World’s Best B-School Professors: Pankaj Ghemawat

An expert on globalization, IESE’s Pankaj Ghemawat was the youngest person ever to be appointed a full professor at the Harvard Business School

Pankaj Ghemawat
IESE Business School

Age: 51

Claim to Fame: Globalization expert; youngest person ever to be appointed full professor while at Harvard Business School


Harvard Business School, PhD, Business Economics

Harvard College, AB, Applied Mathematics

At IESE since: 2006

Before IESE: Harvard Business School

Fun Fact: In 1991, became the youngest person in the Harvard Business School’s history to be appointed a full professor.

If I wasn’t teaching, my dream job would be: writing (although I get to do a lot of that anyway)

Best part of the job: Being paid to study the topics that interest me–which, broadly speaking, all fall under the rubric of globalization–and to discuss them with a highly intelligent, motivated, internationally experienced group of young people. This is just like being a student myself, with the exception of not being on quite as tight a budget.

Worst part of the job: Grading exams

To say Pankaj Ghemawat’s teaching career got off to a rocky start would be putting it nicely. At just 23 years old, all but three of his students were older than he was at the time. He was visibly nervous as he gave his first lecture. He even reached a point where his vocal chords became paralyzed, leaving him in a state of near total paralysis. “All I could do was point a finger to signal which student would speak next.”

To make matters worse, Ghemawat says, “I was teaching the class Porter had launched. So the students weren’t too thrilled when they showed up for class and saw me instead of him.” The “Porter” Ghemawat refers to is Michael Porter, long-time Harvard Business School professor, father of competitive strategy and arguably the most influential business school academic of his generation.

Eventually, Ghemawat found his stride. He not only went on to teach at HBS for 25 years, he also became the youngest full professor in the school’s history. “I took some very careful measures to get to where I am now,” says Ghemawat. Aside from ditching his contact lenses for a pair of black, thick-rimmed glasses, this professor’s journey to where he is now, is nothing short of remarkable.

Growing up in India, Ghemawat’s parents put him on the fast track to success as early as kindergarten when they decided it was more fitting for him to be in first grade. He later attended one of India’s high schools that allow students to graduate at the end of eleventh grade. By age 15, Ghemawat had finished all of his required schooling and was ready for college.

He first enrolled in an Indian university then transferred to Harvard College. When asked how it came to be that he enrolled at Harvard at age 16, Ghemawat snickers, “Well, they wouldn’t admit me when I was 15.”

He finished the undergraduate program at 19 then completed his doctoral studies at 22. Before returning to Harvard to launch his teaching career, the 22 year old spent a year in London working with the well known firm McKinsey.

Looking back on that turbulent first year teaching, the professor says it boosted his credibility to have worked for a company where many of his students aspired to be. It took a couple years, but Ghemawat found his sweet spot as a professor. “I feel most comfortable when I myself am convinced about the material I’m teaching. I’m not one of those naturally gifted teachers so I can’t fake it. Otherwise the students can tell.”

As a professor teaching global strategy, Ghemawat doesn’t have to fake it. His passion for his work is evident and has contributed to his reputation as one of the leading thinkers, authors, and conversationalists in the realm of globalization. The best part of his job, he says, is simply being paid to study the topic that interests him most and discussing it with talented students.

Having taught in both the U.S. and abroad, and given his status as a thought leader on topics dealing with globalization, Ghemawat is currently leading a special task force instituted by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) to address what he calls “significant shortfalls” in the way globalization is taught by U.S. business schools. He served on the taskforce appointed by the AACSB on the globalization of management education, and authored the report’s recommendations on what to teach students about globalization, and how.

Students Say:

“As a Professor, Mr. Ghemawat likes to challenge our preconceived notions by arguing upon the underlying assumptions and by uncovering a whole new dimension of unseen reality. He encourages discussion built on facts and figures, realistic, and contemporary rather than discussion based on options or primeval events.” — Nishant Dobhal, IESE MBA 2012