Entry #3: Dean Nohria’s World Introductory Tour

Day Nine – Reflections on China

China marks the last international leg of the Dean’s introductory tour. We arrived in Hong Kong on Monday and headed directly off to Bloomberg TV where Nitin did a live interview with Rishaad Salamat discussing MBA career options and the role of business schools in educating leaders. Hong Kong is home to over 400 HBS alumni and the HBS Association of Hong Kong, which welcomes both alumni and friends of the School in the region, grew 25 percent this year alone. Dean Nohria was able to get a perspective on the very latest business trends in Asia from some of the most influential business, government and academic leaders in Hong Kong. Amidst meetings with alumni and friends of the School he sat down with Duncan Mavin of the Wall Street Journal Asia to talk about HBS’s aspirations for globalization. Duncan also posted a video interview with Nitin.

A mere 24 hours after landing in Hong Kong we were bound for Shanghai, home to the Harvard Center and many of the 1,000 plus HBS alumni in greater China. The Center officially opened in March and although it was fully operational at the time most everything around it was still under construction. The progress in just a few months is amazing. Shanghai is hosting the World Expo and they have decked out the city to welcome millions of visitors from around the world. Alumni came from as far away as Hong Kong and Beijing to join Dean Nohria for a wide-ranging and lively discussion about the School, the future of MBA education and the global business century. In true HBS style Nitin turned the discussion over the participants who offered no shortage of views on the state of business in Asia. Our visit here coincided with the delivery of a new executive education program on Creating Value Through Service Excellence with Professors Earl Sasser and Das Narayandas.

Of course this visit too included interviews with the media. The first, where the dean spoke about the financial crisis and the future of MBA education, will air on CBN TV China this coming Saturday. Later in the day he met with Bao Jianguang of Global Entrepreneur Magazine to discuss the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in business education.

The visit to Shanghai was a perfect capstone on the international stretch of the Dean’s world tour. From here he jetted off to San Francisco for more meetings with alumni and friends. There is no media scheduled there so this will be my final entry. Throughout this trip people remarked to Nitin about what an ambitious undertaking this was in his first month in office. As a participant/observer I can verify that it was indeed a test of stamina, but the warm reception he has had at each stop along the way has provided ample fuel to reenergize. And what better way to begin the global century of business than with a global listening and learning tour with alumni and friends of the School?

Thanks for following along.

Entry #2 – Dean Nohria’s World Tour

Day Six – Reflections on India

It has been a remarkable few days. On July 28, Dean Nohria returned to India for the first time since his appointment was announced in May. His visit was wildly anticipated in the country of his birth by alumni and friends of the School and the Indian press who turned out in large numbers to see him deliver the Sixteenth Annual J.R.D. Tata Memorial Oration at Tata Theatre in Mumbai. Close to 1,000 participants braved an afternoon monsoon to hear Nitin speak about the India and the Globalization of Business. India’s business community was well represented as were HBS alumni and many students from universities in Mumbai. The central sponsor was The Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM), which invited representatives from several other regional chambers. It was a truly impressive showing of India’s most engaged business practitioners.

ASSOCHAM President Dr. Swati Piramal, offered a warm introduction. In his remarks, Nitin was equal parts optimistic and cautionary about India’s future role on the global business stage. He lauded the tremendous success of the past two decades, citing several examples of Indian companies, including Tata Industries, who have built a presence outside of India while creating economic growth and prosperity in the country. However, he cautioned India’s business leaders not to rest on their laurels or to assume that they have won the race. He spoke about the next century being a truly global one in which those nations who innovate best will reap the rewards.

The balance of the week included three other public speaking appearances -two for NGO GiveIndia.org and one for NGO Toofles – and meetings with many HBS alumni and friends of the School. In each talk Nitin continued to drive home the message that business has an essential role to play in solving the world’s most pressing problems and in creating growth and prosperity. That message was well-received in a nation where the business community is increasingly focused on social enterprise endeavors.

From my perspective as a first-time visitor to India it was in a phrase, a shock to the senses, in all ways. It is a land of stark contrasts. There is tremendous energy and a palpable entrepreneurial spirit. At the same time, there is heart-wrenching poverty. Most of all, there is tremendous potential and one thing stood out to me – regardless of where we were or to whom we were speaking, the people were gracious and warm. I look forward to returning.

