Gautam Mukunda

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Unit: Organizational Behavior


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Gautam Mukunda is an Assistant Professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit of Harvard Business School. Before joining the business school he was the National Science Foundation Synthetic Biology ERC Postdoctoral Fellow resident at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies. He received his PhD from MIT in Political Science and an A.B. in Government from Harvard, magna cum laude. His research focuses on leadership, international relations, and the social and political implications of technological change. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and MIT's Security Studies Program and Program on Emerging Technologies.

Before graduate school he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company, where he focused on the pharmaceutical sector. He is a member of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Mentorship Committee of The Upakar Foundation, a national non-profit devoted to providing college scholarships to underprivileged students of South Asian descent. He is a Paul & Daisy Soros New American Fellow, an NSF IGERT Fellow, and a Next Generation Fellow of The American Assembly. He has published articles on leadership, the power of the financial sector, military innovation, network-centric warfare, and the security and economic implications of synthetic biology in Harvard Business Review, Security Studies, Parameters, Politics and the Life Sciences, Systems and Synthetic Biology, and the Washington Post. His first book, "Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter," was published in September 2012 by Harvard Business Review Press.

Featured Work



  1. Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter

    Gautam Mukunda

    Will your next leader be insignificant—or indispensable? The importance of leadership and the impact of individual leaders has long been the subject of debate. Are they made by history, or do they make it? In Indispensable, Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda offers an enticingly fresh look at how and when individual leaders really can make a difference. By identifying and analyzing the hidden patterns of their careers, and by exploring the systems that place these leaders in positions of power, Indispensable sheds new light on how we may be able to identify the best leaders and what lessons we can learn, from both the process and the result. Profiling a mix of historic and modern figures—from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln to Winston Churchill and Judah Folkman—and telling the stories of how they came to power and how they made the most important decisions of their lives, Indispensable reveals how, when, and where a single individual in the right place at the right time can save or destroy the organization they lead, and even change the course of history. Indispensable will also help you understand this new model so you can use it in your own life—whether you're a citizen casting a ballot, an executive choosing your next CEO, or a leader trying to make your mark.

    Keywords: Leadership; Decision Making; Outcome or Result; Power and Influence;


    Mukunda, Gautam. Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter. Harvard Business Review Press, 2012. View Details

Journal Articles

  1. We Cannot Go On: Disruptive Innovation and the First World War Royal Navy

    Gautam Mukunda

    Insights from Disruptive Innovation theory (DI) are often used in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of national security policy. DI explains why successful companies are sometimes defeated by new competitors with relatively unsophisticated products. Although DI is highly influential in the business literature, its applicability to military doctrine has not been persuasively shown. Proposed here is a more abstract and general version of DI, which improves its foundations, adapts it to militaries, and suggests a framework for the reliable identification of disruptive innovations. This new theory is tested by examining the Royal Navy before and during World War I and evaluating how well it explains the Royal Navy's success at developing Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) to protect the battlefleet from submarine attacks and the near failure at implementing convoy tactics to protect merchant shipping. This generalized version of DI successfully explains several key features of the case.

    Keywords: Technology; History; National Security; Framework; Adaptation; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Technological Innovation; Machinery and Machining; Disruptive Innovation; Theory; Developing Countries and Economies; Technology Industry;


    Mukunda, Gautam. "We Cannot Go On: Disruptive Innovation and the First World War Royal Navy." Security Studies 19, no. 1 (2010). View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American (C)

    Gautam Mukunda, Lisa Mazzanti and Aldo Sesia

    When Cynthia Carroll, chief executive of Anglo American, ordered the shutdown of the company's Rustenburg, South Africa mines in the summer of 2007, it was just the first of many steps the company would take under her leadership to achieve zero harm. The case describes Carroll's approach to stakeholder relationships (i.e., relationships with the government and unions), how the shutdown was used as a platform to change the culture at Anglo American as a whole, the challenges of sustaining such an endeavor, and Carroll's reflections on her career and leadership. In 2013, Carroll stepped down as chief executive, but her tenure at Anglo American had reverberated through the company, South Africa, and the mining industry.

