Faculty Perspective – Professor Joe Lassiter

“The people you study with determine what you will learn. I enjoy teaching at HBS because I have the opportunity to work with great people everyday – engaging students in classroom discussions, benefiting from faculty insights, and learning from our practitioner alumni.”

Reflecting on the impact of the Harvard Business School over the last 100 years and imagining the potential future impact of its graduates, Professor Joe Lassiter shared three major insights with me. Advanced business theory can and should be used in leading teams across all sectors of business and government.

Those in leadership positions must possess a collaborative mindset if they are to impact the world. And because HBS has the capacity to promote open-minded thinking and collaborative learning, HBS can change the world.

Professor Joe Lassiter first distinguished himself in the field of academia. After obtaining a PhD from MIT, he taught courses in engineering, receiving national scientific accolades for his efforts. He transitioned seamlessly into industry, progressing from Product Manager to Vice President of Teradyne (NYSE/automatic test equipment), a role he held for 17 years, before becoming President for a venture-capital-backed telecommunications software company. After successfully navigating complex issues and managing a substantial employee base, he wanted to “think deeply about business” and reflect upon his experiences. With much enthusiasm, he accepted a position as a faculty member at HBS.

Lassiter’s unique background has influenced his thinking about the importance of business education in society. He believes that a background in management theory is helpful in directing group dynamics to yield successful outcomes. Because he sees management education as a useful tool to solve problems, whether in the context of government, for-profit enterprises, research institutions, or non-profits, he thinks one of HBS’s greatest challenges is to reach those potential students in non-traditional fields. While these individuals have not historically considered business education as a means to impact change, Lassiter states that: “Our opportunity is to use the convening power of the school to pull those from all walks of life to apply business school education to solve the world’s problems.”

A key tenet of Lassiter’s theory of change is the importance of a collaborative mindset. If students realize how much they can learn from those in other fields, and how much others can benefit from their learning, the challenges faced in life will suddenly appear less intimidating. However, in order for students to collaborate, they must possess open minds and the humility to value the thoughts of others. Not one to simply espouse business theory, but also willing to practice it, Lassiter recalled how his thinking about entrepreneurship had expanded as a result of his interactions with esteemed colleagues Howard Stevenson and Bill Sahlman. Realizing the need to address a host of pressing societal issues – clean water, clean energy, just and efficient government, youth education, and late-career training and renewal – Lassiter urged we must tear down the traditional mental barriers and distinctions between problems in business, government, and people. To solve these problems, Lassiter advocates the formation of new enterprises composed of individuals with varying backgrounds and core competencies.

While Lassiter states that: “Daunting is the scale of the challenge in front of us”, he is hopeful that HBS will continue to attract a diverse group of leaders focused on making a difference in the world, and that these leaders will work collaboratively to solve the world’s problems.