Next stop – Hong Kong . . .

Entry #1 – Dean Nohria’s World Introductory Tour

First Stop – London, England

The Economist world headquarters

Dean Nohria literally hit the ground running for the kick-off of his international tour, landing at 5 a.m. at Heathrow Airport and arriving in downtown London just in time to freshen up for a 9 a.m. meeting with a team of journalists from The Economist. Much of the discussion focused on the role and reputation of business in the wake of the economic crisis and what business schools can contribute to changes and improvements.  Nitin spoke at length about the importance getting students to think deeply about their sense of purpose in life — not just in regard  to themselves but to the greater society. The Economist editors were also interested in learning more about the School’s shift to being a more global institution. Nitin spoke about our global research centers and the increase in the number of  international cases.

We sped from the Economist to the BBC radio headquarters at Bush House, where Nitin spent more than 30 minutes taping an interview with Lesley Curwen of BBC World Service for a segment to be broadcast next  Monday afternoon.. In addition to further discussion about business reputation and globalization, they spent time discussing the Tony Hayward situation.

The Dean spent the afternoon meeting with HBS alumni. This trip is part of a consultation period he’s embarking on. He will be meeting with alumni and business leaders, among others, to engage them in a discussion about the future of HBS and how we can ensure that our graduates are equipped to be leaders in the 21st century.

Next up . . . Mumbai. Familiar surroundings for Nitin. Completely new to me. And let’s just say that “fever pitch” doesn’t begin to describe how excited India is to welcome home their native son – the new dean of Harvard Business School.

Stay tuned.

Shanghaied

Blog Entry – March 2010

While still in the throes of jetlag and before the images of this past week fade from memory I wanted to share some of my experiences and takeaways from Shanghai. Before anyone takes offense at the title of this entry, I looked it up to be certain it wasn’t offensive. Here is the definition I found at answers.com:

To be shanghaied is “to be kidnapped & put to work as a sailor on a ship – or die. The term was coined due to the practice having been popularized in Shanghai.”

Now I was not kidnapped but I was captivated by this vast, densely populated, hyper-kinetic city. I was there for a series of symposia and alumni events at the Harvard Center Shanghai, a new venue where Harvard Business School is offering executive education programs for Chinese business executives. With three Mandarin phrases under my belt I set off on my first trip to China filled with anticipation – China did not disappoint.

My only stop was Shanghai but with a population of 19,210,000 in an area covering 2,700 square miles it’s a reasonably ambitious place to start. It feels every bit that large. The Mandarin interpretation of Shanghai is “go to the sea”. It’s a perfect name for this seaport bisected by the Huangpu River – a city built for business that recently surpassed Hong Kong in terms of shipping traffic. Shanghai leaves the politics to Beijing.

What stood out to me were the stark contrasts. Shanghai is at once ultra-modern and ancient. Chic and shabby. Frenetic and calm. The city skyline looks like it was inspired by the Jetsons but stroll a block in any direction from Nanjing Road in the main commercial district and you may as well have traveled back 100 years in time. The high speed Maglev Train blows past cyclists on vintage bikes and mopeds at 268 mph. In the Pudong District, which was covered with rice paddies a mere 15 years ago, state-of-the art high rise office buildings are raised in record time by workers using bamboo scaffolding and hand tools. It is both terrifying and mesmerizing to watch.

The Shanghainese bore stark contrasts as well in terms of education, economic and social standing. There are vast gulfs that divide the wealthiest from the most impoverished. There is rising middle class and a spirit of entrepreneurialism that I haven’t sensed in other places. It really feels as though anything is possible here. One common trait I observed was the work ethic. Everyone, from service workers to constructions workers to business professionals approached their job with single minded energy and enthusiasm. They work all hours every day. Sunday morning? You bet. Construction crews were working away at 8am. Seeing it up close made me wonder how other countries (like ours) will be able to compete with this giant once it gets all of its engines revving in sync.

I guess I sort of expected the work ethic because it goes with communist stereotype. What I didn’t expect to see was families flying kites together in beautifully landscaped parks or communities congregating in garden parks to play cards and chess – things they’ve probably been doing for centuries. I was taken aback by the Chinese citizen’s ability to retreat from the frenetic pace of the city and enjoy their new environs in very traditional ways.

