12 May 2020

Christina Wing Shifted Her Teaching and Offered Insights from CEOs Worldwide


It was the week before MBA students at Harvard Business School departed for spring break. HBS had just announced that classes would go virtual for the rest of the term, due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and Senior Lecturer Christina Wing (MBA 1998), who teaches Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA) to first-year students, asked herself, “How can we leverage online teaching to provide different experiences for our students?”

She then began drawing on her worldwide network of HBS alumni and colleagues, inviting them to join her now Zoom-based classes. The first 20-30 minutes before each day’s case discussion were devoted to spontaneous discussion and Q&As about how these CEOs and their organizations are responding to the pandemic, what shifts they are making to their operations, and their paths for moving forward. While these discussions would bring important, real-time lessons about leading during crisis, there was another criterion in her selection of the guest CEOs: Might they have job opportunities for students whose summer internships and other plans were falling by the wayside, due to such things as visa issues for international students and, of course, the economic consequences of the pandemic? These six CEOs were able to offer the students not only their expertise but also potential opportunities and hope:

David A. Burwick (MBA 1989)
President and Chief Executive Officer, The Boston Beer Company

William R. Cummings (PMD 25)
Founder, Cummings Properties, and Philanthropist

Jon Erik Fyrwald (AMP 155)
CEO, Syngenta (Switzerland)

Rohit Gera (AMDP 2012-13, Harvard University Graduate School of Design)
Managing Director, Gera Developments (India)

Pamela R. Holding (MBA 1992)
Co-Head, Equity Division Fidelity Investments

Murat Özyeğin (MBA 2003)
Executive Board Member, Fiba Group (Turkey)

“We have a strong set of values and don't think about short-term results. We worry about the-long term health of the business and our brands, and that empowers us to make bold decisions. When you do the right thing today, even at a high cost, your return is significant down the road.”

    - David A. Burwick (MBA 1989)
    President and Chief Executive Officer, The Boston Beer Company

“The week of February 19, when the market first started dropping, our reps called 100 percent of their clients, giving them that one-on-one lifeline to a financial advisor to help avoid panic selling. The number of letters and feedback we've gotten from our clients just makes it an incredibly special place to work. Equally important is the health and well-being of our employees. We launched a whole new set of benefits right in the first few days of our shift to remote work, signaling the massive support that our organization is giving to our associates. Ninety-five percent of our almost 50,000 employees are working from home and it’s been unbelievably successful.”

    - Pamela R. Holding (MBA 1992)
    Co-Head, Equity Division Fidelity Investments

“I've tried to grow the business the right way in terms of our values: doing things with trust and integrity and keeping the customer at the at the core of what we do. We have to contribute to those severely affected, as a company and as a family.”

    - Rohit Gera (AMDP 2012-13, Harvard University Graduate School of Design)
    Managing Director, Gera Developments (India)

For Wing, the generosity of these leaders, with many Zooming in from different time zones, was humbling and awe-inspiring. Faced with their own challenges during the COVID-19 crisis, and while running international organizations, they took the time to discuss challenges and their ideas for moving forward, and to answer many thoughtful questions.

It wasn’t just Wing who pivoted so quickly. “I’m so proud of my students,” she said. “They pivoted in how they used their class time and in how they interacted with our guests. In LCA, our teaching model is the gray area at the intersection of ethics, economics, and legal issues. These discussions could have proven difficult to have on Zoom, because you want to read the room and feel the emotion during class and be sensitive and responsive when someone reveals a deeply personal experience related to these issues. The students recreated this safe space online by using the chat function and other means of helping each other, developing new classroom norms, and continuing to push the learning. I am so proud of how vulnerable the students were and that the difficult conversations remained authentic. The students stepped up as leaders, leaned in, and embraced the uncertainty and change.”

Wing also received unsolicited feedback from her students:

“Thank you for your continued dedication to giving us the best education and for setting us up for success both personally and professionally. I particularly valued the CEOs you brought to class from different industries and countries to discuss how they are leading their employees, companies, and customers through the unfolding COVID-19 crisis. To be a part of this multifaceted decision-making, in real time, is something that few have exposure to until faced with problems themselves. As a future business leader, I’m forever grateful.”

    - Anjalie Christie (MBA 2021)

“I wanted to reach out and say I loved having Mr. Gera in class today. It was heartening to see all the actions taken by the company to protect the wages and employment of not just their own employees but also those of their clients. Thank you for inviting him to our class.”

    - Raseem Farook (MBA 2021)

“The CEO guests were such a brilliant idea to demonstrate leadership in crisis. I am grateful that they took the time to speak with us and be so candid. Thank you for that, and for the internship opportunities you shared with the section!”

    - Shuai Li (MBA 2021)

As Wing’s students prepare for radically changed summer plans, she hopes that she’s sending them off with a deeper understanding of leadership and corporate accountability in an unprecedented time, with rich examples of how leaders can nimbly adapt, and with what their responsibilities are and to whom.

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