Year In Review: A Conversation with Dean Nohria

Dean Nitin Nohria

Harbus: What was the highlight of your academic year?

Dean Nohria: I am surprised and delighted by the amazing things that take place at Harvard Business School on any given day. But here are some highlights from this academic year:

One highlight has to be the opening of the new classrooms in Batten Hall last fall. The staff and faculty who worked miracles to design and transform that space in just a few short months were literally watching the paint dry as students returned to campus, so there were more than a few nerves. But the energy that could be felt as soon as the program began confirmed that it was worth the collective effort. More importantly, the hives brought the new FIELD curriculum to life—and though we know we still want to improve on the execution of FIELD, getting it launched and headed in the right direction was amazing.

In March we held a major event in New York City where 600 alumni joined us at the Lincoln Center for a discussion about U.S. Competitiveness. This was our first alumni outreach event following an enormous amount of work by our faculty on the topic, which was published in a special issue of Harvard Business Review. This event stands out because it showcased our unique ability to convene people around ideas that can mobilize action on important issues.

Finally, just a few weeks ago we held our annual Fellowship Dinner where we bring together the beneficiaries of fellowships with their donors. It is profoundly moving to everyone who participates and there is no better way of demonstrating to our alumni how much our students appreciate their generosity. I am deeply touched by this on a personal level because I too was the beneficiary of someone’s generosity, which made it possible for me to go to school in the US.

HarbusHow do you think FIELD went and what will you change?

NN: Overall, FIELD has been a remarkable success.  It has created powerful new learning opportunities for our students and will prepare them to become better leaders and entrepreneurs in this global century.  At the same time, we have learned so much from this first iteration—from the feedback we have received from our students, faculty, staff, and global partners.  We know we have to do a better job designing the classes and exercises associated with each of the FIELD modules. We have to think harder about the time commitments involved and how to schedule things better.  We recognize that students respond best when the work they are doing feels “real.”  We are committed to driving down this learning curve and making FIELD an ever better experience for future classes.

HarbusLooking forward, what do you see as the biggest challenge currently facing HBS?

NN: I think our greatest challenge is finding the right balance. By that I mean we are a place with deep roots and rich traditions that are an integral part of our identity. Yet at the same time we understand the importance of evolving in response to changes in the world. Our students and faculty have their eyes on the horizon and see tremendous opportunity for creating value for society. So our challenge is to evolve in ways that enable us to deliver on our mission of educating leaders who make a difference in the world, while staying true to the roots that got us to this point. We’ve initiated a significant amount of change involving literally everyone in the School in one way or another over the past two years. Whether you look at our curriculum, our research agenda, our global presence, our culture and community, or our relations across the university, we’ve initiated change in all of those areas. Yet we have been careful to do so in a way that is consistent with the fundamental character of the School and our core beliefs. Maintaining that balance going forward remains one of our biggest challenges. But I believe we are up to the task.

HarbusHBS should be more . . .

NN: determined than ever to have an impact in the world. What other business school has greater capacity and scale to address the world’s most challenging problems?

Harbus: HBS should be less . . .

NN: concerned about the end goal and more focused on enjoying the journey.

HarbusWhat do you want your legacy to be at HBS?

NN: That HBS remains a beacon for management education for the next century as it was during its first century. But anything we accomplish during my tenure is only possible because we do it collectively. This institution is a partnership in every respect. It’s a partnership that binds our faculty, staff, students, and alumni in a shared commitment to excellence and to making a difference in the world. It’s a unique model for an academic institution but it works exceedingly well. We succeed when we are all pulling in the same direction. I feel incredibly fortunate to be the beneficiary of my predecessors, who made smart, selfless, and sometimes very difficult decisions that helped the School deliver on its mission. I’ll be happy if my successor says the same about me.

HarbusYou started at HBS with the Class of 2012.  Now that they’re ready to graduate, what are your thoughts about this class and your relationship with its students?

NN: In over two decades teaching here I can honestly say that every class holds wonderful memories for me, but I do indeed have a special connection to this class. I remember vividly the day that I welcomed you in Burden Hall – my first official appearance as dean  standing before the entering class. I think we may both have had the same mix of nervousness and excitement at that moment. I hope your time here has been even better than you imagined and that you will stay connected with us as you venture off into the next phase of your lives. And please accept my thanks for being patient with me as I adjusted to my new role and for being flexible, adaptable, and supportive as we rolled out new changes that will continue to keep HBS a school you will feel proud to have graduated from.