    Keywords: Ethics; Organizational Culture; Business and Stakeholder Relations; Change; Mining Industry; South Africa;


    Mukunda, Gautam, Lisa Mazzanti, and Aldo Sesia. "Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American (C)." Harvard Business School Supplement 414-021, October 2013. View Details
  2. Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American (B)

    Gautam Mukunda, Lisa Mazzanti and Aldo Sesia

    In 2007, Cynthia Carroll, the newly-appointed chief executive of mining giant Anglo American, ordered the temporary shutdown of Anglo American Platinum's Rustenburg, South Africa mines in response to a spate of deaths at the operations. The case lays out Carroll's requirements of what had to be done before the Rustenburg mines could restart operations, including the implementation of a new safety program for tens of thousands of workers that called on the help of executives from other Anglo American businesses. The shutdown disrupted operations and incurred substantial costs.

    Keywords: Safety; Ethics; Mining; Mining Industry; South Africa;


    Mukunda, Gautam, Lisa Mazzanti, and Aldo Sesia. "Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American (B)." Harvard Business School Supplement 414-020, October 2013. View Details
  3. Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American (A)

    Gautam Mukunda, Lisa Mazzanti and Aldo Sesia

    In 2007, Cynthia Carroll, the newly-appointed chief executive of mining giant Anglo American, was considering shutting down mines in South Africa for safety reasons, namely worker fatalities. No company had ever done so before. Carroll felt that operating a company whose goal was anything less than "zero harm" (meaning no fatalities or serious injuries) was unacceptable. As the first woman and non-South African to lead the century-old company, many were watching her closely. Should she go so far as to make the unprecedented move of shutting down the mines? What message would that send to the company and to the mining industry? The lives of others, Carroll's reputation, and the company's performance were all on the line.

    Keywords: Safety; Working Conditions; Business Exit or Shutdown; Organizational Culture; Gender Characteristics; Management Teams; Mining; Mining Industry; South Africa;


    Mukunda, Gautam, Lisa Mazzanti, and Aldo Sesia. "Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American (A)." Harvard Business School Case 414-019, October 2013. View Details
  4. Gerry Pasciucco at AIG Financial Products

    Gautam Mukunda and Thomas J. DeLong

    Gerry Pasciucco was appointed to lead American International Group's Financial Products (AIGFP) group after the government bailout of AIG in 2008 and charged with the task of shutting down the division while minimizing the government's losses. AIGFP's failed trades had threatened to bring down the entire company, and the government had responded by loaning AIG $182 billion in exchange for 79.9% of the company, because it feared that AIG's failure could trigger the collapse of the entire global financial system. Several months into his tenure, the division paid large retention bonuses to all of its professionals according to a contract negotiated before he joined AIGFP. These bonuses were seen by the public as going to the very people whose mistakes resulted in the need for a bailout in the first place and resulted in an unprecedented storm of public outrage, culminating in a Congressional hearing in which AIG's CEO, Ed Liddy, was repeatedly attacked for making the bonus payments. Liddy responded by asking people who had received the largest payments to return the money to the company. Now Pasciucco has to decide how to lead his team through this crisis while grappling with the larger issues of the justice of the retention payments.

    Keywords: Corporate Accountability; Ethics; Crisis Management; Financial Crisis; Management Teams; Business and Government Relations; Financial Services Industry; United States;


    Mukunda, Gautam, and Thomas J. DeLong. "Gerry Pasciucco at AIG Financial Products." Harvard Business School Case 413-059, November 2012. (Revised July 2013.) View Details


