What Knowledge is Useful? > People
Video Clip — Rakesh Khurana on leaders
I think the issue of whether management can become a profession is probably more compelling today than at any time since the founding of the business schools in the United States. If I sort of summarize the story of the book, the notion was when university-based business schools were founded was that it should be managers who have prerogative over what happens to the firm. Not shareholders, you know, using the mechanism of the trust. Not regulators, through which the state would work. Not unions, (through which they would) work but managers, who have prerogative at determining what the strategy of the company is, how it should allocate its resources. This notion that managers should have prerogative over what happens to the firm has become a highly contested, if not de-legitimated notion. As a result, business schools have lost the protagonist in their story.
The thing that held finance, accounting, organizational behavior, operations together was that the manager was the protagonist of our story. And if we want to understand the drift and the misalignment of the contemporary business school, it's because we've lost our narrative. We've lost the protagonist that really was the red thread around which we built our research, and built our activities inside of the classroom.
Now, why should we think about management as a profession for the 21st century? Perhaps it's an outdated issue. If it's an outdated issue then, you know, and the only purpose of the corporation is to maximize shareholder values, and managers are simply agents of the shareholders, I think this raises the question about whether business schools should even be in the university. I think there's a good argument for why business schools should want to be for-profit entities, and there's no need to produce and support this large research base that most faculty undertake that most people believe is research that doesn't help improve the quality of management, and is largely directed toward advancing disciplinary knowledge, rather than managerial practice.
But I believe that this is not the case. I believe that the mission of business schools, and particularly the mission of the Harvard Business School: to produce leaders to improve the state of society is more necessary than it's ever been. If we look at our institutions, our political institutions, or economic institutions, or social institutions, there's a cry in America that we need better leaders. That leadership is not at the level that we expect it to be. If we look at the problems the world is confronting -- climate change, pandemics, poverty -- business, in many ways, is probably one of the most important institutions to help us solve those problems. If we're not producing students and managers who have a broader view of their responsibilities, with respect to -- and have a professional view of their responsibilities about how they run those institutions, I believe that not only will those particular institutions' organizations suffer, but society as we know it will suffer.