand, Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration, is a professor in the strategy unit. Professor Anand’s research addresses the most important strategic questions general managers face today. His ability to translate his scholarship to the classroom is renowned among HBS students; more than half the class of 2008 ranked Professor Anand’s second-year elective on corporate strategy their top choice in the course lottery process. The Harbus was privileged to get Professor Anand’s reflections on HBS and on business education at this historic moment.
What do you enjoy most about teaching at HBS?
Three things. First, the degree of preparation by students. Colleagues from other schools who observe our classroom are invariably amazed by the level of preparation by our students (& some pointedly tell us that it’s the students who make us look good). But, seriously, it really compensates for the effort we as faculty put in, and makes teaching here inspiring. Second, even though one might argue that the case method is not necessarily optimal as a means of conveying knowledge in any particular session, I can’t think of a superior way of effecting “learning that sticks”, nor a better way of making an 80-person classroom feel intimate. Third, the emphasis on relevance for practice continuously challenges us as faculty to bring our ideas to our audience – students or executives – rather than the other way around.
What challenges and opportunities do you see confronting the field of business?
Sustaining corporate performance remains the foremost challenge confronting organizations. How this challenge manifests across industries may differ. In manufacturing, it’s responding to competition from low-cost countries. In services, its responding to consumers having greater control over virtually all aspects of the value chain (consider user-generated production, peer-to-peer distribution, or viral marketing in industries like the media). The implication for researchers is that while entrepreneurship continues to attract much attention (for good reason), the study of corporate change in established organizations remains a fascinating domain of inquiry.
The second major challenge I see, quite frankly, is that the complexity of problems confronting managers in many industries today – consider media, health care, or financial services — appears greater than it was even a decade ago. It’s not just that competition is more intense or technologies are different – those trends are no different than before. Rather, core strategic decisions, from an organization’s business model itself to how far its boundaries ought to extend, are now choices that are “on the table” in so many industries. For managers and organizations, this raises interesting challenges. How do you resist the trap of following the herd and instead make decisions that are right for you? And, how can one layer general management skills on a platform of industry knowledge (or “domain expertise”) in a way that creates smart flexible managers?
What challenges and opportunities do you see confronting HBS?
HBS has historically carved out a fairly distinctive position around a few core set of choices: including an emphasis on research that is not only rigorous but relevant, and a commitment to teaching excellence in general and the case method in particular. Like any other organization, we are seeing some fairly important changes in our landscape. For example, the research space is becoming increasingly cluttered and competition for ideas more intense; and HBS cases are obviously not the only vehicle for obtaining detailed information about companies. What does this mean for us going forward, and how ought we to change? I doubt the HBS degree will lack aura 25 years from now, but the question is can we be aspirational about what we want to do with it? Strategy is about making hard choices.how do we continue to do what we do best without compromising our strengths or simplistically compensating for our weaknesses? And, how do we make choices about which opportunities to forego and which to grab with both hands? Indeed, the opportunities appear boundless, I think the challenge is choosing what we will not do.
What impact has being at HBS had on the way you study corporate strategy, industrial organization, or the media?
I don’t think I’m alone when I say this, but being here has affected my approach to research in all the areas you mention in a fairly simple yet powerful way: by focusing my attention on the phenomenon rather than the method or the literature. This has a natural implication that was pointed out to me when I first joined the faculty. One of my senior colleagues suggested that the way to take advantage of everything that HBS has to offer is to view research, teaching, and case writing as complementary activities rather than substitutes. I think I’ve had the pleasure of finding out what he meant.