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Could HBS Dean Be Harvard’s Next Prez?

hbs dean nitin nohria

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria could likely emerge as a candidate in the search for a successor to Harvard President Drew Faust who intends to step down from her job next June. Faust announced today (June 14) that she is leaving as president after an 11-year run during which she appointed Nohria dean of HBS in 2010.

The possibility of Nohria succeeding Faust was raised by author Duff McDonald in his controversial book, The Golden Passport, on Harvard Business School. The book includes a chapter entitled “Nitin Nohria For President,” and McDonald suggests that the HBS dean may well be interested in the top job at Harvard.

“Nohria’s eyes may be focused elsewhere…toward the office of Drew Faust,” writes McDonald. “After all, it won’t be long before HBS really is the center of the Harvard campus, both geographically and financially. All that will be left at that point is for a dean from HBS to finally ascend to the office of the president of Harvard.”


Nohria, moreover, played a key role in Faust’s massive $8 billion fundraising campaign. His contribution to that effort totaled more than $1 billion, the largest fundraising effort in HBS history. With HBX, the business school’s digital initiative, Nohria has also moved his school boldly into the online learning space. And his swift changes to the MBA program, including the introduction of mandatory global immersion projects and a significant move into experiential learning, show that he has been something of a change agent.

An immigrant from India who came to the U.S. in 1984 to attend MIT’s Sloan School of Management on a scholarship, Nohria quickly made an impression with his intellect and his work ethic. After graduating with his PhD in management from MIT, he joined the Harvard Business School faculty where he focused on human motivation and leadership issues.

By the time he was asked to become the first HBS dean from outside North America, Nohria had established himself as a heavyweight academic who had authored more than 50 journal articles, book chapters and case studies. He also earned his institutional chops, leading the school’s organizational behavior faculty and had been senior associate dean of faculty development.


Self-effacing and soft-spoken, the 50-year-old professor is not a dean from central casting. As Nohria himself has noted, he’s just five-feet, six-inches tall and bald. “Charisma is not the first word that comes to mind when people meet me,” he has said.

That could be exactly what the university needs moving forward. “I think many Harvard watchers are not expecting another white male president so soon after Larry Summers’ turbulent tenure,” believes Sandy Kreisberg, founder of the MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru.com and a close HBS observer. “Nohria checks a lot of boxes. Including the one where trustees enterain the fantasy that business schools deans actually know about how to manage money and an endowment.”

In Faust’s message to the Harvard community, she said her last day in office would be June 30, 2018. “It has been a privilege beyond words to work with all of you to lead Harvard, in the words of her alma mater, ‘through change and through storm,’” she wrote. “We have shared ample portions of both over the last decade and have confronted them together in ways that have made the University stronger — more integrated both intellectually and administratively, more effectively governed, more open and diverse, more in the world and across the world, more innovative and experimental. The dedication of students, faculty, and staff to the ideal and excellence of Harvard and to the importance of its pursuit of Veritas has made all this possible. I know this commitment will carry Harvard forward, from strength to strength, in the years to come.”