A Message from Dean Srikant Datar

New Dean Srikant Datar talks about his background, immediate objectives, and recent accomplishments. What makes HBS so special? What makes him proud? What is he most looking forward to? Learn more about our new Dean—during his first few days on the job—in this special episode of the HBS podcast Staff Stories. Recorded in our remote studio on December 15, 2020.

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Hi, my name is Srikant Datar and I have just started as Dean of the Harvard Business School on January the 1st. It was very nicely put by [Executive Dean for Administration] Angela [Crispi], saying that the start date of my term is 1/1, and I am indeed the 11th Dean of the Harvard Business School, a true honor and privilege. HBS is truly an extraordinary institution. My overwhelming feeling is one of feeling really privileged and tremendously excited to be given this opportunity to shape the next chapter of the School that we all love.

I am very eager to get started, and even as I say that I am aware that we are in a highly unusual time at the School and in the world with the COVID pandemic, but I could not be prouder of how the faculty, the students, and the staff have responded to all the challenges that we have faced. And I’m thinking about whether it is virtual teaching, remote working, hybrid classrooms, welcoming students back to campus, on every one of those occasions, our community has responded magnificently. It is this community and its commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve our mission that gives me confidence that we can draw on all our past strengths and look forward to a remarkable future.

I grew up in Bombay, as it was called then, Mumbai in India, came to the United States after having done my undergraduate degree in India and my chartered accountancy and studying at the Indian Institute of Management, at Ahmedabad School, by the way, which was founded in collaboration with the Harvard Business School, and then came to the US to do my PhD at Stanford in 1980. After having an appointment at Carnegie Mellon University and having taught back at Stanford, I came to HBS in 1996.

My intellectual interests evolved in what many would say are pretty surprising ways, from a focus on governance and control, to design thinking and innovative problem solving, to data science and machine learning. And I know I could not have done this work at any other business school.

What I have heard from faculty, students, staff, and alumni groups about the challenges we face and the opportunities we see, the few important initiatives that I’ve heard individuals tell me about. First, I think implementing with speed and urgency the ambitious agenda of the Dean’s Anti-Racism Task Force that the Dean had initiated in the summer, and on which a tremendous amount of work has been done. I am very aware that we need to do more work on diversity, equity and inclusion across gender, across race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, diversity of all kinds. That work is important and urgent, and we’re very committed to doing it. Across the School I’m already seeing wonderful momentum. Everything from going to the market to recruit a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, to rethinking how we calculate financial aid for MBA students whose family earnings or ongoing family support might necessitate additional assistance, to partnering with entities like the Executive Leadership Council to increase the number of successful Black executives.

As I think about the Dean’s Anti-Racism Task Force: [It] has resulted in the racial equity plan. And we have formed the Racial Equity Advisory Board under the leadership of Professor Jim Cash in whose honor we named Cash House on the campus. And Jim has helped us assemble a phenomenal advisory board. And the board consists of individuals like Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck, Ken Chenault, the former CEO of American Express and currently at General Catalyst, Doug McMillon, the current CEO of Walmart, Brian Moynihan, the current CEO of Bank of America, Lisa Skeete Tatum (MBA 1998), the current CEO of Landit. We’ve had conversations with them already about exactly what they have done, how they have done it. We have a lot to learn, but we have fabulous people from whom we can learn. And you might’ve already heard, a group of 37 companies have formed what’s called the OneTen initiative, which is to create one million jobs for Black youth over the next ten years. We are learning so much about different ways in which we can think about this problem and make progress on this topic. I think this initiative, diversity across all forms, is absolutely essential if we are to educate leaders who can make a difference in the world, because it is about trying to allow every individual to be the best that they can be and for us to be able to support that activity in a way by which that goal can be realized. You’ll see much more in this arena in the new year.

