Robert Steven Kaplan

Martin Marshall Professor of Management Practice in Business Administration
Senior Associate Dean for External Relations

Unit: Organizational Behavior


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Robert S. Kaplan is the Martin Marshall Professor of Management Practice in Business Administration and Senior Associate Dean for External Relations. He is also co-chairman of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a global venture philanthropy firm.  He is the author of several case studies, articles and the following books: What You Really Need to Lead: The Power of Thinking and Acting Like an Owner (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015);  What You're Really Meant To Do: A Road Map for Reaching Your Unique Potential (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) and What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011)

Prior to joining Harvard Business School in 2006, Rob served as vice chairman of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. with global responsibility for the firm's Investment Banking and Investment Management Divisions. Previously, he was global co-head of the firm's Investment Banking Division. He was also a member of the firm’s Management Committee and served as co-chairman of the firm’s Partnership Committee and chairman of the Goldman Sachs Pine Street Leadership Program. During his career at the firm, he also served in various other capacities including head of the Corporate Finance Department, head Asia-Pacific Investment Banking, and head of the high yield department in Investment Banking. He became a partner in 1990. Rob is a Senior Director of the firm.

Rob co-chairman of the Board of Project A.L.S., co-chair of the Executive Committee for Harvard University Office of Sustainability, and is a member of the Boards of the Harvard Medical School, Harvard Management Company, and the Ford Foundation. Previously, Rob was appointed by the Governor of Kansas as a member of the Kansas Healthcare Policy Authority Board (2006-2010) and also served as a member of the Investors Advisory Committee on Financial Markets of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Rob is a member of the Board of the State Street Corporation. He is chairman of the Investment Advisory Committee of Google, Inc. Previously he was a member of the Board of Bed, Bath & Beyond, Inc. (1994-2009). He serves as advisor to a number of companies.

Rob received an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1983 and a B.S. from the University of Kansas in 1979.

Prior to attending business school, Rob was a certified public accountant at Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co in Kansas City.

Featured Work



  1. What You're Really Meant To Do: A Road Map for Reaching Your Unique Potential

    Robert Steven Kaplan

    How do you create your own definition of success—and reach your unique potential? Building a fulfilling life and career can be a daunting challenge. It takes courage and hard work. Too often, we charge down a path leading to "success" as defined by those around us—and ultimately, are left feeling dissatisfied. Each of us is unique and brings distinctive skills and qualities to any situation. So why is it that most of us fail to spend sufficient time learning to understand ourselves and creating our own definition of success? The truth is, it can seem so natural and so much easier to just do what everyone else is doing—for now—leaving it for later to develop our best selves and figure out our own unique path. Is there a road map that will enable you to defy conventional wisdom, resist peer pressure, and carve out a path that fits your unique skills and passions? Harvard Business School's Robert Steven Kaplan, leadership expert and author of the highly successful book What to Ask the Person in the Mirror, regularly advises executives and students on how to tackle these questions. In this indispensable new book, Kaplan shares a specific and actionable approach to defining your own success and reaching your potential. Drawing on his years of experience, Kaplan proposes an integrated plan for identifying and achieving your goals. He outlines specific steps and exercises to help you understand yourself more deeply, take control of your career, and build your capabilities in a way that fits your passions and aspirations. Are you doing what you're really meant to do? If you're ready to face this question, this book can help you change your life.

    Keywords: career planning; vocational guidance; Job satisfaction; Satisfaction; Personal Development and Career; Customization and Personalization;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven. What You're Really Meant To Do: A Road Map for Reaching Your Unique Potential. Boston, MA, USA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013. View Details
  2. What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

    Robert Steven Kaplan

    Successful leaders know that leadership is less often about having all the answers-and more often about asking the right questions. The challenge lies in being able to step back, reflect, and ask the key questions that are critical to your performance and your organization's effectiveness. In 'What to Ask the Person in the Mirror,' HBS professor and business leader Robert Kaplan presents a process for asking the big questions that will enable you to diagnose problems, change course if necessary, and advance your career. He lays out areas of inquiry, including questions such as (1) Do I clearly articulate my vision and top priorities?; (2) Does the way I spend my time enable me to achieve my top priorities?; (3) Do I give subordinates timely and direct feedback they can act on? Have I developed a succession roadmap?; and (4) Is my leadership style still effective, and does it reflect who I truly am? This highly readable and practical guide helps you learn to ask the right questions-and work through the answers in ways that are right for you. By asking these questions, you can craft new strategies for staying on top of your game.

