Tarun Khanna of HBS named new head of Harvard’s South Asia Initiative

Earlier this year, Harvard University president Drew Faust announced that the new dean of Harvard Business School would be Professor Nitin Nohria (click here for my analysis). I believed that this move was very strategic for HBS itself, but also for the university as it thought through its place in a more globalized world, especially as schools such as Duke start going overseas to grab students and as Yale University starts to spend its $300M India war chest. Now this week, Harvard has announced that its South Asia Initiative, originally headed by Sugata Bose, will now be headed by standout HBS professor Tarun Khanna.


Having spent three years in Cambridge, both as a student and formal employee of the University on matters related to its position in India, and having known Tarun for those years, both as a student and also a collaborator, I can without a doubt that this is a huge move for the school, for HBS, for Tarun, and for the thousands of students at Harvard interested in all sorts of scholarship and opportunities in India. The South Asia Initiative tried valiantly over the years to be the University’s central hub for its activities and interests in India, but for whatever reason — and I don’t know the real reason — the leadership of the Center didn’t truly and accurately affect the wide variety of interests from students and faculty in India. As a result, and true to Harvard’s “every tub on its bottom” character, every individual school, from the Medical School to the School of Government,  went after its own strategy. (HBS has tried for years to prop up its Bombay-based “India Research Center,” and only lately has it turned the corner.)

Now that Tarun has taken on this visible leadership role, I’m 110% positive that things will change for Harvard’s presence in India, and for the better. To start, Tarun is a deeply intellectual and thoughtful person. On the flip side, he isn’t shy about calling things out and doing things that are impractical. He’s also widely credited for working with a team of colleagues to create an overall framework for thinking about the globalization of emerging markets, not just in his home country of India, but also China, Brazil, Russia, and other countries. He’s often-cited in the news, writes prolifically on the topic, helps students startup for- and not-for-profit ventures, and has basically been one of the pistons driving this route of inquiry at Harvard for years.

Now, he will get to curate a program that, for whatever reason, didn’t live up to his potential. I’m very happy that he’s going to take this on.