Who is really calling the shots at HBS?
We have explored the intricate details of Nitin Nohria’s hiring as HBS Dean which was linked to his ability to set up the largest donation in the history of HBS. As we have seen, this donation had serious strings attached. So why would Dean Nohria risk his academic reputation so? Is it just about the money? Power? Maybe both but there seems to be more. Let’s start with a little background.
India, the country which Nitin Nohria comes from, gained its independence in 1947. It is a beautiful country with wonderful people who have contributed to the world in amazing ways. You don’t have to look far to find people of tremendous influence these days from South Asia. Though it is the world’s fastest growing large economy with 1.2 billion citizens and many millions more spread across the world, Indian businesses are unknown to the common person in the US. Why? Large Indian companies have more aggressively expanded into countries like the UK and in the Middle East and Africa. This is largely due to proximity but also, US-India relations have only been so-so until recently. How many people have heard of India’s largest companies? #1 Indian Oil company does most of its business in India, Africa and the Middle East. #2 Reliance is largely concentrated in India but does a decent amount of business in Europe and elsewhere. #3 Tata Motors is publicly traded in the US but is not known to many people though it owns Jaguar and Land Rover based in the UK. The rest of the top 10 are also lesser known names in the US but three of them are Tata companies, Tata Steel and Tata Consultancy which both also have a large presence in the UK. In fact, Tata Group as a whole is India’s largest company by far and is even the largest employer in the UK! So why does this matter?
Tata and Sons, the parent holding company of all the Tata companies, has historically had a board of only 5-6 people. These board positions are the most prestigious and powerful positions in the Indian world. In 2013, 3 years after Nitin Nohria orchestrated the naming of a new HBS building after its donor, Tata and Sons Chairman Ratan Tata, Dean Nohria was named a board member to this most prestigious and powerful institution. Ratan Tata is arguably the most revered businessman in India at India’s crown jewel company. Speaking with anyone from India about Tata Group and Ratan, one quickly comes to know that the “Tata’s” have reached a god-like status. Nitin was a young professor in his early 30’s when Ratan became Chairman of Tata in 1991. To be asked by Ratan to join as one of only six members of this elite institution is a higher peak than becoming Dean of HBS. And therein lies the problem. He cannot be a king of two worlds. After Ratan left as Chairman, everyone knew that Nitin was his man. He had bought him for $50 million. Ratan has become Nitin’s master.
When Ratan needed a “Hail Mary” marketing piece to save the Nano car (his baby and brainchild) Nitin did his bidding notwithstanding the embarrassingly opposite facts. LINK #10* TO NANO ARTICLE.
When independent minded Tata Chairman, Cyrus Mistry, would not stop to disagree with Ratan’s corrupt business practices and past dealings, Ratan decided it was time for Cyrus to disappear. Though he had not physically attended a board meeting for the past several board meetings, Nitin was ordered by his master to come to this particular board meeting in October of 2016 to take care of Ratan’s dirty business. LINK TO STORY OF MISTRY FIRING **. He was not alone. Ratan was at his side.
The students at Harvard University feel it is extremely critical that Nitin Nohria explain these actions if he is to be seriously considered as President of Harvard. It is tempting in these situations to want to remain quiet. Airing out this dirty laundry can do harm to all involved at Harvard and we have all paid and sacrificed much to be affiliated with this great institution. But to stay silent now after knowing what we know and learning the importance of ethics and transparency as we are currently with the many cases of sexual harassment coming out and lack of ethics becoming more and more pervasive in government, we at Harvard feel it is critical that these issues be addressed. The same way a candidate for President of the United States needs to disclose and explain past relationships, tax returns and transgressions, Dean Nohria, professor of ethics and corporate governance needs to explain these troubling accounts if we are to seriously consider him as the President of Harvard University. Yes, Harvard is not a democracy but unless we understand differently, we cannot support him, and we will do everything in our power to bring this message to all students and alumni.
Our University is sustained by its students and alumni. Harvard is NOT a personal fiefdom of business houses and their agents.
*Link Article 10 which is posted as Article 7