Faculty Profile – Professor David Garvin

The first-year course in Leadership and Corporate Accountability, or LCA, was one of the most memorable and important courses I have had here at HBS. One of the key reasons was the classroom leadership of David Garvin, the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration. Since joining the faculty in 1979, Professor Garvin has had a distinguished career here as a scholar, administrator, and most importantly, as a teacher.

After honing his craft as a disciple of the late Chris Christenson, legendary HBS professor and authority on case method teaching, Professor Garvin now pays tribute to his mentor through his own teaching and through his leadership as the faculty chair of the C. Roland Christenson Center for Teaching and Learning which supports teaching excellence and innovation at HBS and provides leadership and expertise about the case method to institutions and instructors around the world. I had the opportunity to speak with Professor Garvin about his experiences over the past thirty years at the Harvard Business School and his thoughts on the challenges that face the institution over the next hundred years.

After finishing your PhD in Economics, how did you decide to come to the Harvard Business School?

I was interviewed by the then POM unit, as it was one of the units that was hiring PhD economists. I had a lovely interview, but when I came home and chatted with my wife I told her “it is a great institution but I just don’t think it’s for me – I certainly don’t know enough about business and management.” I got a call the next day, though, and got invited for further interviews. I politely declined, but over a two hour conversation they convinced me to at least go through the next round of interviews. I came away deeply impressed by the faculty, as they were just terrific. I had wonderful conversations with them and later gave a seminar. My thesis had actually been a series of case studies on the economics of university behavior – I had interviewed deans, associate deans, and senior administrators at 12 different universities. I didn’t realize it, but I was already doing case studies. So this went over very well and they made me an offer.

Teaching and the case study method have obviously been something you’ve been highly involved in particularly through the C. Roland Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning. Over the past 30 years what impact have you seen that HBS has had on teaching and the practice of management education?

First, and most obviously, HBS cases are used around the world. So we influence teaching through the materials that schools use. It’s worth noting that cases are almost always accompanied by teaching notes. The teaching notes are written by the faculty, and what’s important about them is that they are both analytical and pedagogical. They not only give you the analysis, but they give you suggestions about how to teach the material. What’s a good opening question? What is a difficult fighting issue, around which there will be a debate? So through cases and the accompanying teaching notes we influence teaching.

The second is that we hold a variety of seminars on campus for faculty around the world. The one I’m most familiar with is the Colloquium on Participant Centered Learning, or CPCL. It’s about one and half to two weeks during the summer and has been held multiple times. It involves faculty, deans, and other senior administrative folks from business schools around the world – traditionally Latin America, and more recently we’ve had representatives from Eastern Europe, and now Africa. What we do is spend a week and half teaching them about teaching. Out of this has come a three part CD, called Participant Centered Learning and the Case Method. This is now available free, via streamed video on the Harvard Business School Publishing website, for faculty around the world.

Looking back, how have you seen HBS change during the time you’ve been here?

First, let’s stick with the most obvious. The composition of the student body has changed significantly – many more women, many more international students, and a broader portfolio of backgrounds. A lot more non-profits, a lot more NGO’s, mixed in with the traditional investment banking and consulting. I think the discussions are vastly richer as a result, because the range of perspectives is broader.

The amount of things going on at the institution – treks, immersion experiences, special meetings – that are student generated, seems to have gone up hugely. Students are just doing a lot more and as a result are juggling a lot more.

The faculty mix has changed as well, in the same direction – more women and more international. But many more people from discipline based backgrounds, like mine in economics. So a lot more work for the Christensen Center in helping people understand the case method, because the proportion of people who were familiar with it before they came here, is less than it was historically when we hired largely out of Harvard’s DBA program.

What do you see as challenges for business, Management Education, and HBS?

Let’s take the challenges facing business. I think they come in several categories. The first is the sheer complexity of business, I think has gone up exponentially. That’s true in both the large and the small. A large multinational corporation is an incredibly complex thing. It’s got structures which are variations on matrices that are often now quite elaborate. The problems that managers now face are multi-functional, multi-faceted and often require very, very deep thinking to resolve. So that’s one thing, the sheer complexity and size.

The second is that the social standing of business has taken some hard knocks recently, for very good reasons. There are issues of social responsibility, there are issues of legal violations, and there are well known bankruptcies like Enron and WorldCom. The new financial institutions clearly had issues. And this is coupled with a new set of responsibilities like sustainability and being carbon neutral, and coupled with a new set of players like Sovereign Wealth Funds which may have objectives in addition to those that are purely financial and business related. These are some issues facing business that I don’t think are going to go away. In particular with this generation, I think they are only going to get more complex.

And the third piece is that the pace of change really does seem to have accelerated. Whether its technology, whether its finance, whether its communication, things happen more quickly. A lot of what people need to do is deal with emerging challenges. Right now, if you’re in the financial sector, you are literally as we speak figuring out the depth of the sub-prime crisis; every time we think we understand it, we find there is another layer.

It has to do with the complexity of the instruments, it has to do with the general opaqueness of the process, and it has do with the interdependence of the various pieces. So Jamie Dimon, who is one of our graduates, is figuring this out in real-time, under great pressure, and with great speed as an imperative. One can argue that over that weekend, if he had not acted, we might be in a really serious financial crisis.

So that’s the implications for business. On the implications for business education, I’ll give you a simple trilogy that comes from work by Scott Snook and by Rakesh Khurana. Scott actually worked at West Point on this. What they found is that in education, particularly professional education, there are broadly three categories. There is knowledge, there are skills, and there is a sense of identity or attitudes. So it’s knowing, doing, and being.

And we need to move on all three fronts in business education. In terms of knowledge, I’ve just given you a variety of areas where we need more knowledge – what do these new complex financial instruments mean? In terms of doing, how do you gather i
nformation in an emerging environment, one that is just literally taking shape? How do you gather information in a world of information overload? And then in being, or attitudes and identities, what are the responsibilities of a manager? What’s important in terms of responsibilities to investors, to employees, to customers? That’s where LCA comes in. I think in all three domains we need to work, but increasingly a lot of the emphasis will be on the second and third categories, skill building and self reflection.

April 7, 2008
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