Redrawing the business plan for the darker days ahead

Harvard Business School's new head outlines his interdisciplinary approach. Hannah Fearn reports

January 13, 2011

Harvard Business School is to introduce an interdisciplinary curriculum, making use of expertise across the rest of the university, in response to changing demands.

Admitting that the "golden years" of US business were in the past, new dean Nitin Nohria told Times Higher Education that Harvard Business School had to become an international institution that responded to the big questions of the day.

Professor Nohria is the 10th dean in the school's 102-year history, but the first to herald from outside North America, having grown up in India.

He said his appointment, as a non-American, "symbolically represented the direction the school had to move in, and that all business education has to move in".

The professor of business administration and former head of the business school's organisational unit predicted that the future of business would not be based on one or two major financial centres, as it was in the previous century, despite all the talk about China and India taking over as the new economic superpowers.

"The next century is not going to be the Asian century but the global century," he said.

"Very few business schools have yet developed a curriculum that is able to operate in this global century. That's a great opportunity for us to innovate."

Professor Nohria said business schools were now at an "intersection point".

"The world of business itself is changing. One cannot (be certain) that the future will be as bright for business education and industry as a whole as it was in the past 50 years."

He said demand was growing for one-year "trade school" degrees, for example, which are not offered by Harvard.

As it "reshapes and redefines what business education ought to be", Professor Nohria said, Harvard Business School would seek to become more integrated with the university.

This was key to ensuring that the curriculum equipped its students with the skills to tackle the issues facing businesses in the modern world, he said.

"What makes the issues (of today) different is that they can't be solved by the silos that we've historically lived in. We need a culture in which we learn how to operate better across the existing silos within the school and outside the school. We have to allow interaction among students who have historically had very little to do with each other."

There are also plans for a new "incubator for ideas" at the school, which would be expected to spin off up to 20 new businesses a year.

Professor Nohria said he was not worried about what the future held for his school, but added that "if you look to business education as a whole, it is a more difficult story".

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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