Faculty Perspective – Professor Bruce Scott

Professor Bruce Scott teaches a highly popular second year course Economic Strategies of Nations where he pushes students to question current trends in capitalism and identify national strategies to reduce inequality while promoting development.

Prof. Scott graduated from HBS with an MBA in 1958. Although Prof. Scott had initially planned to join Exxon upon graduation, he became strongly interested in teaching and learning while a student in the Business Policy section of Professor C. Roland Christensen, one of the outstanding teachers at that time. As a student, Professor Scott found that some of the cases were lacking in some important information on the human aspects of organization, and Professor Christensen asked him to stay on as casewriter to try to do better. Prof. Scott spent two years as a case writer, spending most of a year with one company with only 150 employees as the basis for a six case series, and then two more years casewriting with much larger companies as a new faculty member directly after earning his DBA. His first five years on the faculty were mostly spent living in Switzerland and researching the French system of indicative national planning. He did not start teaching at HBS until 1969, the year of the student uprisings across the country, in Harvard Square and on our campus as.

Prof. Scott’s interest in national strategies came from the project in France, and though he started as an instructor in the required second year course in Business Policy or General Management he received permission to take the last seven sessions of a 56 session course to teach about comparative country strategies in France, Japan and the United States. That experience formed the basis for subsequently changing the required first year course on the business environment from one focused exclusively on the United States to what is now BGIE (Business, Government and the International Economy), beginning in January 1974, with Professor Scott as its first course head.

Prof. Scott enjoys research, course planning and course development as a way to explore new ideas, and finds that Harvard Business School has enabled him to identify, develop and strengthen his research on countries, in great measure due to the school’s unprecedented resources. He has almost finished a book called Capitalism, Democracy and Development.

In spite of his enthusiasm for case teaching at HBS, Prof. Scott worries that two hours of student preparation for 80 minute classes is not an ideal formula for teaching about complex problems requiring historical as well as analytic persepectives. It emphasizes problem solving and breadth of experience at the expense of problem identification and in depth learning, which is where the really big mistakes are made. He believes the School needs more diversity in its teaching methods, including some experiences where students study an organization or society in much more depth over successive classes, and where they have to write and defend their analyses in front of their classmates.

Prof. Scott identifies one of the main challenges facing Harvard Business School as defining a meaningful sense of mission. The school’s original mission, still in effect when he joined the faculty in 1962, was to teach students “how to earn a decent profit in a decent way”; this implied a faculty responsibility to lead in setting ethical standards that were compatible with managing a viable business. This was similar to some of the other good schools during that era. Prof. Scott believes that over the years the goal of business education has been transformed , as explained by Professor Rakesh Khurana in his recent book From Higher Aims to Hired Hands, from inculcating a professional ethic of service to societal stakeholders to one of maximizing shareholder value, i.e., to further enrich the top few percent of the population. Prof. Scott is hopeful that on this occasion of the centennial year that the HBS faculty will revisit these fundamental issues and consider ways to address this challenge of professional purpose.

As a message to students at HBS, Prof. Scott suggests that the class of 2008 consider the possibility that the US variant of capitalism is neither the only one nor necessarily the best. For example, the current crisis in financial markets seems very much “made in USA” and built from the notion that financial markets can and should exist largely independent from societal constraint or regulation even at the expense of periodic crises, and even though our financial system has shown a remarkable ability to privatize astonishing gains for a small number of insiders while spreading the costs of the crises on millions of shareholders, consumers and taxpayers. The US model may not be an obvious one for other counties to emulate.

April 7, 2008
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