Priorities for 2019: A Conversation with Dean Nohria

Ryo Takahashi, Editor-in-Chief
Gabriel Ellsworth, Editor-in-Chief

The Harbus Co-Editors-in-Chief Takahashi (MBA ’20) and Ellsworth (MBA ’20) met with the Dean to discuss his strategic outlook for the year.

The year 2019 will undoubtedly be a big one, with new opportunities and unique challenges. Major global events such as Brexit, the abdication of Japan’s Emperor Akihito, and the Indian general election are high on people’s minds. Forces to integrate the world economy are being pulled back by a resurgence in populism, and the global political arena will welcome a new slate of world leaders who will assume office this year.

At HBS, initiatives such as Harvard Business School Online and the Harvard i-lab ecosystem are growing and thriving, and this academic year marked several important milestones for the School, including 50 years since the African American Student Union was launched, 25 years since the Social Enterprise Initiative was founded, and 20 years since HBS launched its first global research center in Hong Kong. There have also been welcome signs towards diversity, including the first overrepresentation of women among Baker Scholars in the class of 2018. And the first cohort of joint MS/MBA degree candidates started in the fall.

These initiatives have been part of a much larger and deliberate strategy that Dean Nitin Nohria has led, which he calls the “Five Is”—Innovation in the Curriculum, Intellectual Ambition, Internationalization, Inclusion, and Integration (within HBS and with Harvard University).

“The ‘Five I’ strategic priorities for Harvard Business School emerged out of the work we did at the centennial of the school back in 2008,” Nohria explains. “We asked, ‘What should HBS focus on in its next century?’ From these conversations, we distilled what we learned into the ‘Five Is,’ each of which had a critical mass of support.”


Since it was founded over 100 years ago, Harvard Business School has led the world in terms of innovations in business school education, most famously through the development of the case method. More recent initiatives have focused on developing not only the competence of future leaders, but also their character and helping students bridge the knowing-doing gap. HBS has been redesigning its curriculum with the addition of immersion programs (IFCs) and FIELD, which help students enhance self-awareness and work together to devise actionable results.

“Our leadership development model requires us to push for more ‘doing’ and ‘being,’” says Nohria.

The school has also been broadening its array of ways to deliver learning to its students. Harvard Business School’s Executive Education program engages more than 11,000 executives each year, and Harvard Business School Online has reached nearly 40,000 learners to date, with completion rates of the online program near 90%, compared to 10% for most online courses.

“We were initially worried about the disruption from online learning, but we then asked ourselves whether we could provide an offering that captures the unique participant-centered approach we take at HBS. We have, and it has taken off tremendously.”

As HBS expands its learning model, it also envisions lifelong personal development for all its students. Programs such as The Reflective Leader, aimed at alumni 15–25 years after graduation, bring them back to HBS for further leadership development. The School is also exploring how to use its online platform to provide lifelong learning opportunities.

Intellectual Ambition

For many decades, HBS has shown extraordinary thought leadership. Many concepts common to the language of global business have been introduced by HBS faculty members, ranging from John Litner’s Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), Bob Kaplan’s Balanced Scorecard, Michael Porter’s Five Forces, to Clay Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation. Now, HBS is set to do it again—this time, collectively.

“The world’s problems today require increasingly interdisciplinary and international teams,” says Nohria. “We’ve always had incredible individual faculty members, but now we are focusing as well on tackling problems more collectively, such as through our U.S. Competitiveness, Managing the Future of Work, and Behavioral Finance & Financial Stability projects.”

By having faculty members work closely with cross-cutting interdisciplinary teams, HBS hopes to play a distinctive role in tackling the key social issues of our time, ranging from climate change, health care delivery, poverty, to the future of education.


From Johannesburg to Shanghai, today HBS has a global network of 14 research centers, which the Harbus covered last month (“How Well Is HBS Internationalizing?” March 2019). This network has helped the School maintain a “glocal” footprint and remain uniquely connected to alumni and local leaders in business, government, and academia.

“My predecessor, Kim Clark, was the one who built the first research center in Hong Kong,” says Nohria. “As Dean, it is a humbling experience, as you are really building on the work and wisdom of your predecessors.”

Under Dean Nohria, HBS has further expanded its global focus. Whereas three decades ago, less than 10% of approximately 250 field cases produced annually by faculty were global, today, that number exceeds 50%.

“We now have more than half our faculty members doing research all over the world,” he says.


From the outside, HBS is sometimes seen as an institution that welcomes professionals from a narrow set of industries with a culture of conformism. This is a myth. The demography of HBS has become more varied in every way.

“In terms of gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, also in terms of economic diversity because of financial aid, HBS has had an increasing ability to attract a far more diverse set of students over time,” says Dean Nohria. Indeed, about half of MBA students now receive fellowships, amounting to roughly 28% of total MBA tuition fees (almost $30 million) in financial aid.

Yet there are issues to tackle ahead. One of these, the Dean recognizes, is political diversity.

“Political diversity is an area we need to pay more attention to. We need to think about how to make this a source of opportunity instead of a source of division,” he says.

The goal, at the end of the day, is to encourage a culture at HBS in which students can celebrate and create inclusive organizations.


The last pillar is integration with the broader Harvard community. From a cartographical perspective, HBS has always been isolated from the broader Harvard campus by the Charles River. Yet there is much to be said for how “Harvard Business School” starts with “Harvard.”

“A lot can be gained from embracing and leveraging One Harvard. Why not embrace how ‘Harvard’ is the first name of HBS—how can we benefit from being a part of Harvard and contribute back to the University in the same way?” says Dean Nohria.

The 2011 opening of the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab) unleashed a resource that is now open and widely used by the full Harvard community. Other programs, including the Harvard Business Analytics Program, are being launched in partnership with Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In short, Harvard Business School is making conscious efforts to integrate with the broader Harvard community.

The Verdict

The world has gotten more divisive and less inclusive. The role HBS will play in addressing such concerns will undoubtedly be large. With every new initiative, students and faculty of HBS become better prepared to tackle such challenges. Yet amidst wide-ranging change, at least one thing stands the test of time: HBS educates leaders who make a difference in the world.

Ryo Takahashi (MBA ’20), originally from Japan, is a management consultant and writer. Prior to Harvard Business School, he worked as a Project Manager at the World Economic Forum (WEF) and was a Senior Associate at McKinsey & Company. Prior to these roles he worked at the Economist and the Japan Times. His writing has appeared in Time magazine, the Economist, the Japan Times, and the World Economic Forum, among other outlets. He received his B.A. in Economics (with Distinction) from The University of Tokyo and was also a Rotary Scholar to the London School of Economics.

Gabriel Ellsworth (MBA ’20) came to HBS from HBS, where he worked for five years as a research associate, most recently as a casewriter with a faculty member in the Strategy Unit. Before working at Harvard, he managed grants at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya. He read English literature as an undergraduate at Yale, where he also studied Japanese and French. He is co-editor-in-chief of the Harbus and a performer in the HBS Show. As a young boy, he fantasized about becoming a novelist, but he quickly realized that he did not actually have any ideas for novels.