How people are missing the significance of Nitin Nohria’s appointment

Highly respected professor Nitin Nohria has just been appointed Dean of Harvard Business School.  This news has some analysts quick to point out that he is first Indian-American to be appointed to the prestigeous position.  And from one fellow Indian-American to another, I do want to congratulate him.  However, if you look deeper, you’ll see that his appointment says less about ethnicity or nationality and more about the state of business in America — and where the world’s leading business school wants to take it.  For as any business school student will tell you, the operating m.o. upon graduation is to maximize shareholder value.  Prof. Nohria will help make sure that this is done in a way that doesn’t tear lives apart like the subprime crisis did.

Prof. Nohria is known as a specialist in business ethics.  And when Harvard asked him to be the captain of the S.S. HBS (Harvard Business School) it was because they saw what the greatest challenge is in the business world – doing business without doing harm. 

In the medical field, doctors traditionally take the Hippocratic Oath – that is, the oath to do no harm and protect their patients.  In the business world, some go by the Gordon Gecko mantra that “Greed is good.”  Now, having been to business school, I can assure you that this is rare.  But sometimes in the fervor to increase shareholder value, one may lose sight of what their business really does.  And it will take leading school like Harvard and cutting-edge thinkers like Prof. Nohria to figure out how to strike a healthy balance between what is good for both Wall Street and main street.

So Prof. Nohria, or should I call you Captain Nohria – we all wish you well and know that both Harvard and the future business leaders of the world are in good hands.  For as we all navigate the waters of international business the 21st century, we are already inspired by Harvard’s statement through their actions.  Harvard has proclaimed that business ethics should be as much a part of the core curriculum as finance or marketing.  That is – you can’t do good business if you’re not doing good. 

I wish you, your students and all those entering the business world good luck in all of our ventures

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