Dean Nohria walked comfortably up and down the aisles of Klarman Hall, pointing occasionally to a slide deck filled with consultant-worthy figures. He was covering the 110-year history of the School as part of the first-ever SA town hall, highlighting the school’s slam dunks while outlining areas for improvement. Like any good manager, he started with the slam dunks.
A few numbers appeared behind the Dean: 50 years since the first class of women enrolled at HBS, 50 years since the establishment of the African American Students Union, and 25 years since the founding of the Social Enterprise Initiative. Given the prominence of the #MeToo and #blacklivesmatter movements in media and politics, it was reassuring to hear the Dean commenting on HBS’s inclusion and diversity report card. Of course, he cautioned against becoming complacent and ignoring known achievement gaps among students today, namely representation in the first-year and second-year honors programs. Speaking of achievement gaps, the Dean reminded the audience that the same institution which invented the word “strategy” was also at risk of losing touch with the “heartlands” left behind by globalization. In fact, Dean Nohria, Jan Rivkin, and 10 other faculty members recently embarked on their own FGI trip to Mississippi’s Golden Triangle, a move that probably came as a surprise to students whose top Google search last semester was “flights to nyc.”
Aside from addressing HBS’s blind spots, Dean Nohria outlined five priorities for HBS: Innovation in Education, Intellectual Ambition, Globalization, Inclusion, and Integration with Harvard University. Elaborating on the fifth priority, the Dean described the development of Harvard-owned land in Allston as the “most profound change that will take place at HBS over the next 50 years.” Comparing the area surrounding HBS to Stanford and Palo Alto, Dean Nohria candidly acknowledged that there wasn’t much to do around campus. Although his vision of the typical MBA student taking a CS class at the new engineering school was perhaps a bit idealistic, the Dean clearly recognized the opportunity for continuous improvement at HBS.
Dean Nohria also spent some time discussing the evolving relationship between business and society. Citing a Pew poll that revealed a preference for socialism over capitalism in the 25-and-below category, he went on to say that HBS grads needed to regain society’s trust. More than just avoiding the protagonist’s seat in a scathing LCA case, business leaders have to think beyond profit maximization and be intentional in their ethical conduct. Recalling that the school’s centennial celebration coincided with the 2008 financial crisis, the Dean noted that HBS still had plenty of room to grow.
Wrapping up the town hall with a few questions, Dean Nohria made sure not to forget the chalkboard team and operations staff, continuing a theme of humility that started with his address on the first day of class. His ability to temper optimism with reality was respectable, given how easy it would have been to tout HBS’s achievements for 60 minutes. The approach to the town hall was just right—after a semester spent searching for internships and purpose in the halls of Aldrich, the RCs needed a reminder that HBS was still working on its strategy too.
Akash Gupta (MBA ’20) is from Houston, Texas, and worked in the petrochemical industry before coming to HBS. His interests include renewable energy and social enterprise.