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.

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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.