“Management students are encouraged to seek out mentors and professors to help guide them, but it is ultimately you, the student, who decides which questions to pursue and how to pursue them.”
Prior to the doctoral program, I worked with the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on projects ranging from nonfinancial reporting of governments’ service effectiveness, to accounting for complex capital market transactions. The big takeaway for me was that what kind of value we create for different stakeholders and how much of it we create are significantly affected by how we define “value.” Just as interesting was that how value is defined across different institutions is often an unchallenged assumption.
The big question I wanted to explore was: Can we improve the well-being of society simply by revisiting how we measure the value that businesses create? After several discussions with mentors in both academia and in practice, I realized that an academic career would equip me with the skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to pursue answers to these questions. My search for the right school—one that would allow me to take a truly interdisciplinary approach to research that influences practice—led me to HBS.
My research interests broadly center around how managers and their firms can create value for all of their stakeholders, including customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, and the community. Drawing from my experiences in the accounting industry, I am particularly interested in how performance measures affect the value creation process. My current focus is on how measuring firm value financially affects different stakeholders and ultimately the firm’s own financial performance. I’m also interested in social enterprise, a type of hybrid organization that combines commercial and nonprofit approaches to creating value for stakeholders.
If I had to summarize the Management program at HBS in one word, it would be “entrepreneurial.” Management students are encouraged to seek out mentors and professors to help guide them, but it is ultimately you, the student, who decides which questions to pursue and how to pursue them. It is unlike most other academic programs in that students can (and do) pull from all types of different theories and methods to further our understanding of the phenomena we observe in the world. I’ve pulled from several different fields, including economics, psychology, sociology, and strategy to help inform my research. I’m also using multiple methods to answer my research questions, ranging from field experiments that help test causal hypotheses about stakeholder value creation, to qualitative techniques like interviewing to better understand how firms create value for their stakeholders.
The HBS Experience
The most rewarding and challenging aspect of HBS has been becoming more of an interdisciplinary researcher. I still remember my very first class at Harvard, Economic Sociology, in which I struggled to grasp concepts like “social constructivism” and “institutionalization” while comparing them to concepts and methods I was learning in psychology and economics. But over time, the way I viewed the world was so much more informed when I could draw from a host of disciplines. Some say that being interdisciplinary costs time that could be spent working on other projects. I believe there’s some truth to that. But I also believe that the big questions can’t always be answered through the methods or theories of a single discipline. I’m grateful to HBS for providing the tools needed to tackle these big questions through a truly interdisciplinary approach.
I hope to become a professor at a business school or university known for quality research that influences practice. Regardless of the outcome, I intend to continue pursuing answers to the question of how firms can create the most value for all of their stakeholders.
Advice for prospective HBS doctoral students
Be a little selective about the advice you take… including mine! What works for one person in an academic career won’t always work for you. It’s important to get a variety of perspectives, especially from senior people who’ve been in your shoes. It’s also important to “know thyself”—your strengths, weaknesses, interests, the questions that keep you up at night, and the purpose that gets you out of bed in the morning. That last one is particularly important.