    Keywords: leadership; leadership development; organizational development; reaching your potential; career planning; management styles; Interpersonal Communication; Leadership; Performance Effectiveness; Personal Development and Career;

Journal Articles

  1. What's Your Language Strategy?: It Should Bind Your Company's Global Talent Management and Vision

    Tsedal Neeley and Robert Steven Kaplan

    Language pervades every aspect of organizational life. Yet leaders of global organizations—where unrestricted multilingualism can create friction—often pay too little attention to it in their approach to talent management. By managing language carefully, firms can hire and develop the best employees, improve collaboration on global teams, and strengthen the company's footing in local markets. Language proficiency—either in a lingua franca, or shared language, or in a local language—does not guarantee high performance. Recruiters may favor fluency over other capabilities. They may rely on external hires with language skills rather than grooming internal candidates with the capacity and motivation to learn new languages. And leaders may give expatriate assignments not to the best candidates but to people who speak certain languages. To hire and promote the best people, firms may need to provide training to meet global and local language needs. Fluency in a language also does not equal cultural fluency. For leaders, understanding the cultural background of each team member and customers is as essential as learning to conjugate new verbs. The same can be said for employees at all levels: even when they are fluent in the lingua franca, a lack of cultural understanding can cause significant misunderstandings. To prevent such rifts, language training must include cross-cultural education.


    Neeley, Tsedal, and Robert Steven Kaplan. "What's Your Language Strategy? It Should Bind Your Company's Global Talent Management and Vision." R1409D. Harvard Business Review 92, no. 9 (September 2014): 70–76. View Details
  2. Top Executives Need Feedback: Here's How They Can Get It

    Robert Steven Kaplan

    As executives become more senior, they are less likely to receive constructive feedback on their performance or their strategy. To get it, they should call on their junior colleagues. The problem: subordinates don't want to offend the boss. Therefore, as executives become more senior, they tend to get less feedback. Why it matters: over time, senior leaders can become confused about their development needs and isolated from criticism they should hear about themselves and their strategies. What to do about it: cultivate a network of junior coaches who are willing to tell you the things you don't want to hear. And seek input on key strategic decisions by empowering junior colleagues to look at your business with a "clean sheet of paper."

    Keywords: Performance; Strategy; Networks; Decisions; Management Teams;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven. "Top Executives Need Feedback: Here's How They Can Get It." McKinsey Quarterly, no. 4 (2011): 60–71. View Details

Book Chapters

  1. Reaching Your Potential: Know Yourself—and Find Fulfillment

    Robert Steven Kaplan

    Despite racking up impressive accomplishments, you feel frustrated with your career—convinced you should be achieving more. You may even wish you had chosen a different career altogether. These feelings often stem from a common error: buying into others' definitions of success. To reach your potential, Kaplan suggests taking a deeply personal look at how you define success.

    Keywords: fulfillment; leadership; Satisfaction; Personal Development and Career; Success;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven. "Reaching Your Potential: Know Yourself—and Find Fulfillment." Chap. 3 in HBR Guide to Getting the Mentoring You Need, 31–42. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2014. View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Sergio Marchionne at Chrysler

    Rob Kaplan and Bernardo Bertoldi

    Chrysler recently exited from the bankruptcy process, with U.S. government support and with Sergio Marchionne as CEO. Now was the time to work out how to create synergies with FIAT, how to improve the current manufacturing, product, and distribution-network configuration, and how to define the future product portfolio to compete over the long term.
    In 2004, Marchionne was appointed CEO of FIAT Group, headquartered in Turin, Italy, when the company had faced a near-hopeless crisis. He performed an extreme makeover and turned the company around. In 2008 the entire global automotive industry had entered a deep crisis; in response FIAT and Chrysler had forged a partnership, and Marchionne now found himself in the same situation again.

    Keywords: auto industry; Insolvency and Bankruptcy; Auto Industry; North America; Italy;


    Kaplan, Rob, and Bernardo Bertoldi. "Sergio Marchionne at Chrysler." Harvard Business School Case 415-045, January 2015. View Details
  2. Abby Falik at Global Citizen Year

    Robert Steven Kaplan and Lauren Barley

    Abby Falik, founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year (GCY), quickly read through the most recent news updates regarding the Ebola crisis in West Africa as she prepared for her board call on July 31, 2014. Based in Oakland, California, GCY was a five-year-old not-for-profit with a fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget of $3.5 million. Its mission was to make it much more the norm for graduating high school students in the U.S. to choose a "bridge year." GCY believed this experience after high school, but before college, would help students build self-awareness, learn about the world, and develop grit. In turn, GCY felt these attributes laid the foundation for success in college, and beyond.

