Professor McFarlan earned his AB from Harvard University in 1959, and his MBA and DBA from the Harvard Business School in 1961 and 1965 respectively. He has had a significant role in introducing materials on Management Information Systems to all major programs at the Harvard Business School since the first course on the subject was offered in 1962. He has been a long-time teacher in the Advanced Management Program: International Senior Managers Program, Delivering Information Services Program, and several of the Social Sector programs. He is currently teaching in several short Executive Education programs.
In 1973, shortly after his appointment to full professor he, along with four other faculty members, was sent to Switzerland to set up the School's International Senior Management Program. He returned from Switzerland in 1975 to become Chairman of the Advanced Management Program, a position he held until 1978; and Chairman of all Executive Education Programs from 1977-1980. He was Senior Associate Dean and Director of Research from 1991 to 1995, Senior Associate Dean and Director of External Relations from 1995-2000, and Senior Associate Dean and Director of Asia Pacific from 1999-2004.
Professor McFarlan’s newest book, Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth, coauthored with Professors Regina M. Abrami and William C. Kirby, was released in February 2014. Joining a Non-Profit Board: What You Need to Know, coauthored with Professor Marc J. Epstein, appeared in March 2011, published by Jossey-Bass Division of John Wiley. Chinese General Management: Tsinghua-Harvard Text and Cases, coauthored with Professor Guoqing Chen, published by Tsinghua University Press, appeared in 2009. (Available in Mandarin only). Corporate Information Strategy and Management: Text and Cases (seventh edition), coauthored with Professors Lynda M. Applegate and Robert D. Austin appeared in 2006. Seizing Strategic IT Advantage in China, coauthored with Professor Richard Nolan, and Professor Guoqing Chen of Tsinghua University, appeared in 2003 (available only in Chinese). Professor McFarlan's book, Creating Business Advantage in the Information Age coauthored with Professors Lynda M. Applegate and Robert D. Austin appeared in 2002. "Working on Nonprofit Boards: Don't Assume the Shoe Fits" appeared in the November/December 1999 issue of the Harvard Business Review, and "Information Technology and the Board of Directors" with Richard Nolan appeared in October 2005. He is editor of Information Systems Research Challenge, published by the Harvard Business School Press, 1984. He served a three-year term as Senior Editor of the MIS Quarterly (1986-1988). He served for over ten years on hospital boards in Boston, including Chairman of the Mount Auburn Hospital. He is currently Guest Professor and Co-Director of Case Development at the School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.