Michael E. Porter

Bishop William Lawrence University Professor

Michael Porter is an economist, researcher, author, advisor, speaker and teacher. Throughout his career at Harvard Business School, he has brought economic theory and strategy concepts to bear on many of the most challenging problems facing corporations, economies and societies, including market competition and company strategy, economic development, the environment, and health care. His extensive research is widely recognized in governments, corporations, NGOs, and academic circles around the globe. His research has received numerous awards, and he is the most cited scholar today in economics and business. While Dr. Porter is, at the core, a scholar, his work has also achieved remarkable acceptance by practitioners across multiple fields.

Dr. Porter’s initial training was in aerospace engineering at Princeton University. He then earned an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a Ph.D. in Business Economics from Harvard’s Department of Economics. His research approach—applying economic theory to complex systemic problems—reflects these multidisciplinary foundations.  In 2000, Harvard Business School and Harvard University jointly established the Institute for Strategy & Competitiveness to provide a home for his research.

Research & Scholarship

Michael Porter’s early work was on industry competition and company strategy, where he was the pioneer in utilizing economic theory to develop a more rigorous understanding of industry competition and the choices companies make to compete. In addition to advancing his home field of industrial organization economics, Dr. Porter’s work has defined the modern strategy field.  His ideas are taught in virtually every business school in the world as well as extensively in economics and other disciplines. He continues to write about competition and strategy today. His November 2014 article, How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition, addresses the role of information technology in strategy. Dr. Porter’s original work on industry structure, the value chain, and strategic positioning has informed much of his other research.

Dr. Porter next turned to economic development and competitiveness, where his work focused on the microeconomic underpinnings of national and regional economic development. This large body of work includes numerous theoretical and empirical papers on the concept of clusters and their impact on economic performance. He also created the Cluster Mapping Project, which pioneered the rigorous measurement of economic geography and has become the standard in the U.S., Europe, and a growing number of other countries. His theories are widely applied by both government policymakers and economic development practitioners globally.

In environmental policy, Dr. Porter proposed the “Porter Hypothesis” in the early 1990s, which put forward the novel theory that strict environmental standards were not in conflict with company profitability or national competitiveness, but could enhance both. The Porter Hypothesis has given rise to several hundred scholarly articles in the literature on environmental economics.

Dr. Porter also developed a body of work on the role of corporations in society. His ideas have changed the way companies approach philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. His 2011 paper with Mark Kramer, Creating Shared Value, highlights the power of capitalism as the best route to real solutions to many social problems. 

Finally, since the early 2000s, Michael Porter has devoted considerable attention to the economics of health care, with a focus on building the intellectual framework for realigning the delivery of health care to maximize value to patients (patient health outcomes achieved per dollar spent). In Redefining Health Care (with Elizabeth Teisberg) and a series of articles, Dr. Porter and colleagues have introduced the core concepts for reorganizing health care delivery organizations, measuring patient outcomes and the actual cost of care by medical condition, designing value-based reimbursement models, and integrating multi-location health systems, among others.  This work, known as value-based health care delivery, is diffusing rapidly in the literature and among practitioners.

Other Activities & Honors

Michael Porter has taught generations of students at Harvard Business School and across the entire University, as well as business, government, and health care leaders from around the world. He serves as an advisor to business, government, and the social sector. He has been strategy advisor to leading U.S. and international companies, served on Fortune 500 public boards, and played an active role in U.S. economic policy at the federal and state levels. He has worked with heads of state from around the world on economic development strategy. 

Michael Porter has founded or co-founded four non-profit organizations growing out of his scholarly work: The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, which addresses economic development in distressed urban communities; the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which creates rigorous tools for measuring foundation effectiveness; FSG, a leading non-profit strategy firm serving corporations, NGOs, and foundations in improving social value creation; and the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM), which develops global patient outcome standards and risk factors by medical condition and drives their adoption globally.

Michael Porter is the author of nineteen books including Competitive Strategy, Competitive Advantage, Competitive Advantage of Nations, On Competition, and Redefining Health Care, as well as over 125 articles. He has won many scholarly awards and honors including the Adam Smith Award of the National Association of Business Economists, the John Kenneth Galbraith Medal, the David A. Wells Prize in Economics from Harvard, and the Academy of Management’s highest award for scholarly contributions to management. He is also an unprecedented seven-time winner of the McKinsey Award for the best Harvard Business Review article of the year.

Professor Porter is the recipient of twenty-one honorary doctorates and several national and state honors. He received the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce for his contribution to economic development, and has been elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and other honorary societies. In 2000, he was named a University Professor by Harvard University, the highest recognition that can be awarded to a Harvard faculty member.

For further information, see the web site of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness (www.isc.hbs.edu).

