Agribusiness - Harvard Business School MBA Program


Course Number 1915

Professor David E. Bell
Spring, Q4, 1.5 credits
14 sessions

Course Overview

The course will provide a survey of the global food and agribusiness system. In addition to studying the management problems of farmers, processors, branded consumer goods manufacturers and food retailers, we will consider consumer trends, technological advances, public policy issues, food safety and risk management. The pervasiveness of food and agribusiness makes the course suitable for future consultants and investment bankers in addition to those who have a direct interest in the industry; it may also be of interest as a general management course due to its integrative, cross-functional approach and emphasis on strategy.


The structure of the course may evolve before the winter semester, but a representative outline is as follows:

The Agribusiness Value Chain
: We consider the typical challenges faced by players in the value chain from input suppliers (seeds and "traits", machinery) to food manufacturers (how to adapt to powerful retailers and increased scrutiny of nutritional attributes) to retailers and consumers (from short term fads such as 'low carb' diets to long term changes in demographics and eating habits). In addition, the food chain now produces outputs other than food, including energy and pharmaceuticals.

The Global Food Industry: 
What was once the most local of industries is becoming global. We consider the world supply/demand balance ("Can we feed the world?") and think about balancing the virtues of free trade with the desire for national self-sufficiency. The case material for the course will be from many countries.

Food Safety and Environmental Sustainability: 
Food recalls get a lot of visibility but, at least in developed countries, food is plentiful and remarkably safe to eat despite the distance much of it travels. However, episodes of food poisoning, the debate over GMO food and Čthe perception of "industrial food" have heightened consumer sensitivity to the safety and origin of foods. Traceability has become an increasingly important factor in food production (e.g. detecting horse meat). In addition, as in other sectors, companies are being judged according to their environmental impact. Farmers are of course, important stewards of the land.

Current Issues: 
Every January, nearly 200 executives come to the HBS campus to discuss newly written cases on current topics in the food business. Each year this course is updated to include some of these fresh cases and, perhaps, case guests.

Course Requirements

The course is offered on a 14 session plus exam basis.