I wanted to chronicle my journey through Twitter but was unable to access it, or Facebook or YouTube because those servers are not accessible in China – a limiting contrast for a country that is trying to get people to know it better.

Bottom line, I loved Shanghai. It’s an exciting city and one that I hope to visit again. I’ve no doubt that whenever I return there will be new things to see.

Rise and Shine

Day six and counting of gloomy, rainy, damp weather in Boston. It’s as if we swapped places with Seattle. The forecast calls for another 4 to 5 days of this muck, including the first official day of summer which is expected to top out at 64 degrees. The weather seems appropriate given the business climate over the past 10 months. Pessimism has worked its way in to our collective bones like a damp chill.sun3
That is precisely why I believe there has never been a better time for marketing and communications experts (including PR) to rise and shine. I think the explosion of online publishing and advances in communications technology combine to create remarkable opportunities. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments of HBS’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter: In a Recession, Put Everyone in Marketing.
From this marketer’s perspective this recession feels different. When the dot com bubble burst in 2001, companies swung the axe on a wide arc at M&C. I was a victim along with over a hundred talented colleagues at Genuity as were thousands of others across the country. The same was true in the late 1980s when the technology bubble collapsed under the weight of Wang and DEC. Pick your industry – finance, manufacturing, FMCG – in challenging economic times, M&C has always been a target of opportunity for right sizing the organization.

What’s different now?

  • First of all, marketing and communications as a discipline is far more sophisticated and strategic than ever before. The lines between public relations, crisis communications, investor relations, and marketing are blurred. CMOs (or CMCOs as in my case) are concerned with and responsible for consistency of message across the board, which would be tough to achieve with an eviscerated marketing organization.
  • Second, the marketing caste system is breaking down – the pecking order that flowed from strategic marketing to product marketing to marketing and communications (snarkily referred to as arts and crafts in one place I worked). Gone are the days when people only turned to us for logoed apparel. Today, content is king and the ability to communicate complex ideas is prized whether about a new product or service, a brand position, or an earnings report. Companies can ill afford to cut out their tongue in times like these.
  • Third, and perhaps most importantly, authenticity and transparency are here to stay. Communications lies at the heart of transparency. Social media is driving this change at blinding speeds and CEOs are trying to catch up (see Risky Business by Weber Shandwick). M&C, by virtue of their ownership of the organization’s web presence, are the best informed and most fluent in social media, the most comfortable too. It suits our extroverted personalities and provides us with a direct connection to our customers and stakeholders. Even better, it gives us the opportunity to open a dialogue – formerly the sole territory of sales/customer service.

The confluence of these things has me feeling very optimistic for the future role of M&C, despite Fortune’s take on the importance of CMOs. People are searching for answers in the economic gloom and organizations seem more aware that silence is not the best strategy. I’m not alone in my optimism. PR Luminary Richard Edelman blogged about it as far back as December (Fight the Good Fight), where he rallied PR professionals to the fore saying, “This is a classic PR assignment; rebuilding credibility”.


So to all marketing and communications/public relations peers, let’s seize the moment to Rise and Shine. No matter the weather.

When Worlds Collide

When worlds collide worlds-collide2

Is it just my imagination or has social and professional networking exploded this year? I think it hit home for me when my mother (74 – please don’t tell her I told you) “friended” my teenage children on Facebook. Or maybe when I was friended by a pack of high school friends within a matter of hours – people I hadn’t spoken to in decades. 

Pick your channel – Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, blogs – I believe the interconnectedness of these media, their fun quotient, and the human yearning for reaching out during tough times have moved us to a tipping point in the adoption of Web 2.0. More than just a way to stay in touch with friends and relatives or satisfying the curiosity to see what ever happened to so-and-so, web enabled networking is profoundly changing the way we relate to one another.

 In simpler times, say 4 years ago, it was easier to carve out sections of my life. I had my professional network and my personal friends. The latter knew the real me while the former knew the “control” version. And that was how it was supposed to be –never mix business with pleasure.

 Fast-forward to now, the lines have completely blurred. I am being Linked In by friends and friended by colleagues. And truly, it’s hard to reject people you know without feeling as though you are insulting them (except sales people). Now I have a complicated and growing amalgamation of family-friends-colleagues (FFC). 

