Rakesh Khurana

Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development

Rakesh Khurana is the Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development at the Harvard Business School. He is also the Master of Cabot House at Harvard College. He teaches a doctoral seminar on Management and Markets and and MBA courses in corporate governance and leadership. He is the course head for the first year MBA leadership and organizational behavior course.

Professor Khurana received his B.S. from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and his A.M. (Sociology) and Ph.D. in Organization Behavior from Harvard University. Prior to attending graduate school, he worked as a founding member of Cambridge Technology Partners in Sales and Marketing.

Professor Khurana's research uses a sociological perspective to focus on the processes by which elites and leaders are selected and developed. He has written extensively about the CEO labor market with a particular interest on: the factors that lead to vacancies in the CEO position; the factors that affect the choice of successor; the role of market intermediaries such as executive search firms in CEO search; and the consequences of CEO succession and selection decisions for subsequent firm performance and strategic choices. He has published articles on Corp. Governance in the Harvard Business and Sloan Management Review. His book on the CEO labor market, Searching for a Corporate Savior: The Irrational Quest for Charismatic CEOs (Princeton University Press). The book is an analysis of the labor market for CEOs.

In the book Khurana explains the basic mechanics of the market, how it differs from other labor markets, how it has changed in the past twenty years, and whether it is successful in placing the best candidates in the available jobs. He focuses on the growing tendency of boards of directors to ignore candidates inside their firms and to hire CEOs from outside. He seeks to show that this trend has emerged not because of the intrinsic merits of the “external market,” but because of the rise of investor capitalism and despite evidence that reliance on this market for CEO succession and executive compensation has serious problems that may threaten the viability of firms and the legitimacy of market capitalism.

Khurana's subsequent research grows out of the same interests in the social context of business leadership and the allocation of leadership positions that motivated his research on the CEO labor market. His 2008 book, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (2007: Princeton University Press), chronicles the evolution of management as a profession, with particular focus on the institutional development of the MBA. The focus of this book lies in its direct bearing on the question of how professional management has claimed and received legitimation for its role as the steward of a very substantial proportion of society’s material wealth and resources—a role that has itself been subject to changing interpretations over the decades since the phenomenon of professional management first appeared on the American scene. Guiding questions in this research stream include: Where did our current shareholder-centered, agency-based view of the role of professional management come from—particularly in light of the very different one that underlay the founding of the first professional business schools and the granting to them of a place within the university? How does our current view of the role of the professional manager compare with the way that professional responsibility has traditionally been conceived in the other professions? In view of the way that professional roles have recently been evolving in professions such as law or medicine, do market forces inevitably undermine professional autonomy and standards? What would be the potential benefits and drawbacks of management becoming more like the other professions in its structure and culture than it has been during its history to date? Khurana's work argues that without a re-commitment to the professionalization project, business schools risk devolving into narrow vocation schools and serving largely as a credentialing system, ultimately weakening the legitimacy of MBA programs and contributing to a business culture that garners low trust and low legitimacy in society.

From Higher Aims to Hired Hands received the American Sociological Association's Max Weber Book Award in 2008 for most outstanding contribution to scholarship in the past two years. In 2007, the book was also the Winner of the 2007 Best Professional/Scholarly Publishing Book in Business, Finance and Management, Association of American Publishers.

Khurana has also been working with Dean Nitin Nohria to help legitimate the study of leadership as a multi-disciplinary field. Despite the fact that most business schools have "leadership" in their mission, the field is not regarded as a legitimate field of academic study. Khurana and Nohria have co-edited The Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, a  volume aimed at advancing leadership studies as an academic field of study and scholarship that was  published by Harvard Business Press in 2010 and the Handbook of Leadership Teaching and Pedagogy (with Snook and Nohria). 

The Handbook of Leadership Teaching and Pedagogy received the 2010 Outstanding Leadership Book award by the University of San Diego and the International Leadership Association.

Khurana, Nitin Nohria, and Scott Snook are also co-editors of the forthcoming Handbook of Leadership Teaching and Pedagogy, a volume aimed at examining the pedagogical approaches and theories that undergird existing leadership development and training. The volume will be published by Sage Publications in 2011. Khurana, Nohria and Snook are also co-organizing the fourth annual Harvard Leadership Forum that will focus on developing course modules that integrate the teaching of values in standard organizational behavior and leadership courses. 

Khurana is now working on a new research project examining global leadership and the culture, systems, and organizations that support transnational networks of institutional leadership. 

Khurana's work on the deficiencies of the CEO labor market and his research on business education is regularly featured by the general media such as: Business Week, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Newsweek, The Washington Post, CNBC, The Economist, Globe and Mail, The New Yorker, Chief Executive and Corporate Board Member magazine. He has also published opinion-editorials in some of these outlets. He has consulted to corporations and executive search firms to help improve their CEO succession, governance, and executive development practices. He has been recognized by the London Times as one of 'The Thinkers 50', a list of the fifty most influential management thinkers in the world. 

Interested in book reviews and everyday observations, visit Rakesh's weblog at rakeshkhurana.typepad.com. Interested in signing the MBA Oath which aims to help move management toward seeing itself as a profession see mbaoath.org. Interested in helping develop a set of global standards that will allow for broad, inclusive and sustainable value creation by firms visit www.globalbusinessoath.org

In his role as a professor, Khurana does occasionally receive payment for executive education
 (HBS projects and external projects) and consulting projects related to leadership and governance issues. He is a member of the board of the MBA Oath Project. He is also on the board of American Family Insurance. When these activities are directly related to the collection of data or the development of cases, they will be noted on any material published or revised after 2010. Beginning in 2011 and then updated annually, he will list all firms he has received compensation for in excess of $5,000. 

  1. Charles M. Williams Award for Teaching Excellence: Received the 2012 Charles M. Williams Award for Excellence in Teaching.

  2. Max Weber Award for Distinguished Scholarship: Won the 2008 Max Weber Award for Best Book from the American Sociological Association Section on Organization, Occupations and Work for his book From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (Princeton University Press, 2007).

  3. Charles M. Williams Award for Teaching Excellence: Received the 2008 Charles M. Williams Award for Excellence in Teaching.

  4. Association of American Publishers. Best Professional/Scholarly Publishing Book in Business, Finance and Management: Won the 2007 Best Professional/Scholarly Publishing Book in Business, Finance and Management from the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers, for his book From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (Princeton University Press, 2007).

  5. George S. Dively Award: Won the 1997 George S. Dively Award for outstanding dissertation research.