An American In (HEC) Paris: P&Q’s Exclusive Interview With Brad Harris, Dean Of MBA Programs

Brad Harris has been appointed associate dean of MBA programs at HEC Paris after 14 months teaching leadership at the school. Harris, a Texas native, taught at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business for seven years. HEC Paris photo

Professors at the highest levels of graduate business education are on a fast track. The work is all-encompassing, filling one’s hours outside the classroom as much as inside.

But life has a way of slowing you down.

After earning his Ph.D. in management from Texas A&M Mays Business School, Brad Harris taught at a trio of universities in the United States while producing research that earned wide recognition, cited everywhere from The New York Times to the Today Show. He authored two books and co-founded the People Leader Accelerator, the world’s premier leadership development program for human resources executives in high-growth organizations. He won awards and widespread academic acclaim.

But when his second child was born with a rare genetic condition that requires constant medical support, Harris says, he and his wife Melanie, who also worked in higher education, were forced to slow down. And that, in the end, was a good thing.

‘WE’VE ALL GOT DIFFERENT THINGS UNDER THE SURFACE’

Harris’ second of three children, Annie, was born with the rare and serious genetic condition called 5P-, a spectrum disorder characterized by a host of medical complications. About 50 to 60 children in the United States are diagnosed with 5P- each year, requiring constant care not only from their parents but from medical and educational professionals.

Annie’s diagnosis “forced us to slow down, re-prioritize, and think differently about life and work,” Harris tells Poets&Quants. “I think Annie bumped us off the fast track and onto a healthier one in many ways, which shows up in how I think about teaching and leading.

“Specifically, I try to be more intentional about extending kindness and acknowledging that we’re all at different places in our journey and we’ve all got different things under the surface.”

Harris brought that intentionality to HEC Paris, where he began teaching in the school’s MBA and EMBA programs in 2022. And he will bring it to his new role at the school, as the school’s new head of MBA programs.

IMPORTANT WORK TO CONTINUE

An American In (HEC) Paris: P&Q’s Exclusive Interview With Brad Harris, Dean Of MBA Programs

Brad Harris: “I want our students to feel like they have a personal connection here, not just a business connection”

A Poets&Quants 40 under 40 honoree in 2019, Harris is the author of two books, Scaling for Success: People Priorities for High-Growth Organizations (Columbia, 2021) and 3D Team Leadership: A New Approach for Complex Teams (Stanford, 2017), and dozens of highly cited papers on leadership, including widely cited articles in Human Resource Management, the Journal of Applied Psychology, the Journal of Management, and more.

Now 41, the native of Rockwall, Texas is also the first American to head up HEC Paris’ MBA programs — and, he laughs to say, the first non-French speaker.

“I have been told for sure — definitively, we know this — I’m the first person in this role that’s not French-speaking,” Harris tells P&Q in an exclusive interview. “I hope that changes — I hope I learn French, is what I mean by that!”

Learning French is a secondary goal. More urgently, Harris has important work to continue. His two immediate predecessors, Kristine de Valck and Andrea Masini, “were both really, really instrumental in doing a major restructuring around our program,” he says. “They carried the load moving our EMBA from executive education into the degree program sphere, and that was a big lift. That means moving teams, deciding who shares what — a big personnel lift.

“And let me highlight one other thing. This is from the data. Five years ago, in our MBA program, we had topics that would correspond with the ESG blanket in about 15% of our courses. I think we’re almost double that now, and that doesn’t come just naturally. That takes some leadership to say, ’This is what we’re going to do and this is what we’re not going to do.’ So both Kristine and Andrea were pretty instrumental in that.”

‘WHAT IS OUR VALUE PROPOSITION HERE?’

Even as he plans to continue teaching in both the MBA and EMBA programs — including, in the latter, the school’s first-ever leadership module — Harris says one of his top priorities for the first 100 days in his new role is a curriculum review — not an overhaul, but a refining of what HEC Paris offers.

“We’re due for it,” he says. “We have some other forces coming at us, but we need to work on our curriculum. I don’t know that we will have a whole lot of big, wholesale changes, but we really need to make sure we’re hitting the right topics at the right time. I’d like to see us build a program that allows us to simplify with the spirit of being adaptable in the future. The world is changing so fast, I really don’t want to get locked into a program where we’re teaching something that’s out of date.”

Agility is key, he says. But so is personal touch, particularly in the age of AI.

“We charge a premium for our product,” Harris says. “People expect a lot. It’s easy to get lost in all this AI technology, everything that’s happening around us. I think we need to really double down on the personal touch. People come here expecting individual attention and growth. We have a big program, so how do we find those moments where we can connect and we can win the small ones?

“This is a big thing for me: I want our students to feel like they have a personal connection here, not just a business connection. And I’ve got a team that’s ready to do that. They’re motivated by the purpose. Now it’s just: How do we get these people in the spots where we can really impact the students?

“I think another big one for us is really thinking about and getting crystal clear about what we say yes to and what we say no to. What is our value proposition here? We’re in one of the coolest cities in the world and we’re doing some awesome things. We’ve got one of the most international student compositions. We’ve got a pretty international faculty composition, too. How do we tell that story so that we can keep building this thing and get some momentum around it?”

See the next page for Poets&Quants’ Q&A with HEC Paris Associate Dean of MBA Programs Brad Harris.

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