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Harvard’s new path to former glory

“An interesting aspect of globalization is that it questions the dominance of the Anglo-Saxon business model,” says Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development at Cranfield Business School in the United Kingdom. “In my view Chinese and Indian corporations put the traditional western ways of managing, leading and organizing to the test and chances are that the next generation of influences on the economic world will be Indian and Chinese,” predicts Kakabadse in “knowledge@ASB”, the management publication of the Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Nitin Nohria, former professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and, since July, the school's new Dean could not agree more. In 2007 the Indian-born Nohria co-authored a book called "Paths to Power", in which "he chronicles how leaders from different backgrounds rose to power in American business". His own career proves the point: not only is Harvard's tenth Dean the first to be foreign born, but Nohria is also famous for declaring that managers have "lost legitimacy" in the wake of corporate scandals, in the "Harvard Business Review" of all places.

Together with a colleague with Asian roots, Rakesh Khurana, Nohria has challenged claims that there was nothing wrong with the conventional MBA curriculum or with the system of elite business schools. After the announcement of Nohria's new job, the "Financial Times" wrote: "By appointing Prof Nohria, Harvard University has signalled that it is not frightened of debate, or reform - indeed, it wants to play a leading role in both these activities."

And active he is. In October Harvard Business School received a gift of 50 million dollars from the philanthropic entities of India's Tata Group. The gift, the largest from an international donor in the School's 102-year history, will fund a new academic and residential building on the HBS campus in Boston for participants in the School's broad portfolio of Executive Education programs. The School hopes to break ground for the building, which will be named Tata Hall, next spring.

Ratan Tata, Chairman of Tata Sons Ltd. since 1991, has no MBA title from Harvard himself, but did attend one of the school's executive educations programs for Advanced Management in 1975. He received the school's highest honour, the Alumni Achievement Award in 1995. Now he says: "We are pleased that this gift will support the School's educational mission to mould the next generation of global business leaders." So perhaps the next generation of influences on the economic world will indeed be Indian.

If not the whole economic world, at least Harvard can do with some new influx of ideas after the double whammy delivered by the global financial crisis. Not only did the university loose one third of its capital stock but an even a bigger part of the glorious image of its B-School: Many of HBS's 42,000 alumni are famous names at Wall Street, amongst them the rather infamous Jamie Dimon, CEO of Morgan Chase, John Thain, fallen boss of Merrill Lynch or Jeffrey Skilling. The former CEO of Enron is serving a 24-year prison sentence for fraud. Given this, the titles of Nohria's books sound promising: "What Really Works: The 4+2 Formula for Sustained Business Success" or "Changing Fortunes" and "Driven".

So what does Nohria think about the next wave of management influence coming from the East? He is too humble to tie the development to his own work: "My rise to the top is no signal of any kind. I just happen to be Indian and people thought I was good enough to be Dean and they gave me the opportunity." But he does envisage Asian centres of learning: "If you take the long view of history, the great learning centres tended to be co-located with the great economic centres of the world. If other parts of the world rise with economic prosperity, inevitably there will be great centres of learning that will develop, too, and they will become competitors to American business schools."

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