09 Oct 2020

New Dean Srikant Datar Addresses the HBS Community

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"I am deeply honored to be named the eleventh Dean of Harvard Business School. I am grateful for the confidence and faith you have placed in me to lead HBS. Thanks also to the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and family and friends.

I will be starting my tenure at a highly unusual time at the School and in the world. The Covid pandemic has required us to confront challenges on so many dimensions. Faculty, students, and staff have been asked to teach, learn, and work remotely, against a backdrop of concerns about health, racial justice, job security, changes in immigration policy, an economic downturn, and more. At HBS, it has been particularly difficult to stay apart on a campus and with a classroom environment expressly designed to bring people together. We do not know how the pandemic will continue to unfold or what new uncertainties we will face. Yet I know, together, we will overcome them. Unusual times give extraordinary institutions like HBS the chance to draw on past strengths so as to create an even more remarkable future.

HBS is wonderful at developing people. I know this from my own experience. I came to HBS in 1996 drawn to the School’s mission and excited by the opportunity to work on cutting-edge problems faced by businesses and organizations. Over the years, my intellectual interests evolved from a focus on governance and control to design thinking and innovative problem solving to data science and machine learning. I do not believe I could have done research and course development across so many fields at any other school, nor would I have learned as much as I did from my amazing students. Many other colleagues undoubtedly could share similar stories.

I was given the opportunity to serve in leadership roles as Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education, for Research, for Faculty Development, for Faculty Recruiting, and for University Affairs. Most recently, I had the privilege of working with an amazing team of faculty, staff, and students to transition our programs to remote learning and develop our hybrid classroom options. After 24 years of learning about so many aspects of the School, I feel excited and ready to serve the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of this remarkable institution. I will do all I can for the School and the University. I do this with a sense of service toward the place—and the community—that has given me so much. In everything, I am acutely aware that I can never do for Harvard what Harvard has done for me. That debt will always remain.

We have come a long way since March—teaching our educational programs online and in hybrid classrooms, doing research and case writing virtually, holding Zoom reunions and Commencement, carrying out the work of the School, and investing in the physical campus to welcome students back safely. Through it all, members of the community have worked together, caring for and helping one another in extraordinary ways by being patient, forgiving, adaptable, and resourceful. Their dedication and commitment have made possible what, at first, seemed impossible to accomplish.

Over the next two and a half months, I want to listen to your thoughts and ideas. I will be reaching out to learn about your hopes and aspirations for the next stage of HBS’s journey. I plan to share our collective vision for HBS in the new year. Today, I would like to touch on a few topics that I know are on your minds.

Two weeks ago, Nitin shared with the community the action plan and recommendations of the Dean’s Anti-Racism Task Force. The report laid out an ambitious agenda—including appointing a Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer and launching an initiative on racial equity; fostering research on bias and access; developing cases with a greater diversity of protagonists; recruiting Black and underrepresented minority faculty, students, and staff and creating a culture in which everyone can thrive; and engaging the broader business community. We must adopt and act upon this plan with speed and urgency, striving to advance racial equity within HBS and to educate leaders who advance racial equity in their organizations and their communities. Here, I am inspired by the example of Jim Cash, the first Black faculty member to be tenured at Harvard Business School, whose pathbreaking career and widespread impact were highlighted during the moving ceremony to name Cash House in his honor last week. Jim’s faith in the School and its ability to make meaningful progress mirrors my own. This work will not be easy. But it is key to our mission of educating leaders who make a difference in the world.

Next, let me say a few words about our online capabilities and opportunities. The Covid crisis has hastened the passage of the School to a new future and opened our eyes to new approaches to pedagogy. In a matter of days and weeks, we implemented forms of online learning that otherwise might have taken years to develop. Thanks to incredible effort on the part of faculty, students, and staff, we have become proficient in online teaching. We continue to innovate on the pedagogy and the technology in important ways. A key question for us is how best to exploit the many digital assets we have built, and how we can leverage the case method, the field method, and online learning, as well as virtual, hybrid, and in-person instruction, in all our educational programs, even as we leverage the gift of our extraordinary campus and strengthen the residential learning experience. Most organizations I know will not go back to doing things the way they did pre-Covid. Nor should we. I have heard fascinating ideas for innovating in our MBA program, reimagining FIELD and experiential learning, reaching many more learners with imaginative solutions, supporting student entrepreneurs in ways we could not have done before, and generating new opportunities for lifelong learning. There are equal opportunities for impact in our Doctoral Programs, Executive Education, and HBS Online. I am excited to explore with all of you what we might do.

A word on technology. Digitization and technology innovations are sweeping through organizations. These trends will only accelerate post-Covid. Data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, the cloud, and 5G telecommunication technologies are transforming organizational processes in strategy, sales and marketing, supply chains, financial management, and human resources. Cybersecurity and privacy issues are major topics of discussion in boardrooms and executive offices. Increasingly, organizations will demand graduates with knowledge of these skills so that they can think about these issues critically and wisely and make better judgments. Understanding these technologies will also expand opportunities for imaginative and innovative thinking. Several faculty colleagues are doing research and course development in these domains, and colleagues in the MBA program have already started adopting new materials. I look forward to your advice on what else we might do, recognizing that leaders of tomorrow will need to be fluent in these issues and arenas.

Finally, a word about our intellectual aspiration. Research and course development flourish by enabling and encouraging our outstanding faculty to pursue their passion and curiosity. This has been the basic model of the School since our founding 112 years ago. To tackle bigger and broader problems, the School has launched initiatives so that groups of faculty can come together to increase the impact of their work. I would like to engage you on whether there are new efforts the School might launch. For example, in recent years, influential business and investor groups have raised questions around shareholder versus stakeholder capitalism, inequality, sustainability, and incorporating environmental, social, and governance goals as an integral component of a company’s strategy. These have become important topics in boardroom discussions. They are interesting and complex questions with no easy answers.

On all of these issues, I know we will benefit from engaging with the University in the spirit of the One Harvard model that Presidents Faust and Bacow have so strongly supported. The Business School plays a vital leadership role on many issues and initiatives within the University; we have benefitted, too, from this engagement and collaboration, including launching our recent MS/MBA programs. I am especially eager for the opening of the Science and Engineering Complex and the opportunities it will create for HBS and for all of Harvard. I also look forward to engaging with our Allston neighbors and the greater Boston community to support one another's aspirations.

Before closing, let me say a word or two about Nitin. We will have many occasions over the next two and a half months to celebrate his enormous contributions to the School. Today, I want to acknowledge how much I have benefited from working with him and learning from him—including his willingness to be bold and to try new things, his confidence to trust and mentor others, and his readiness to give others credit while taking personal responsibility for any mistakes. These are all leadership traits I hope to emulate.

Deans change at the Harvard Business School but there is one constant. The strength of the School throughout its history has come from its distributed leadership model, with many faculty taking responsibility for the work of the School. I will seek to mentor and develop future leaders of the school, in the same way that I benefited from the mentorship of Deans Kim Clark, Jay Light, and Nitin Nohria. Equally important and of high priority is investing in our model of paired governance, where faculty and staff work closely together. We are very fortunate to have a team of highly talented staff dedicated to realizing our mission.

The School flourishes when its faculty, staff, students, and alumni are the best that they can be and able to do their finest work. My role will be to strive tirelessly to ensure that outcome.

I look forward to working with all of you as we write this next chapter in HBS’s history. Thank you for the tremendous privilege to serve as Dean and thanks to my family for their boundless love and support as I take on this role. All the very best."

-Srikant Datar

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