Harvard Profs Dominate Leading Thinkers List

Harvard's Clay Christensen is a masterful, spell-binding teacher and one of the world's great thought leaders

Harvard’s Clay Christensen is a masterful, spell-binding teacher and one of the world’s great thought leaders

Which business school can boast the largest number of the world’s most influential management thinkers?

Hands down, Harvard Business School has emerged the leading home of the most important thought leaders in management once again, according to the Thinkers50, a biennial ranking published today (Nov. 11).

Harvard has nine of the top 50 thinkers on the list, including No. 1 Clayton Christensen, the originator of the theory of disruptive innovation. Christensen topped the list for the second consecutive time, an achievement matched only by Peter Drucker and C.K. Prahalad.


Harvard’s dominance on the list was striking. HBS has more than four times the representation as Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business which managed to get two of the top 50. INSEAD landed four professors on the Thinkers50, including No. 2 W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy, a book that has sold more than two million copies. The London Business School had a quartet of profs on the top 50 list led by No. 14 Lynda Gratton, a well-known expert on leadership.

Despite the relatively smaller size of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and  the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, each school boasted  three players in the top 50. Tuck’s three thought leaders were No. 4 strategy maven Vijay Govindarajan, No. 17 Richard D’Aveni, and No. 43 Sydney Finkelstein, who studies leadership. The world’s most famous executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith, who was tenth on the list of leading thinkers, also teaches at Tuck–but in its executive education programs. Meantime, Rotman can claim  former Dean Roger Martin, who came in third, consultant and speaker Don Tapscott, who came in fourth, and Richard Florida, the economist, who came in 25th.

The list–put out by the consulting firm of Crainer Dearlove–is widely followed by leadership and management professors, consultants and observers. While business school professors tend to dominate the list, it also includes a fair number of consultants, executive coaches and corporate executives, including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Procter & Gamble’s A.J. Lafley.

The Thinkers50, hyped by its publisher as the ‘Oscars of management thinking,” largely reflects the fields of leadership, management and strategy and not all the disciplines of a business school, such as accounting, finance, operations, and marketing (the latter of which is poorly represented on the list.) The list, moreover, is hardly the result of a rigorous review of each person’s contributions, but rather open voting on a website that encourages get-out-the-vote campaigns by some of the people on the list.


As usual, Harvard left every other business school in the dust, with six of its nine entries in the top 25. Besides No. 1 Christensen, the school had No. 7 strategy guru Michael Porter, No. 8 leadership expert Linda Hill, No. 15 leadership professor Amy Edmondson, No. 21 HBS Dean Nitin Nohria, No. 22 entrepreneurship professor Teresa Amabile. Long-time leadership veteran John Kotter was 32nd, while management expert Rosabeth Moss Kanter was 38th. Rakesh Khurana, who has written about business schools and MBA education, was No. 46th.

Most business schools–including Columbia, Wharton, Duke, and Michigan–all had one professor who made the list.

Thinkers50 asks those who vote to use the following criteria to assemble its list:
1. Relevance of ideas
2. Rigor of research
3. Presentation of ideas
4. Accessibility/dissemination of ideas
5. International outlook
6. Originality of ideas
7. Impact of ideas
8. Practicality of ideas
9. Business sense
10. Power to inspire

Voters are asked to consider the first five criteria based on how the candidates have performed since the last ranking. They consider the next five looking at the long term.

(See following page for a table of all the business school professors on the list)

  • tojohndillonesq

    How about a concrete measure? The careers of graduates. All you have to do is look in the area of the schools to see which is producing the top guys. The Boston area is dominated by banksters, hospitals, and pharma. Mighty original thinking there. In contrast, Stanford is at the heart of the most actively creative region in the world, producing a steady flow of new ideas, new businesses, and new business models. And yes, I know that MBA students come from everywhere and return to their homes after graduation. Yet there is no denying that a University has huge influence on the culture of its region.

  • FStratford

    Then its not much of a thinkers list.

  • Louis

    Yes, I know one (an entrepreneur) who turned down stanford for Tuck!

  • Renault

    Do you know a single person in the entire universe who would turn down Stanford to go to CBS? Doubt it.

  • Peter

    people in business do not consider stanford as true business school. It is kind of technical management or so. Harvard , wharton and columbia are the business schools.

  • CL

    John, Are you going to report on Business Week’s new ranking of executive MBA programs?. This appears to be an important ranking, at least as interesting as the ranking in this article.

  • Nick

    Actually, the only “real” measures show HBS and GSB as the best business schools in the world. Total applications, admissions percentage, yield, post-mba salary, and long term salary. Booth is not even in the conversation. Actual candidates spending actual money on actual degrees vote with their wallets, and they vote on those two schools. The value in an MBA is disproportionately weighted towards the network, and Booth probably just cracks the top 5.

  • Renault

    Stanford and Harvard are, by a fairly comfortable margin, the two best business schools in the world.

    Your big wall of text won’t change that.

  • SULI500

    “the best”..”by far”..”away”..if you believe in these words about HBS and SGB, then why the hell you bother browsing this site?! This site and in fact any professional work should challenge the status quo and put things on real measures. Real measures say that Chicago Booth is the best business school in the world. It doesn’t make any different if you and your teenage friends like it or not, but it does matter for recruiters and mature mba aspirants.

  • Nick

    Wow, clearly some kind of personal vendetta going on here. But seriously, come on man. HBS and Stanford are by far and away the top two business schools in the world, there is really no room for debate. Any ranking to the contrary is discrediting itself with the public.

