Tag Archives: innovation

New HBS Dean talks of competence, character, internationalism, and dirty boots. Adcom will follow suit

The soul-searching at Harvard Business School over business ethics and the relationship between business and society has been widely documented. From Anderson to Enron to Lehman Bros., risktaking, dodgy, and sometimes outright criminal companies have been loaded with HBS alumni (as well as many from other schools as well, let’s not forget.) But somehow, of all business schools, perhaps because of its self-proclaimed “leadership and influence” focus, Harvard sees itself as needing to lead a new era in business-society relations.

With this as background, a recent Economist piece views the appointment on July 1st of new dean Nitin Nohria as part of a general HBS ethics-focused shake-up.

“Mr Nohria is the first HBS dean who was not born in North America. He is also the first who has come to the job having said that business faces a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ and that business education is at an ‘inflection point’…

“Mr Nohria’s first task is to try to restore faith in business in general and in business schools in particular. This means improving two things, he reckons: “competence” and “character”. He wants the faculty to focus more on the risks of clever financial techniques; they will have plenty of case studies to choose from. He also wants HBS to renew its commitment to shaping its students’ characters as well as their intellects. He has long argued that business people should regard themselves as members of a profession. He supports a movement by students to adopt a business equivalent of the Hippocratic oath… (For more on the MBA Oath see here.)

“Mr Nohria’s other great passion is for super-charging innovation at HBS. This will involve making the school even more globally connected than it already is: one of Mr Nohria’s first acts as dean was to embark on a whistle-stop tour of the world’s business hot-spots. More ambitiously, he wants to rethink the school’s hallowed teaching methods. Since the 1920s, HBS students have pored over case studies of business decisions. The new dean wants them to take part in live case studies—to take themselves to the Midwest or Mumbai and spend time working for real companies. This answers one of the most persistent criticisms of business education: that it is too abstract. Mr Nohria wants his students to get their boots dirty.”

So there is clearly a manifesto from the top of HBS to (1) address character issues and define competence more broadly, that is, to exclude absurd risk-taking; (2) to increase the school’s active global connections, including in emerging markets, in the spirit of innovation, and; (3) to extend the case-method to include “do-it-don’t-just-think-about-it” immersion.

Nobody is suggesting that the Dean makes admissions decisions directly. But HBS Adcom as a whole can hardly be immune to the strong winds of this new directive either. Therefore, applicants who (while staying true to themselves!) show evidence of good character, a measured risk-taking profile, global-innovative intent, and readiness to go beyond the ivory tower during their studies and afterwards, will be doing themselves a favor.

How Mr Swatch can take you past management consulting as an MBA admissions platform

The Economist recently ran an obituary of Swatch magnate Nicolas Hayek, and this offers me a concrete example to explain why management consulting is a weak long-term goal for MBA admissions.

(Yes, I’m always pushing clients to give clear examples or anecdotes to back up their MBA admissions claims. So this is me “practicing what I preach.”)

In 1982 Hayek was brought in as a management consultant by a group of banks to advise them on the sale of Switzerland’s last big watchmaking conglomerate which they had bailed out a few years earlier. But, rather than merely consult on sale-exit strategies, Hayek created and led a group of industrialists who bought the conglomerate from the bankers, and built it into the world’s largest watch company, with almost a quarter of the global market, with Swatch as the lead brand.

As the Economist says: “Mr Hayek’s strategy of making cheap watches more cheaply and expensive watches more desirable helped lift the rest of the Swiss watch industry, which is once again leading the world. Last year Swiss firms exported nearly 23m timepieces worth more than $12 billion, a figure that would undoubtedly have been far, far smaller had Mr Hayek stayed in management consulting.”

The point is: Hayek had two careers ahead of him in 1982. He could have stayed a management consultant, advising on deals, for a fairly prestigious, reasonably well-paid life. Or he could do what he did: turn the ailing consortium around through industry-innovative operations, cost restructuring, and marketing management, to totally renew the Swiss watch industry. He was a leader, innovator, decision-maker, and business-builder at the ultimate level.

If Hayek was to have presented his career options to Harvard or INSEAD or LBS, etc., which of the two routes do you think the b-school Adoms would have favored more?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine to say you want to spend some time in MC in the short term, taking advantage of the rapid exposure to different industries and skills. But at the end of the day, management consultants are advisors, not doers. They are always the bridesmaid, never the bride. If Hayes had stayed a management consultant his value to everyone (including his MBA alma mater) would have been a fraction of what it became, and his obituary would never have been splashed across the world’s financial media.

When the admissions committee of a top MBA program is looking at you, they want to think that you may possibly one day be somebody like Hayes (in your own industry and in your own way.) If your career goal is consulting itself, you are telling them there is no chance of that.