Meet Joe Badaracco

Harbus: Thanks for sitting down with the HARBUS. Have you been interviewed by the HARBUS before?
Badaracco: No, not that I recall.

Harbus: Recently, a magician snatched your watch from you twice in several minutes. Do you have any idea how that happened?
Badaracco: Well, obviously, he distracted me. The embarrassing thing was that he got it twice in five minutes. I should have been watching more carefully. He did mention that he got Dan Quayle’s watch five times in a short period of time so I felt a little better after that.

Harbus: I guess that reveals a couple of management takeaways.
Badaracco: Sure [laughs].

Harbus: Your most recent book is titled Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership Through Literature. In your opinion, what is the essence of leadership?
Badaracco: From the perspective of literature – which is just one perspective – you really see leadership as a struggle rather than an adventure or a glorious path of some kind. What you get from literature is a view from the inside, about what leaders do and who they are. And it’s a struggle to communicate clearly, to work with other people, to figure out what is right and what isn’t right. With most great literature, the struggle is the central theme of leadership.

Harbus: Speaking of struggles, what keeps Joe up at night?
Badaracco: We have a great team here and I sleep fine at night [laughs].

Harbus: Can you describe a typical day at HBS?
Badaracco: It partly depends on whether or not I’m teaching. Right now, I’m teaching an LCA class so I’m in the classroom two or three times a week. And then I get to go to lots of meetings.

Harbus: What do you enjoy most about life?
Badaracco: About life, or life at work? [Laughs].

Harbus: Let’s talk about life in general, in or out of work.
Badaracco: I really like my work. I think good work is one of the luxuries of life. HBS is a great place to teach, and I enjoy working with colleagues and the MBA staff.

Harbus: Outside of work, what are your greatest joys?
Badaracco: I like having quiet time. So I enjoy reading, cooking, and spending time with family. That’s easy to do with my wife but it’s harder with my 16 yr old daughter and grown kids. I also have to confess to sitting back and watching a little dumb TV.that seems to be today’s narcotic for busy people. We watch “Law and Order,” “Mad Men,” “Damages,” and even “American Idol” with our 16 yr old daughter.

Harbus:Let’s shift to HBS now. What is your favorite thing about HBS?
Badaracco: I can’t give you just one. First, it’s fantastic place to teach due to the case method, our focus on real-world problems, and the high caliber of students. Second, it’s a great place to do research. We have great resources, amazing access, and there is no research orthodoxy, other than the strong bias toward the real world of managers.

Harbus:What is your least favorite thing about HBS?
Badaracco: Probably grading. There is a saying, ‘the test of vocation is the love of it’s drudgery.’ That’s when my vocation of teaching is tested. [Laughs].

Harbus:In light of recent issues surrounding corporate governance, can you briefly describe the governance of HBS?
Badaracco: We have a Visiting Committee of outsiders who meet once a year to talk with the leadership team at HBS. And we have additional governance as part of Harvard University. We also care deeply about our alumni because of their generosity, their willingness to help with cases and research, etc, so we have a Board of Dean’s Advisors that meet once a year. We get a lot of advice, field a lot of hard questions and always leave the meetings with a number of challenging to-dos.

Harbus: Some students have suggested that a blog or wiki be set-up for suggestions to be funneled to the administration. Can this be implemented?
Badaracco: I think it’s an excellent idea. We might have one or several wikis – I’m not sure. But it’s a terrific idea. I don’t see why it can’t be implemented.

Harbus: Who should be the students’ go to person within the HBS administration?
Badaracco: I’d say start with in the second floor of Spangler, depending on what their concerns are. The MBA staff is very talented and professional. They have a lot of experience and work very hard to be helpful to students.

Harbus: How often does full-blown strategic planning occur at HBS?
Badaracco: Let me talk about the MBA Program. In the last three years we’ve had two occasions where we’ve thought long and hard on the strategy of the Program. One was a review by groups of faculty called the MBA Review Group. The second was a colloquium on the future of MBA education, which was held last spring. We discussed six case studies: one on HBS, four on other schools and the last on the Center for Creative Learning.

Harbus: Can students access the current version of HBS’s strategic plan online?
Badaracco: The Dean, for example, publishes letters from time-to-time, some annual and some around special events. The letters are around 1000 words and are available online. That’s the best place to look.

Harbus: Due to its size and breadth of programs, do you think HBS can be as nimble as its smaller competitors?
Badaracco: We are extremely nimble on what matters. The critical thing is what happens in the classroom and the teaching materials that we use. If you look at what we’ve done real-time in response to the Financial Crisis, it’s extraordinary. That happens because we have faculty that are interested in staying on top of issues and we have terrific access to companies.

Harbus: Recently, HBS convened a gathering of Deans from leading business schools to discuss the future of management education. Do you consider HBS a leader amongst business schools?
Badaracco: We are certainly leaders, particularly with respect to management-focused teaching and research.

Harbus: Professor Clay Christensen wrote a case on the disruption of management education. Do you think HBS could be “disrupted” in coming years?
Badaracco: I would be more concerned about technically-oriented programs. The heart of what we do is getting 90 students together with a faculty member and creating something that is intellectually exciting and powerful. I think you have to be here physically for that. So in that core sense of what we do, I’m not concerned about being disrupted.

Harbus: If you could change one thing about HBS tomorrow, what would it be?
Badaracco: (Long pause). It would be great if all of us could find another 5 hours in our days. It’s tough to take full advantage of all the resources and opportunities we have. All of us are pulled in too many different directions and it also takes a lot of work to keep the trains running in what is a pretty complicated place with an ambitious agenda.

Harbus: While you have the chance, is there anything else you want to tell HARBUS readers?
Badaracco: To students, I’d say make sure you spend every available moment getting as much as you can out of this experience, whether it is preparing for class, learning from other students, or accessing the resources around Harvard. Kick yourself in the rear and make sure you’re taking advantage of everything HBS offers. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Harbus: Is there anything about you that students could not discern from your bio?
Badaracco: I have a peculiar last name. There have been many Italians named Badaracco for at least 500 yrs, but recently I found out that my name might have Arabic roots. With an unusual name, it’s easy to track some things down, so I’m working on that, and there’s a world-wide Badaracco community on Facebook, which helps.

Harbus: Well, thank you very much Joe, its been a pleasure.
Badaracco: I’m happy to help out.

March 9, 2009
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