Harvard Business School‘s Deepak Malhotra is known all over the world for his expertise in negotiations. He has written two books on the topic, his video on “How to Negotiate Your Job Offer” has been viewed more than one million times on YouTube, and he has advised hundreds of executives and taught nearly 4,000 business owners and many more MBA students how to resolve challenging issues that can threaten a deal or a relationship.
And yet when Malhotra showed one of his HBS colleagues and co-authors, Max Bazerman, the draft of an essay he had written back in October as a possible op-ed piece for a newspaper, he was surprised at the feedback he received. “He read it and really liked it and said, ‘I think this is the best thing you have ever written,'” recalls Malhotra. “I didn’t especially like hearing that but then he had a suggestion. “‘What about the idea of putting this out there and getting other people to sign it?’ I had never thought of that.”
But the open letter was also unlike anything else the academic had ever written. It called on America’s business leaders to repudiate President Trump. “It is time for business leaders to declare publicly what so many have been saying privately: that President Trump is unfit to lead and is a threat to the Republic,” wrote Malhotra. “And it is time for journalists to start asking America’s CEOs whether they believe four more years of Trump would be good for the country. Ensuring that the Republic survives is not a partisan issue. Demanding a peaceful transfer of power ought not to reveal your political affiliation. And safeguarding our laws, institutions, and norms is important to both Republicans and Democrats.”
MORE THAN 1,000 BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSORS SIGNED THE OPEN LETTER
At best, thought Malhotra, they could get a couple of hundred business school professors to affix their signatures to the document. “We sent it out and things started snowballing,” says Malhotra. “In a day or two, we had 250 signatures, and by the end, we had well over 1,000.”
Even more surprising was the B-school faculty who supported the effort. Some of the most influential and well-known professors in business education put their signatures on the open letter, including Nobel laureates Alvin Roth and William Sharpe, as well as Wharton’s Adam Grant and Angela Duckworth, Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, and MIT Sloan’s Edgar Schein. In fact, more than 30 professors from Wharton, Trump’s undergraduate alma mater, were among the signatories, along with more than 30 from Harvard, including leadership expert Bill George, Deborah Spar, Len Schlessinger, and David Yoffie. Faculty members from dozens upon dozens of business schools signed on.
Even for a tenured professor who has been on Harvard’s faculty for 18 years, it was a courageous act. Many of Harvard Business School’s alumni, including donors, are Republicans. The country’s business leaders are as divided about Trump as the American public. After all, Trump severely cut taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations and was eliminating many regulations on business. No matter how other business school faculty felt about Trump, they tended to keep their views private.
POETS&QUIANTS PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR: DEEPAK MALHOTRA
None of his colleagues on the HBS faculty were openly critical, but a few wondered aloud how wise it was for Malhotra to lead such an initiative. “Some asked me, ‘Are you comfortable doing this?’ or said “I’m not sure I could have written something like that.’ There were a few such comments that floated around like that but no one ever suggested not to do it.”
Undaunted, he did it. He reached out to Dean Nitin Nohria and his just-announced successor, Srikant Datar, to let them know in advance. The school only insisted that it be clear the open letter was not a statement from the Harvard Business School but reflected his own views. If there was a backlash, reasoned Malhotra, he would deal with it personally. After all, his earlier expressed views on Trump have drawn the occasional death threat or harsh language on social media, emails, and voicemails. “It wasn’t unanticipated so I didn’t really care,” he says. “I didn’t think too much about it.”
For the courage he showed in taking a principled and articulate stand against an impeached and failed president, Poets&Quants is naming the 45-year-old academic the Professor of the Year. He is only the fourth professor to earn the honor which was given last year to UVA Darden’s Lalin Anik, Stanford’s Jennifer Aaker, and to Darden’s Greg Fairchild.
It’s not the first time we have singled out Malhotra for his achievements. Six years ago, he was named by Poets&Quants’ as one of the 40 best business school professors under 40 in the world for both his masterful teaching and his work in the field of negotiations. Supermodel-turned-entrepreneur Tyra Banks, who attended Harvard’s owner/president management program and had Malhotra as a professor, was among those who nominated him for the Poets&Quants honor. “Deepak Malhotra has an unmatched ability to go beyond Jedi negotiation techniques and empower his students to negotiate with empathy and strategic depth,” wrote Banks.
‘THESE ARE THE SAME PEOPLE WHO OFTEN TALK ABOUT INTEGRITY AND MORAL LEADERSHIP’
To Malhotra, who was born in the U.S. and moved to India with his family when he was five, only to return nearly five years later, the letter represented a pledge to the future of the U.S. “For those of us who deal with business leaders all the time, these are the same people who often talk about integrity, moral leadership, and corporate values and embrace diversity and inclusion. So the idea was to write an op-ed to encourage these to be a bit bolder. The idea was not to change anyone’s point of view. That was not the intent. The intent was if you already feel this way, if you believe he is a threat to democracy, just say it.”
When Malhotra sat down to write his essay, several other bipartisan groups–including veterans, scientists, civil servants, and lawyers– had already now come out against the President. The professor deeply believed the time had come for business leaders to follow suit and speak out against a man who, in Malhotra’s words, “denigrates science, peddles in lies, incites violence, attempts to delegitimize the press, politicizes everything from the justice department to the CDC to the postal service, and seeks to undermine the integrity of American elections. It is unacceptable and immoral to remain silent at this time,” he concluded.
Malhotra’s disdain for Trump is evident to any reader of his prolific Twitter feed. Ordinarily devoted to his views on negotiation and promotion of his books and videos, he has more recently expressed his belief that the current occupant in the White House is a menace to the country. He has called Trump “the biggest loser in American political history,” noting that Trump is “the first President in American history to be both impeached and voted out of office” and the only President “to lose the popular vote twice.”