24 Nov 2021

New Faculty Profiles: J.S. (Josephine) Nelson


HBS faculty comprises more than 300 scholars and practitioners who bring leading-edge research, extensive experience, and deep insights into the classroom, to organizations, and to managers. We asked new faculty at HBS about their background, their new roles, and their interests.

J.S. (Josephine) Nelson, visiting associate professor, General Management

What is your educational background?
I started in finance after graduating from Yale, and then went to Harvard Law School. I have worked for the federal courts at the trial and appellate levels and as staff counsel to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. I then became a prosecutor and a commercial litigator.

As I helped business people understand their legal liabilities, students headed to business school requested that I teach classes. I had found my passion: I taught in business schools for nearly 10 years before teaching in law school for most of the last five years.

What’s your area of research and what led you to it?
I am particularly interested in the intersection of business ethics, corporate law, and white collar crime. I study the way that legal rules shape ethical behavior within business organizations and the impact of different frameworks on white collar crime.

What led me to this work was helping entrepreneurs set up companies and thinking through what contributions they wanted their organizations to have. The Supreme Court has held that a corporation is a legal person, we need to ask who we want this person to be. How can we help these people act ethically toward pro-social ends? Corporations are huge engines of growth, and they control more resources than many sovereign governments. We must understand the role of businesses in society, and how we shape their actions.

In addition, I am deeply committed to mentoring students, especially women and members of underrepresented groups, who might not have thought of a future in entrepreneurship. I was raised by a single mother who was an immigrant to this country. I have benefitted tremendously from people who shaped my career, and I want to pay that forward.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a professor?
If I were not a business law and ethics professor, I might have stayed in finance—there was tremendous creativity there. Or I could see working in a specific policy role advocating for changes in legal rules on business ethics.

Where are you from?
I grew up south of Seattle.

What is something you like to do outside of your academic work?
Outside of my academic work, I have been a Krav Maga (Israeli close hand combat) and skiing instructor. When I studied at Harvard, I was on the road cycling team. I enjoy being outside, up in the mountains, or by the water.

What’s your favorite book, movie, or piece of art?
My favorite pieces of art use saturated colors such as works from Rothko and Diebenkorn. If I were to name one piece, it might be Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park No. 68.

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