So I accept this blurring of the lines in the belief that over time it will all make sense. As it turns out, we may have something to learn from the Chinese on this topic. A recently published working paper from HBS professor Roy Y. J. Chuaspeaks to the Chinese tradition of deliberately blending professional and personal contacts. It’s how they do business and if we are going to build productive business relationships with the Chinese, it’s important to understand.

 I’ve heard that doing business in China can be incredibly frustrating and time-consuming for foreigners. According to Professor Chua’s research, that’s because it takes much longer to build trusting business relationships in China than in the United States. That’s where web enabled networking tools come in handy. American managers will want to know as many people in the Chinese counterpart’s network as possible. That would have been a major hurdle before but now it can be as simple as shouting out to your friend-colleagues to see who knows someone in Shanghai or Mumbai or Mexico City. Granted, a contact won’t cement a trusting relationship, but it’s a great starting point.

 So I’ll post this blog, tweet about it and write it on my wall, message it to my network and further blur the lines between the real me and the control version. Then I’ll get back to the exhausting work of keeping up with the lives of my FFC. 

What once was good . . .

upsidedown2This week I was on a panel of marketing experts at the Meeting Planners International (MPI) New England chapter meeting, discussing the challenges of promoting meetings and events in the current economic climate. There was a good sized audience (which means that at least meeting planners still go to meetings). They were there to turn their angst into action and ironically they were their own proof of why we need meetings and conferences – to engage face-to-face with one another.

Of course in a world turned upside down where business is being tarred and feathered daily in the media, what once was good is now bad and meeting planners and their suppliers are among a growing population of collateral damage. I knew that the moment I turned on Good Morning America last month and saw ABC’s Brian Ross reporting on the extravagant parties that executives of Bank of America participated in at the 2009 Bob Hope Chrysler Golf Classic (complete with a hidden camera walking through the parties – ouch). Further proof is Senator John Kerry’s request in February that any company receiving TARP funds should have their meetings approved by an oversight committee. On March 5 he introduced new language into the funding bill to limit “luxury expenses”. Those are yet to be defined but a fellow panelist mentioned that some destination hotels had begun removing the word resort from their name to make it more palatable as a meeting spot.

These kinds of extremes are indicative of an angry public and I can’t personally disagree having overseen some very extravagant meetings and events in my career. I know how expensive they can be and how entitled some senior executives can be. Make no mistake, we are in a period of collective national venting and business at the center. We are experiencing it at Harvard Business School where MBAs have come under fire as the root cause of the financial crisis. How come we didn’t see it coming? Did we forget to teach our students about ethics? Fortunately, there are some thoughtful perspectives emerging and as I shared with the MPI folks, the same will come to pass for them.

So what do we do in the meantime, they asked. Hunker down and wait? Fold up the tent? Of course not. This downturn, like others, will have an impact on how we market and that includes the kinds of events and meetings we host. But they will continue to be an important part of the mix because of the human factor. With that in mind, here are some thoughts that surfaced from the panelists about how to manage through the current climate and how to reinvigorate the appetite for meetings and events.

-          Use this time constructively to network and build relationships with customers, suppliers and peers. Being at the meeting was a good start.

-          Understand your company/client’s strategy and know how and why the meeting helps to achieve their goals better than any other method (e.g. webinars, publications).

-          Dial it down. The things that have upset people most have been easily correctable – the corporate jets, the spa retreats, the $300 plates. Events will be more acceptable if there are explicit goals tied to them that are shared in advance if appropriate, with key stakeholders like employees, customers, shareholders. Check out Meetingsmeanbusiness.org for more in this.

-          Make your event matter. There is a growing trend in business of giving back on behalf of clients and customers. We’ve all received holiday cards noting a charitable donation in our name. Events that benefit a charity or where activities include some kind of community service are instantly more palatable to individuals and employers.

-          Keep looking for new ideas. There are many websites out there with great ideas for how to manage this down turn. Here is one I like.

Lastly, I told this group what I’ve told my own team . . . this is our time to shine. We’ll do that by showing how innovation and creativity can carry the day. The extended marketing team, including meeting planners and their suppliers, needs to be generative with ideas and action to show their organizations that our contributions are more important now than ever.

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