The Five Priorities of Nitin Nohria


The fourth priority is inclusion. While the demographic mix of Harvard Business School typically has reflected larger societal trends, we have always wanted to be welcoming of the best talent (students, faculty, and staff) that is passionate about the mission of the School. Once people come here, we want them to feel as though they can do their best work, and once they leave, we want them to feel inspired to do better yet.

This is not unique to HBS; rather, it is what great universities do, and I know it to be true, because it was this promise that caused me to leave my country more than two decades ago for graduate education in the United States.


We must ensure that our aspiration fully matches reality. Today, there are members of our community who wish the School would do more to enable them to flourish, including some women and international students and faculty. At an individual level, of course, no one at HBS feels that such an environment is or should be acceptable. And indeed, a true sense of community is something that most people at HBS prize; we recognize that we depend on one another for our success and well-being. Our challenge, therefore, is to work collectively to make positive changes, and to create a culture that lives up to its ideals. Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths and we must learn to thrive on it, whatever its form—whether demography, intellectual style, or some other dimension. Everyone needs to find a home here.

Since we need to start somewhere, I have launched an initiative that will focus initially on the challenges facing women at the School. The first phase will engage an external project team that has been asked to carry out both quantitative and qualitative research. While this analysis will take some time, as well developing recommended action items, we also are exploring steps we might take sooner. It already is clear that the conversations, and the changes that result, will have a meaningful impact on our community.


The fifth priority is integration. Here, it is interesting to note that when Harvard Business School was founded, and when the time came to create a campus for its expanding activities, the then-presidents and deans mutually agreed on the importance of the School establishing its own distinctive identity. The space that was created, both literally and figuratively, to enable that identity to develop has become part of our culture, and for many years it has served us well.


The danger arises when “room to grow” perpetuates the perception of isolation. Interestingly, HBS is far more engaged with the rest of Harvard University than most might imagine. We have a number of joint faculty appointments, primarily with the Kennedy and Law Schools, as well as dozens of less formal faculty engagements at the Medical School, Educational School, and Faculty of Arts and Sciences, among others. Hundreds of MBA students cross-register at Harvard, and many more hundreds from other parts of Harvard cross-register at HBS. We have joint masters programs with the Kennedy School, the Law School, the Medical School, and the School of Dental Medicine. The joint PhD programs we offer necessitate that we work closely with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. And the joint courses we offer—for example, Consumer Finance and Commercializing Science—are remarkable exercises in collaboration at the edges of two (or more) disciplines and some of the most fertile areas of experimentation, as well as highly popular with our students.

Looking ahead, Harvard Business School needs to find more opportunities for integration. This will mean breaking down logistical barriers, including things like continuing scheduling misalignments. More fundamentally, it will mean fostering a culture that is capable of more powerful connections. Collaborations like the Harvard Center Shanghai are one way of doing this, as is the proposal for the Harvard Innovation Lab. HBS can be a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship across the University. Even within HBS we know there is more shared work we should encourage among the faculty, and thus we have launched new integrative research initiatives. Ultimately, as I learned a long time ago, the most effective organizations are simultaneously differentiated and integrated. To the extent that we at HBS can preserve our unique differentiated identity while building better integrative bridges with the rest of Harvard, we can better realize this great University’s potential of being more than the sum of our individual parts.


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