  • CrescatScientia

    Pardon the crassness of my language, but this list–along with this entire web site and with it the entirety of John Byrne’s ambition to dominate the flow of b-school information–is absolute bullsh*t.

    For starters, one should question the seriousness of a man who produces a ranking out of thin air in order to promote his business ventures and then fails to report accurately ON THE VERY RANKINGS HE INVENTED (or is it conjured?) on his lead website.

    Others here have rightly called into question the objectivity of “research” produced by paid consultants for a select group of b-schools included in–and surprise, surprise, leading the results of–the “research” being touted. I’ll go further and propose that Mr. Byrne’s failure to disclose his financial interests in promoting some schools over others demonstrates such an astonishing lack of character, that he has disqualified himself from being considered an objective provider of information about anything to anyone, anywhere. Ever.

    If any doubts remain about the propagandist intentions of Mr. Byrne and his entire enterprise, take a gander (actually, don’t bother) at the supposed “Exclusive Insights” on the home page in which Mr. Byrne compares HBS and Stanford’s GSB–without a doubt two top flight educational institutions. Mr. Byrne launches his “insightful” analysis by saying:

    Let’s just say it right out: Stanford and Harvard are the two best business schools in the world.

    His choice of words is telling. HBS and GSB aren’t “among” the best. They don’t “often lead the pack of” best business schools. They aren’t even “often cited” as the best business schools. No, Mr. Byrne assures his readers, these schools ARE the best…. in the world, no less. Do I really need to finish this comment to make my point?

    Virtually every major ranking of global b-schools produced in the past few years directly contradicts Mr. Byrne. As much as I admire and respect Harvard’s and Stanford’s MBA programs and their graduates, I think both schools and their thoughtful alumni would at very least endorse the legitimacy of a debate about why neither one can retain a consistent perch atop the rankings.

    That kind of discussion would be a welcome addition to the already vibrant flow of b-school information available on and off line. Watching a paid flack hock his clients under the guise of objective, intellectual pursuit is worse than mildly sickening. It’s just plain boring.

  • paul

    calm down my friend..its easy..you seem to be angry man! why is that?

  • P&QJokes

    And you listen

  • P&QJokes

    I think a joker will live a much better life than a skeptic. Common sense

  • paul

    better than Jokes life 🙂


    you are a joke anyway..

  • LS

    Pankaj Ghemawat has recently moved to Stern? His Twitter still shoes IESE

  • P&QJokes

    You are correct. I was looking at an outdated list.

  • P&QJokes

    you can live your life as a skeptic

  • JohnAByrne

    This list is mainly comprised of experts in the field of leadership, management and strategy. Most of the business school disciplines are not represented here, including such important areas as finance, accounting, operations, and to a lesser extent marketing, which only has a few players on the list.

  • JohnAByrne

    You raise an interesting and very important point about the quality of teaching in business schools. Our analysis of research on teaching quality shows that the best teaching faculty is at Virginia, Dartmouth, Cornell and UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. See here:


  • JohnAByrne

    Unfortunately, you are listing people who are NOT among the 50 thinkers ranked on the core list. Our story is correct.

  • Orange1

    One more list for those interested in such things. But how do they rate for teaching? A professor can write endless books and articles that are acclaimed, but if they cannot communicate to students, what good did it to for those who actually pay tuition? Second, if Harvard is a much larger school than Stanford, is it any wonder they would have more top thinkers? Finally, Harvard dominates this list, but how much is that attributable to these individuals actually being stars vs. the “halo effect” of being on the Harvard faculty in the first place?

  • Dan

    I thought HBS has 9 …

  • paul

    i’d be so skeptical about any data set that show any leading institution ahead of harvard, let alone the european institute, aka inseed..

  • P&QJokes

    Professors Laurence Capron, Hal Gregersen, Herminia IBarra, Gianpiero Petriglieri, Morten Hansen, Chan Kim and Renee Mauborne, all of INSEAD, were ranked among the too 50 thinkers

  • P&QJokes

    John, your article is incorrect. INSEAD has seven leading thinkers, dominating the list, not HBS. You should make a correction to the title and the entire article!

  • FStratford

    In my personal opinion, a list of so-called “rigourous” Professors without Schiller from Yale, Fama from Booth, or CK Pralahad from Michigan has zero credibility. Porter doesn’t deserve to be on this list for stealing ideas and claiming them as his own by publishing a book which compiles information and explaining things in layman terms (well, maybe he deserves it for bringing these ideas to the masses, but if that is the case then that is a very low bar). Kotter, I agree but for Marketing not Leadership. Clayton Christensen, definitely. The rest may or may not be in the “top 50” depending on the specific criteria being used.

  • Curious

    John, thanks for your great work on the website.

    This rating sparked my research interest, and I found some things that led me to doubt its thoroughness. It is sponsored by Tuck and has HBR among advisors – could this at least partially explain presence of HBS and Tuck?

    Also, the authors’ website raises some questions. They are shadow writers/consultants, and on the website they list clients: Tuck again, IE (where both authors are adjunct professors), a couple of other schools,British NHS, BoozAllenHamilton, and a completely unknown Yekaterinburg marketing agency OGC – even as a Russian speaker, I had a really hard time finding this last one, and it baffles me why would they be mentioned among other relatively high-profile clients, is there no other notable examples to mention?