When Drew Faust, President of Harvard Business School, announced the appointment of Nitin Nohria, 48, as the new Dean of the business school at the most prestigious Ivy League university, her message to scandal-ridden corporate America was loud and clear. Nohria has been a no-punches-held-back critic of the institutional breakdown of trust in US business of the last decade.
In a co-authored write-up in October 2008, as a financial crisis in the US snowballed into the worst recession since the 1930s, Nohria even advocated a rigorous code of conduct for managers and a Hippocratic Oath of ethical practices for executives. After the Drew announcement, Nohria gave an indication of things to expect: "We must strive to equip future leaders with the competence and character to address emerging global business and social challenges." The oath, he added, "may not be a magic pill, but it is an important first step".
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Nohria, the Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration at HBS, received his bachelor of technology degree in chemical engineering, one of the toughest courses in engineering education, in 1984 from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, which awarded him its distinguished alumnus medal in 2007. "(The institute) prepared me for what I am today. It taught me I can survive anything," he says.
After his Ph.D in management in 1988 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, Nohria joined the HBS faculty as an assistant professor in 1988, was appointed associate professor in 1993, and tenured in 1997.
An author of more than 50 articles and dozens of teaching cases and notes, Nohria has co-written or coedited 16 books, the most recent being Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice (2010, co-edited with Rakesh Khurana, also an HBS professor).
Nohria is committed to make his term as Dean a period of innovation and he sees HBS taking some lessons from enterprises in India. "Most of the important new ideas of the world will come from countries such as India, China and Brazil. We have been studying companies in these countries to learn what innovation is happening," he said on a conference call.
The guru did not have to look far for the best advice on leadership. It came from his father K.K. Nohria, former Chairman of Crompton Greaves. Try to be yourself and humble, his father had told him. "I have found that to be very useful," Nohria Jr. says.
According to Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at HBS, the nicest thing about this appointment is that 'Nitin leaves friends in his wake'. "Having just taught with him in our maiden executive education programme last week in Mumbai, I can attest to his generosity of spirit. What an inspired choice."