Video/Production – Ned Brown

Campus & Community

Leading Business Education

2 min read

Nitin Nohria
Dean, Harvard Business School
Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration

Harvard Business School (HBS) was founded in 1908, in the words of future Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, as a “delicate experiment” — a five-year trial, to be exact, as approved by the Harvard Corporation. It began with 15 faculty members, 24 regular students, and 35 “special” students housed in space borrowed from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

While other undergraduate schools of commerce already existed, as well as some institutions that offered graduate courses, HBS was the first to require that entering students possess an undergraduate degree, and it created the master in business administration (M.B.A.) to confer upon its graduates (with, notably, Harvard’s first diploma written in English rather than Latin).

Edwin Gay, the School’s founding dean, defined business as the activity of making “a decent profit, decently.” From the start, HBS sought to develop general managers — people with competence and character. This meant training students for the tasks of manufacturing and selling, thereby developing in them “a habit of intellectual respect for business as a profession.” It also meant developing in them “a sympathetic tact, a certain kindness of spirit.”

In its first century, HBS pioneered the adoption of the case method for management instruction (as well as the unique tiered classroom to support it), executive education (offering the first “war retraining” course in 1943), a residential campus to enhance the learning environment, and numerous fields of study, including strategy and entrepreneurship.

That spirit of innovation continues today in the School’s use of educational technologies, in the development and dissemination of path-breaking management ideas, and, most recently, in the launch of the field method, which seeks to provide students with intensive, immersive, and experiential small-group learning opportunities. It is the School’s aspiration to be no less than a beacon of innovation in management education.