    Keywords: not-for-profit; public service; developing countries; Secondary Education; Nonprofit Organizations; Higher Education; Developing Countries and Economies; Giving and Philanthropy;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven, and Lauren Barley. "Abby Falik at Global Citizen Year." Harvard Business School Case 415-052, February 2015. View Details
  3. Mitch Daniels and the State of Indiana

    Robert Steven Kaplan and Wendy K. Winer

    Mitch Daniels, Governor of the State of Indiana, knew he had to make a difficult choice as he sat in his office in December 2010. Should he aggressively push the state legislature to pass comprehensive education reform—a major priority of his administration—or, instead, push for a new "right-to-work" law that he believed might be critical to improving his state's competitiveness? He was concerned that he wouldn't be able to do both during his second term. He prided himself on being an action- and results-oriented governor. He prided himself on being able to work with both Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature.

    In the elections of fall 2010, the Republicans regained control of the Indiana House of Representatives. Passage of a right-to-work law was not a major part of their election platform because of the union opposition they thought it would generate. Quietly, however, Republicans did support a right-to-work law that was expected to attract more jobs to the state in a very difficult economic environment. Daniels had to weigh the political ramifications as he considered which initiative to pursue. He knew that despite his various accomplishments, this choice would likely impact his legacy as governor. As he weighed the decision, Daniels began to jot down notes about the tradeoffs relating to his various options.

    Keywords: Government and Politics; education reform; priorities; Leadership; Public Administration Industry; North and Central America;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven, and Wendy K. Winer. "Mitch Daniels and the State of Indiana." Harvard Business School Case 414-049, October 2013. View Details
  4. Freddie Mac: Managing in Conservatorship (TN)

    Robert Steven Kaplan

    Teaching Note for 411048.

    Keywords: Business and Government Relations; Leadership; Operations; Housing; Price; Ownership Stake; Framework; Mortgages; Organizational Culture; Governing Rules, Regulations, and Reforms; Financial Services Industry; United States;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven. "Freddie Mac: Managing in Conservatorship (TN)." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 411-113, June 2011. View Details
  5. Bob Beall at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

    Robert Steven Kaplan and Sophie Hood

    Bob Beall is the Chief Executive Officer of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF). CFF is an extremely successful organization, but Beall has to determine how to manage the organization through the financial crisis of 2008-2009. In this situation, donations are likely to decline, investment surplus has declined and biotech partners are challenged to finance joint projects as well as their own operations. Beall is striving to find a cure for cystic fibrosis while also determining what priorities he must emphasize and what trade-off decisions he must make in managing through the current period. He is preparing for a meeting with his board of trustees where he plans to discuss the current situation and the key decisions the organization needs to make.

    Keywords: Decision Choices and Conditions; Financial Crisis; Giving and Philanthropy; Governing and Advisory Boards; Leadership; Crisis Management; Nonprofit Organizations;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven, and Sophie Hood. "Bob Beall at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation." Harvard Business School Case 409-107, April 2009. (Revised October 2010.) View Details
  6. Paul Bremer at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq

    Robert Steven Kaplan and Nicholas Henri Taranto

    Since becoming the President's envoy responsible for post-war Iraq, Paul Bremer endured many sleepless nights, struggling with the decision of how to hand over sovereignty to the Iraqi people. Despite daily assassination attempts, tribal warfare, growing violence, and political pressure—at home in Washington, D.C. and abroad—the CPA undertook the difficult task of handing over power to an Iraqi civil society that was simultaneously being rebuilt from the ground up.

    Keywords: Government Administration; International Relations; National Security; Leadership; Crisis Management; Iraq; District of Columbia;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven, and Nicholas Henri Taranto. "Paul Bremer at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq." Harvard Business School Case 411-010, August 2010. (Revised September 2010.) View Details
  7. Freddie Mac: Managing in Conservatorship

    Robert Steven Kaplan, Nitin Nohria and Ben Creo

    Ed Haldeman has recently become CEO of Freddie Mac, one of three major government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) charged with supporting U.S. residential mortgage finance. The company was placed into conservatorship by the U.S. treasury on September 7, 2008. Conservatorship places various restrictions on Haldeman and the organization in terms of management. Haldeman's challenge is to lead Freddie Mac, build its culture, upgrade its operations, and generally prepare the organization for re-emerging from conservatorship. In the background, housing prices continue to deteriorate, and the company continues to lose money. In addition, political views continue to shift regarding the future regulatory and equity ownership frameworks for Freddie Mac as it emerges from this difficult period.

    Keywords: Change Management; Financial Crisis; Mortgages; Leadership; Organizational Culture; Business and Government Relations; Financial Services Industry; United States;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven, Nitin Nohria, and Ben Creo. "Freddie Mac: Managing in Conservatorship." Harvard Business School Case 411-048, September 2010. View Details
  8. The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis (TN)

    Robert Steven Kaplan, Christopher Marquis and Ben Creo

    Teaching Note for [408003].