Second, I see many opportunities to leverage the many digital assets we have built and to think about how we might use the case method, the field method, and online learning, as well as virtual hybrid in-person instruction most effectively in all our educational programs. There are skills and concepts that are better learned through an online module where students with varying levels of expertise or experience can move through them in a self-paced way. I know this from my experience in teaching, in the Harvard Business Analytics Program. I also think we’ll find the boundaries across these different learning modes far more porous, as I just described, because while we value greatly the residential learning experience on our campus, that experience can be complemented in fabulous ways through asynchronous learning. The other exciting thing would be our ability to reach many more learners and think about ways in which we might support lifelong learning for our MBA students in a powerful way. In that context, I think the opportunities that we have with the hybrid classrooms that have been created with HBS Online, and whether that applies to the MBA program or Executive Education and the ability for different groups to access our materials, is going to be a tremendous opportunity. I can imagine us playing a more supportive role in helping other faculty members who might be interested in learning about the ways in which we teach. I think we have many opportunities as a result of the hybrid classroom in terms of innovating in our own educational programs, connecting with many, many, many more learners than we have before.

A third would be around what’s happening in the world today with digitization and technology going at a very fast pace. Artificial intelligence, internet of things, the cloud, 5G telecommunication technologies, all of these are transforming organizations in very fundamental ways. And I believe that organizations will demand graduates with knowledge of these skills necessary to make wise and critical judgments. We'll have to think imaginatively about the implications of these technologies on our research and in our educational programs.

Finally, I’d say that I’m a very strong believer that business is a force of good in our societies. It has lifted billions of people out of poverty. It is a solution to the most difficult problems facing the world today. And yet in recent years, business leaders and large corporations are being challenged to make capitalism more inclusive, to consider what is happening around inequality, to think about sustainability and how best we might meet environmental, social, and governance goals. These are all interesting and complex questions with no easy answers, but ones that I believe we must address to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. I hope we will lay out a fairly bold and ambitious agenda for the next few years.

One of the ways I have spent my last couple of months is to talk to a large number of individuals—faculty, staff, students, alumni—and just trying to absorb ideas about different things we might do. I first hope that we’ll get past the COVID pandemic. I’m hopeful that with the vaccines coming up now and as more of the production happens, we’ll slowly start getting back to a post-COVID world. And I don’t think that world is going to be the world we saw pre-COVID, just because in a matter of months, we’ve been able to do things that would have ordinarily taken us years.

The thing that makes me most proud are my students. Three of my doctoral students, V.G. NarayananDennis Campbell, and Tatiana Sandino, are HBS professors. And two others became deans of major business schools. I’m also proud of the work that I did with our beloved late colleague, David Garvin, and my other co-author, Patrick Cullen, on rethinking the MBA, and the impact it has had on management education. Although, I would add that most of the credit for that work should go to the many innovators whose work we describe in the book. And then, earlier this year, I was honored to be recognized as the “public company director of the year,” by the National Association of Corporate Directors. I was the first academic to be fortunate enough to receive the award. And, again, the credit for that doesn’t go to me. It goes to the faculty, staff, and students who, over the years, and in recent times, have shared so many insights with me. Those are a few of the things that I would say have been moments of great joy.

So first, I just want to say an enormous thank you to everyone involved in the design of the hybrid classroom. I think they ran something like 80 experiments by the time we got to the classroom that you saw in the end. And this is, of course, what makes the HBS community so spectacular is everyone caring deeply about the School, wanting to make it better, setting high expectations. The dedication and commitment of the community makes possible what at first seems impossible to accomplish.

I’m very much looking forward to moving in this winter. It gives my wife and me the opportunity to spend more time in our wonderful community. It’ll make it much easier for me to drop in on a student event in the evening or on a weekend. And it is more likely that we will have the spontaneous casual interactions with members of the community that will really give us a very good feel for campus life.

I would like to say a very big thank you to the community for the outpouring of warmth and excitement. I want to thank them for all that we have accomplished over these last few months, by doing whatever was needed during these extraordinary times. I’m just filled with gratitude and admiration. But it is what makes HBS such an incredible place. My only request to the community at this point would be to invite anyone who has ideas to not hesitate to send me their thoughts, innovations, or ways in which they think that we might do things better. I very much welcome those suggestions and comments.

I hope everyone had a wonderful and relaxing holiday season. I’m very hopeful that we will get a chance to see and meet each other in 2021. And, I’m really, really looking forward to that, as are so many other members of our community.