Other Publications and Materials

  1. The Price of Wall Street's Power

    Gautam Mukunda

    Over and over again, executives make decisions that aren't in their companies' best interests, in response to pressure from Wall Street. Though many believe this happens because firms have a "fiduciary duty" to maximize shareholder returns, U.S. executives do not, as a matter of law, have any such obligation. Yet it's hard for them to resist demands from a quarter that has amassed such a huge and disproportionate share of power. In the past few decades, as legislation that put controls on Wall Street was largely undone, the size and profits of the financial sector grew enormously. That increased its influence, particularly its ability to sway the government by spending billions of dollars on lobbyists and political contributions. Even after the financial crisis, Wall Street was able to slow down and weaken new regulations meant to rein in its risky practices. This "financialization" of the economy has serious downsides: it increases volatility, inhibits growth, and misallocates resources, such as talent and capital, away from wealth creation and toward wealth distribution. It distorts thinking. Restoring the balance of power is critical to the competitiveness and the health of the rest of the economy. Limits on the size and leverage of banks and changes to the tax code could promote better equilibrium—but courage will be needed to put such reforms in place.


    Mukunda, Gautam. "The Price of Wall Street's Power." Harvard Business Review 92, no. 6 (June 2014): 70–78. View Details


    1. Overview

      by Gautam Mukunda

      Professor Mukunda teaches Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD.)  This course focuses on how managers become effective leaders by addressing the human side of enterprise.

      The first modules examine teams, individuals, and networks in the context of:

      The determinants of group culture.

      Managing the performance of individual subordinates.

      Establishing productive relationships with peers and seniors over whom the manager has no formal authority.

      The intermediate modules look at successful leaders in action to see how they:

      Develop a vision of the future.

      Align the organization behind that vision.

      Motivate people to achieve the vision.

      Design effective organizations and change them to achieve superior performance.

      The final module introduces a model for strategic career management.

    1. Selected as a Finalist for the 2012 Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award from the International Leadership Association.

    2. Selected as a Regional Finalist for the 2011 White House Fellowship.

    3. Received a 2011 BioBricks Foundation Fellowship to present at Synthetic Biology 5.0 at Stanford University.

    4. Winner of the 2010 SynBERC Poster Award at the SynBERC Annual Retreat.

    5. Selected as a 2010 Next Generation Fellow at the American Assembly.

    6. Received a 2009 American Political Science Association Travel Grant.

    7. Awarded a 2007-2009 National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (NSF IGERT) to study the forecasting, management, and implications of emerging technologies.

    8. Received a 2008 BioBricks Foundation Fellowship to present at Synthetic Biology 4.0 in Hong Kong.

    9. Awarded the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching in 2008 from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.

    10. Awarded a 2007 Seminar on Public Policy and Nuclear Threats Fellowship from the Institute on Global Conflict & Cooperation.

    11. Received a 2007 Synthetic Biology 3.0 Travel Fellowship to present at Synthetic Biology 3.0 in Zurich, Switzerland.

    12. Awarded a 2005-2007 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

    13. Selected to attend the 2006 Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation Seminar on Public Policy and Biological Threats.

    14. • Awarded a 2006 Carnegie Endowment Biosecurity Fellowship to attend a Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation Biosecurity Seminar.

    22 Jan 2015
    Harvard Business School
    02 Dec 2014
    New York Times
    24 Oct 2014
    Harvard Business School
    20 May 2014
    Harvard Business Review
    10 Feb 2014
    HBS Working Knowledge
    06 Dec 2013
    Harvard Business School
    05 Dec 2013
    Washington Post
    16 Oct 2013
    15 Oct 2013
    Al Jazeera America
    28 Aug 2013
    Wall Street Journal
    26 Aug 2013
    CNBC: Fast Money
    04 Mar 2013
    28 Feb 2013
    Foreign Policy
    21 Feb 2013
    Huffington Post
    23 Jan 2013
    Washington Post
    13 Nov 2012
    American Public Media: Marketplace
    07 Nov 2012
    Investors Business Daily
    07 Nov 2012
    New York Times
    25 Oct 2012
    Our Changing Economic Times
    16 Oct 2012
    Washington Post
    11 Oct 2012
    Government Executive
    09 Oct 2012
    05 Oct 2012
    U.S. News & World Report
    02 Oct 2012
    Harvard Business Review
    04 Sep 2012
    HBR Blogs
    24 Aug 2012