    Keywords: Nonprofit Organizations; Research; Health Care and Treatment; Medical Specialties; Financing and Loans; Leadership; Strategy; Problems and Challenges; Health Testing and Trials; Miami;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven, Christopher Marquis, and Ben Creo. "The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis (TN)." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 410-005, July 2009. View Details
  9. The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis

    Robert Steven Kaplan, Christopher Marquis and Brent Kazan

    Marc Buoniconti is the co-founder of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a nonprofit medical research organization. The project was founded in 1985 by Marc and his father Nick, a former Hall of Fame football player, when Marc suffered a spinal cord injury. In 2007, Marc was still confined to a wheelchair, but the Miami project had developed into the world's largest spinal cord injury research and treatment center. It had 250 employees, operated from a $37 million state of the art facility located on the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine campus, and had raised in excess of $275 million since its inception. However, there was still no cure for spinal cord injury, and many of the project's supporters were becoming anxious for a substantial clinical breakthrough. Fundraising was always a concern, particularly as government spending on research was declining. Marc and his father were keenly aware of the challenge of maintaining the enthusiasm and financial backing of the Miami Project's supporters. Yet they needed to avoid over-promising regarding the likelihood of potential breakthroughs, which required painstaking research and stringent clinical trials. The leadership also questioned whether the mission should remain focused on spinal cord injury, or whether it should broaden to include brain trauma and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Case provides an opportunity to discuss the challenges of non-profit management, medical research and to debate appropriate strategy for the Miami Project in 2007.

    Keywords: Investment; Giving and Philanthropy; Health Testing and Trials; Leadership; Growth and Development Strategy; Mission and Purpose; Research and Development; Nonprofit Organizations; Health Industry; Miami;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven, Christopher Marquis, and Brent Kazan. "The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis." Harvard Business School Case 408-003, June 2008. (Revised July 2008.) View Details
  10. Leslie Brinkman at Versutia Capital

    Julie Battilana and Robert Steven Kaplan

    Leslie Brinkman is the founder and CEO of a hedge fund, Genuity Capital. Leslie spent late 2002 and early 2003 assembling her team and launched the fund in early 2003. While the firm performed well during 2003 and 2004 (both in terms of returns and new assets), in 2005 the results began to suffer. Describes the process of designing the firm, the resulting team dynamics, the strains on the staff and the impact of Leslie's management style on the performance of her team. In the spring of 2005, Leslie must decide whether to re-design the firm and/or change her management style in order to address the performance issues that Genuity is facing.

    Keywords: Management Style; Organizational Design; Performance Improvement; Groups and Teams;


    Battilana, Julie, and Robert Steven Kaplan. "Leslie Brinkman at Versutia Capital." Harvard Business School Case 407-089, June 2007. (Revised July 2007.) View Details
  11. Robert E. Rubin (A)

    Nitin Nohria, Robert Steven Kaplan and Nicole Davison

    Bob Rubin was a businessman given the task of setting up and running the National Economic Council for the Clinton Administration. Unfamiliar with management in a political climate, Rubin worked hard to design, staff, and position the Council to make better economic and policy decisions. Traces the career of Robert E. Rubin from his practice in law to his work at Goldman Sachs and studies how his work experiences prepared him to establish the National Economic Council.

    Keywords: Personal Development and Career; Government and Politics; Managerial Roles; Macroeconomics; Organizational Design; Economy;


    Nohria, Nitin, Robert Steven Kaplan, and Nicole Davison. "Robert E. Rubin (A)." Harvard Business School Case 407-064, January 2007. View Details
  12. Adrian Ivinson at the Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair

    Robert Steven Kaplan and Ayesha Kanji

    Adrian Ivinson is the director of Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair (HCNR), a not-for-profit research center at the Harvard Medical School (HMS). The center was started in late 2000 with a gift of $37.5 million from an anonymous donor. Its mandate was to conduct research that could lead to actual treatments for neurodegenerative disease (i.e., ALS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, MS, and Huntington's) and do so by encouraging collaboration among researchers in the HMS community. When Ivinson takes the helm in 2001, he finds a dysfunctional center with little organization or structure. In addition, he has little formal authority to make changes and he must navigate the complex culture of the HMS neurological research community as well as the HMS academic culture. Demonstrates Ivinson's efforts to develop HCNR as a catalyst for aligning scientific researchers in the HMS community by creating incentives for innovation and collaboration. Also, profiles the issues he faces as general manager at various stages of the organization's development--and how his style, priorities, and approach must change as the needs of the organization change. Provides an opportunity for action planning to address the major issues facing the HCNR at the end of 2005. Focuses on organizational culture, alignment, leadership style/fit, and change management.

    Keywords: Leadership Style; Power and Influence; Organizational Culture; Research and Development; Nonprofit Organizations; Motivation and Incentives; Change Management; Alignment; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Health Industry; Massachusetts;


    Kaplan, Robert Steven, and Ayesha Kanji. "Adrian Ivinson at the Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair." Harvard Business School Case 406-111, April 2006. View Details


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