Harvard Business Cases for sale
Nitin Nohria became the tenth dean of Harvard Business School on July 1st, 2010.
3 months later, it was announced that the Chairman of India’s largest company, Tata Group, was donating $50 million to HBS- the largest gift from an international donor in the school’s history. This donation had been in the works for a while and was a part of Nohria’s appointment as Dean.
One of the first “paybacks” Dean Nohria made to Tata was to have his brother-in-law, HBS Professor Bharat Anand, write a business case about the Tata Nano (Car) calling it “the people’s car” and “a runaway bestseller” while touting Ratan Tata as the “visionary” of this “safe and affordable car for the masses.”
This was a beautiful marketing piece. The problem is, before the business case was even published, it became widely known that the Nano was a flop in almost every way.
As Technology Review reported before the release of the Nano business case,“ the car is being viewed as a glorified tuk-tuk, which is the three-wheeled runabout synonymous with developing nations.”
The Business Insider also reported before the release of the Nano business case that “Ratan Tata, the company's leader, had set ambitious sales targets of 20,000 per month, so 240,000 per year. In the last fiscal (FY2011-12, Enclosed Link ***) Tata sold 70,000 of the car. That is not even close.”
It had developed a terrible reputation for safety with some of them even catching fire. The Next Billion reported that, “The Tata Nano’s launch failed by nearly every measure. Sales fell far short of forecasts. The relocation of the factory was a debacle. One need not invent a colorful metaphor to describe the situation: occasionally, the car even burst into very real flames.”
In January 2011, a month before the release of the Nano business case, The Harvard Business Review even reported that, “In November 2010 while overall auto sales in India’s booming economy rose more than 22%, Tata sold only 509 Nanos, down precipitously 94% from the 9,000 it sold the previous July, news that’s been trumpeted in disparaging headlines from New York to Sydney. There are no shortages of reasons for the Nano’s poor showing: production delays, fires, the stigma attached to buying a “cheap” car.”
This type of paid marketing in academia destroys trust in objective academic institutions. Any thoughtful person must now question the objectivity and academic nature of Harvard Business Cases. The more urgent problem is the author of so much of this academic prostitution mired in such deep conflicts of interest is being considered as the new President of Harvard. Why? Potential donors like the looks of their potential “returns on their investments” to Harvard. This precedent must stop.
Harvard is not for sale.