07 Aug 2010

Notes on Global Trip


On 26 July, I left Boston to begin a 10 day/5 city trip around the world, with stops in London, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and San Francisco. I wanted to meet with some of the School's alumni as well as other business leaders and educators to hear their perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing Harvard Business School; it seemed an outside-in view would be a valuable complement to the impressions I am gathering as I talk to faculty and staff (and soon, students) here on campus. I also was keen to get a first hand view of some of the locations where we have invested in developing research centers, especially our new facility in Shanghai.

photo of Dean Nitin Nohria Dean Nohria greets alumni
at the Harvard Center Shanghai.

It was a lot to take in, and it was an incredible journey. Now that I've had a few days to reflect on the experience, I thought I might share with you some of my observations.

Perhaps most notable was the extraordinary good will and reputation Harvard Business School enjoys in every corner of the globe. What we do is watched closely, and emulated. I came to understand even more deeply that while the Harvard name is a currency of its own, in reality, it's the people who represent the School that define us. At HBS, we are fortunate to have amazing alumni - nearly 75,000 strong across our MBA and longer executive education programs - who embody our mission. Their lives and their careers, and the impact they have on the people and communities around them, ensure that the values we espouse are more than mere words on paper. These people really do make a positive difference for the world.

Let me give you an example from each stop on my trip. In London, I met Martin Halusa (MBA 1979), the CEO of Apax Partners, one of the pioneering private equity firms in Europe that has a great track record of creating value by investing in new and entrepreneurial as well as larger and more established firms. In Mumbai, I met with Ratan Tata (AMP 1975). The influence of the Tata Group in Indian business and society is broad and deep; it is a great example of a company whose values have become a brand and a beacon for others to follow. Similarly, in Hong Kong, I met with Victor Fung (PhD 1971), whose company has been responsible for developing the supply chain that moves goods in and out of Asia, and as a result has helped transform China into a global player. In Shanghai, I met Vice Mayor Tu Guangshao (AMP 2001), who is committed to the continued transformation of a city seeking to develop a high-tech and service economy. In San Francisco, I met Gary Rogers (MBA 1968), who in his 30 years at Dreyer's grew the company into a major producer of frozen desserts. From everyday products like cars and ice cream, to services like logistics and operations, to running financial service firms and cities, these alumni are leaders who shape our everyday lives. It is quite remarkable.

Another impression I developed during my trip, particularly as I met faculty members and deans at other schools, was the deep influence Harvard Business School has had in the academic arena. Our Global Colloquium on Participant-Centered Learning (GCPCL) (and its early predecessor, the International Teachers Program) has created generations of faculty members around the world who feel a deep affinity for the case method and the School and who strive to be outstanding teachers. Given the demand for management education today, and given our own limited resources, it's unrealistic to expect we'll be able to increase dramatically the number of students we touch directly. But we shouldn't discount the multiplier impact we can achieve through the influence we have on other educators. And the benefits don't simply flow one way; as Das Narayandas or Earl Sasser could tell you, after teaching with colleagues from Fudan University in their "Creating Value through Service Excellence" program in Shanghai last week, their partnership with local faculty members significantly enhanced the learning experience not just for the participants, but for them as well.

My third impression was increasing evidence of a hypothesis I've been testing: namely, that if the 20th century was the American century, the 21st century will be the Global century, and one where game-changing ideas and radical innovations will emerge not just from the U.S., but from all over the world. The trip reinforced for me that this shift is real and profound. As a result, we at HBS will need to find creative ways of remaining connected to practice literally everywhere. I believe our global strategy - one of a small physical footprint (namely, our network of research centers supplemented with field experiences for our students and new executive education program offerings) but a large intellectual footprint - can serve us well here, and that our size and reach give us a unique edge. We truly do have the ability to serve as a locus for the world's thinking. When doing work in Latin America, for example, our advantage is that we don't just have a deep understanding of the issues and challenges facing that region; we also have a deep understanding of the issues and challenges facing other key regions of the world. In other words, we can be both locally and globally knowledgeable. This strategy also allows us to sustain our commitment to our campus here on the banks of the Charles River, where leaders from all over the world can gather to learn from each other and from faculty whose work reflects the best thinking and management practices from all over the globe.

I was excited to learn about companies in every country setting aggressive targets for expansion and innovation. Whether it's BYD's efforts to develop a mass electric car in China, or Reliance Communications' objective of outpacing any other part of the world in broadband connectivity in India, or, closer to home, revolutions in consumer technology in Silicon Valley, the race is on for the next new service or device. Unfortunately, Harvard Business School isn't viewed by the rest of the world as a place that embraces or fosters innovation. In truth, I believe our reputation lags reality. Meeting alumni like Arthur Rock (MBA 1951), a founding father of venture capitalism who invested early in companies like Intel and Apple, and Sheryl Sandberg (MBA 1995), the COO of Facebook, a company that has virtually defined the arena of social networking, gave me more than enough proof that the School is indeed a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. We're going to need to work to change the misperception.

Finally, a common thread I picked up in every location I visited, no matter whether it was a growth or a non-growth market, was anxiety around jobs and job creation. In the U.S., it reflected itself in concern that the innovations emerging in (for example) the high tech sector don't seem to be leading to job creation in the way that innovations in the manufacturing sector once did. In India, it manifested itself in concern about the roughly 100 million young people who will be entering the work force in the coming years. In China, it emerged as concern about a new generation of rural emigrants unsatisfied with the export-led low paying job opportunities available to them in the cities. These are real challenges, and ones that Harvard Business School must help business leaders address if we want to retain our legitimacy as an engine of progress in society.

If these thoughts strike a chord with any of you, I'd welcome your reactions. And if I didn't have an opportunity to travel to your part of the world this first time out, know that in the months and years to come I'll make it a priority. A global century requires nothing less.

Additional information from my Global Trip:

  • HBS Chief Marketing & Communications Officer Brian Kenny accompanied me on my trip. Read his blog offsite to learn about his experiences while on the trip.
  • On July 29, I delivered the JRD Tata Memorial Oration in Mumbai. This annual lecture series honors the late JRD Tata, the former chairman of the Tata Group and a pioneer of globalization in India.
    Read my Oration

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