HBS and India: Putting their mouth where the money is

Harvard Business School just appointed its own professor Nitin Nohria to be installed as the new HBS Dean on July 1, to succeed current Dean Jay Light. Whereas Dean Light had been around the halls of Harvard for decades, Prof. Nohria is by contrast relatively new, though obviously and undoubtedly established across the Charles and in his academic field.

As someone who monitors university activity in India, it’s no secret that all the elite universities are looking toward India with gazing eyes. The market and the potential are huge. The Government of India will soon allow foreign universities to grant degrees through their own foreign campuses in India. The writing is on the wall, as I’ve written about in the past.

But with the appointment of Nohria, HBS is putting their mouth where there money is. HBS over the past few decades has strategically built its own research centers in key markets (e.g. Japan etc.) and emerging markets. The original plan for the HBS India Research Center in Mumbai was to serve as a small hub where HBS faculty and students could use as a launching pad to investigate companies for case studies. More recently, HBS Executive Education has been market-testing to Indian executives, HBS Press (not officially affiliated) had thought about launching an Indian-specific edition, and HBS students have worked with faculty to design a number of different immersion trips to India.

Demographically, the HBS student body is roughly 10% South Asian, and that number could rise, just as the number of HBS Case Studies featuring Indian companies, Indian protagonists, and economic opportunities in India have risen dramatically over the past decade.

Nitin Nohria (I’ve not met him) seems to emulate all that is good with Indian management gurus, and his appointment as Dean of HBS is a highly visible one. He’s an alumnus of the famed IIT system. He’s got his PhD from MIT Sloan, which produces a number of Harvard professors.  He’s a prolific author and, according to Twitter, well-liked by those who’ve encountered him.

With the appointment of soon-to-be Dean Nohria, HBS is making a very strategic move to continue to leverage the investments its made in India. The school is putting their mouth where their money is, and that’s a good thing, a smart move. The stage is now set for Nohria to guide the school internationally as the competition for students, talent, and emerging growth markets heat up even more. It’s only natural that India be a cornerstone of that strategy. This is a country where one of its most powerful and influential politicians, P. Chidambaram, is an active HBS alumnus, and could conceivably become Prime Minister one day.