 

  1. The Competitive Advantage of Nations and Regions

    by Michael E. Porter

    Michael E. Porter continues to extend his study first reported in The Competitive Advantage of Nations. Porter has published books and studies of other countries, states, and cities, including Canada, New Zealand, Portugal, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and India. A book on Japan (with visiting professor Hirotaka Takeuchi), tentatively titled The Two Japans, is expected to be completed in 1999.

    Porter is extending his microeconomics-based theory of competitiveness in a variety of ways. He is exploring the shifting role of various microeconomic influences as a nation's economy becomes more advanced, and the relationship between macroeconomic conditions and microeconomic conditions in development.

    Porter's examination of the problems of early-stage economic development includes research with Pankaj Ghemawat on India, as well as studies on Central American, South American, and Asian countries.

    Porter is also conducting statistical research on the microeconomic foundations of economic development. An initial paper "The Microeconomic Foundations of Economic Development" (in The Global Competitiveness Report 1998, Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum, 1998) examines the role of microeconomic variables in explaining per capita income differences among 52 countries. A paper with Mariko Sakakibara (UCLA) examines the link between domestic rivalry and international competitive success in a sample of Japanese industries.

    Porter is also conducting research into appropriate forms of economic cooperation within regions (including countries), for which a major project involving the presidents of seven Central American nations is serving as a laboratory.

  2. Clusters and Competition

    by Michael E. Porter

    Porter is conducting ongoing research on the theory of clusters, or geographic concentrations of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field. This work includes further development of cluster theory and its implications for management and public policy (see On Competition, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1998 and "Clusters and the New Economics of Competition," Harvard Business Review, November-December 1998). Porter is also conducting statistical research on the incidence, growth, and decline of clusters in the U.S. economy. With Claas van der Linde of St. Gallen University in Switzerland, he is also conducting a meta-study of clusters drawn from almost 350 known studies of individual clusters.

  3. National Innovative Capacity and the Ideas Production Function

    by Michael E. Porter

    Joint research with Scott Stern (MIT) is exploring the determinants of innovative capacity across countries using time series/cross-section data ("Measuring the "Ideas" Production Function: Evidence from International Patent Output," draft working paper, July 1998). Using international patenting as a weighting variable, Porter and Stern have devised an index of national innovation capacity. The data has also been employed to directly estimate critical parameters of the ideas production function, a central element in economic growth theory.

  4. Sustainable Inner-City Economic Development

    by Michael E. Porter

    Michael E. Porter is using the framework he developed in The Competitive Advantage of Nations to examine the economic development problems in distressed inner-city areas. He seeks to understand the potential of inner-city businesses, government policies, and private-sector initiatives to contribute to sustainable economic development. Porter's project has yielded a series of articles (see "The Competitive Advantage of the Inner City," Harvard Business Review, May-June 1995) and led to the development of a private-sector organization called the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, which is catalyzing inner-city development efforts across the nation.
  5. Environmental Policy and Competitiveness

    by Michael E. Porter

    Michael E. Porter has been exploring (with Claas van der Linde of St. Gallen University, Switzerland) the relationship between environmental regulation, industry competition, and international competitiveness. He finds that many forms of environmental pollution reflect inefficient resource utilization and poorly developed technology, suggesting that better environmental performance is often consistent with enhanced competitiveness. This perspective recasts the role of governmental regulation, highlighting the importance of regulatory and corporate approaches that foster innovation and improve resource productivity rather than simply abate or prevent pollution
  6. Capital Markets, Investment, and Competition

    by Michael E. Porter

    Michael E. Porter's research into issues of capital allocation, first published in the report 'Capital Choices,' is the basis for continuing research that examines how U.S. capital markets distort competitive behavior and investment. A report to the Competitiveness Policy Council, 'Lifting All Boats,' contains recent research and policy recommendations.
  7. Competitive Strategy

    by Michael E. Porter

    Porter is engaged in a major new body of work on the theoretical foundations of competitive positioning and the underpinnings of sustainable competitive advantage. This research highlights the distinction between positioning and operational effectiveness; the fundamental role of differences in company activities in positioning; and the central importance of tradeoffs in delivering different types of customer benefit to the sustainability of differences in positioning; the role of fit among a firm's activities (or activity systems); competitive advantage and sustainability; and the relationship between strategy, organizations, and incentives.

    He is exploring his ideas in theoretical papers, mathematical models, and company studies. An early discussion of this body of work appears in "What is Strategy?", Harvard Business Review, November-December 1996 and Activity Systems as Barriers to Imitation," Harvard Business School Working Paper #98-066.

    Porter's next book on strategy, focusing on these ideas, is nearing completion.

    Michael Porter and Anita McGahan are completing a series of statistical papers on the sources of company and industry profitability. Based on large new database on the profitability of U.S. business segments between 1981 and 1994, their research examines topics such as the relative importance of industry; business segment positioning; corporate parent effects on superior or lagging profitability; the persistence of profit differences over time; and how high and low performers differ along such dimensions.