Welcome, and welcome back, to Harvard Business School. It’s an exciting time to be here; 2008 has marked the one hundredth anniversary of the School’s founding, and we have been using the occasion as an opportunity to engage the community in a dialogue around who we are, what we do, and how we should be changing in the future.
In particular, last April 8th, we held a series of events to commemorate the day when HBS officially was approved by Harvard University and our first dean, Edwin Gay, was named. Our celebration brought together students, faculty, and staff for several keynote addresses (including a great and inspiring talk by Jimmy Tran, MBA 2009, available on intranet.hbs.edu/centennial /April_8.html), lunch, panel discussions, an art exhibit, a talent show, and most important – in what I think was an historic first – a classroom session during which everyone on campus discussed the same case.
It is this case discussion and the feedback I received from it that I’d like to share with you here. But first, for the more than 900 of you who are new to HBS, I need to provide a bit of context. The case – which also is available on the centennial intranet – is titled “HBS in 2008.” Perhaps not surprisingly, I am its protagonist. It is set in January 2008 and it lays out background on the School, including the various educational programs, our publishing division, faculty and staff, and our financials; our mission and strategy; and the challenges we face. All the participants in the day were asked to think about a handful of decision points, including (but by no means limited to):
-How we should approach the new January term, a roughly one-month period created by the University’s move to a common calendar that goes live for the first time in January 2010, andwhether and how we might pursue classroom space abroad for executive education programs and other educational uses.
MBA students discussed the case in their sections with a faculty member of their choosing, doctoral students as a group, and faculty and staff as a group, and each room had a scribe who sent me a summary of advice and recommendations within about 10 minutes of the class’s end.
I was then, and remain today, impressed by the breadth of the conversations and the thoughtfulness of the feedback I received. While each class took a quite different approach and thus tended to focus on different aspects of the School, there were a few key themes that emerged, as well as some valuable individual insights.
Globalization – what it means to prepare students to lead in a globalized world, whether and how HBS is (or should be) a global business school, and how to attract a truly diverse student body and faculty – was a topic that came up again and again. As the School thinks about doing more away from Soldiers Field, including the executive education proposal to begin building classroom facilities in key regions of the world, the clear concern was that these efforts neither dilute the HBS brand nor diminish the impact and effectiveness of the programs in Boston. Proceed quickly, but proceed cautiously, was the advice here.
There was broad consensus that the School, with its roots as a U.S. business school, should continue to provide more and more in-depth opportunities for MBA students to engage abroad in experiential learning through field studies, immersion programs, and other global activities. Similarly, there was a strong desire for continued work to increase global content in the curriculum, particularly in the first year.
There also was rich debate in a number of sections about what constitutes an “international student” in a world where citizenship is an increasingly irrelevant measure. Is a Swiss-born student who received her undergraduate degree from a US college international? What about a US-born student who worked for three years in Buenos Aires? Recognizing the importance of a wide range of experiences and perspectives in the classroom, many sections expressed a wish that HBS extend its attempts at diversity even further, going deeper into countries and regions to attract applicants to the School.
Innovation was another key topic to emerge, and this ties in to both how HBS should approach the new January term and how HBS should maintain its competitive advantage.
Most sections stressed that the School’s key differentiating features – its size, the general management orientation, the curriculum, the strong practice focus of the faculty, the residential campus, and the case method – were important and should remain largely unchanged. Indeed, they often were cited as the reasons individual students had chosen to come to HBS. At the same time, there was a concern that HBS not rest on its laurels, but instead continue to seek cutting edge ways to carry out and extend these features. Today, for example, students learn from one another (as well as from the faculty member) in the classroom. Are there instances in which students could be the teachers? How might the classrooms be enhanced, either through new technologies or through design, to increase even further the interaction that happens today?
The January term was seen as a fertile arena in which to experiment – a laboratory, in effect. Sections suggested a range of topics and types of classes the School might offer, from the global immersions noted earlier to short, intensive, in-depth electives to projects that would necessitate and facilitate cross-School collaboration (e.g., a field study involving a team of eight students, two each from HBS and the Law School, the Medical School, and the Kennedy School). As important as section size and cases were believed to be elsewhere in the curriculum, there was an almost unanimous sense that here might be the place to try some things in smaller groups, or using simulations.
A final thing I’ll mention isn’t really a topic, but it surfaced as a suggestion in a few of the sections: that we lower the cost of the MBA program. Clearly it would help us attract a broader applicant pool, drawing people who might not otherwise be able to consider the School’s MBA program. And in fact, it’s a strategy we’ve been pursuing over the past few years by limiting annual tuition increases while simultaneously increasing the number and size of fellowships and other financial aid we offer to students with need. The result has been that of the nearly 900 students who receive assistance each year, the size of their award has nearly doubled in the last five years; net tuition for these students thus has decreased by about 20% in that same time frame. We’ll continue trying to drive that number down through alumni gifts.
As you can see, lots of good ideas were raised – and there is a lot of work to be done. Along with Carl Kester, Joe Badaracco, the rest of the faculty, the MBA program staff, and everyone else here, I look forward to continuing the important dialogue we’ve begun, and to your contributions to the discussion. Collectively we make Harvard Business School what it is today, and it’s a unique time to shape the agenda of the School for the future.
I welcome any thoughts you might have and look forward to meeting and seeing you all on campus. ?