Helping women succeed at Harvard Business School: Charlie Rose interviews dean Nitin Nohria

Interview with Charlie Rose on 1/22/2015: “Nitin Nohria, Dean of the Harvard Business School, talks about leadership, case studies, and efforts to help women succeed at the school.” Video here. (37 minutes)
Note: “The question of women” begins at [21:49].

Charlie Rose: Nitin Nohria is here, he has been the dean of the Harvard Business School since 2010, an institution whose mission statement is “to educate leaders who will make a difference”. Under his leadership the school has met the demands of the twenty-first century, worldwide training across the globe is an increasing part of the curriculum. The school has also taken additional steps to create a more inclusive environment for women. I am pleased to have the dean of the Harvard business school at this table for the first time. Welcome.screenshot Charlie Rose Nitin Nohria

Nitin Nohria: Thanks, Charlie.

Rose: Tell me, in your own words, how the Harvard business school has changed, since you’ve been the dean, whether you’ve brought about that change or not.

Nohria: So, this school, you know, I was very fortunate that I became dean of Harvard business school when we began our second century and you were there for our centennial.

Rose: Yes, I was.

Nohria: And we’ve had a storied (?) one hundred years, so it was a great foundation on which to build. We were known for the case method. It has been the heart of our business school, so to that I ask what can we do to strengthen this wonderful curriculum, so we’ve added to that the field method, which is t an opportunity not just to —in the case method we brought the world to our students. Through our field method we’re trying to send our students back into the world. It’s adding learning by doing, as opposed to simply imagining what you might do. So this is a very powerful new addition to our curriculum. We’ve also embraced online education, and we’ve run a series of experiments there, in terms of the intellectual ambition of our business school. We’ve thought about big projects we might do, we/ve done a major project on U.S. competitiveness. We’re tackling the health care crisis, we’re now looking at energy and the environment.

So we’re trying to ask ourselves the question how can this school be relevant to some of the biggest questions that we have. We celebrated in 2013, fifty years of women being admitted to Harvard Business School. So we used that occasion to ask the question that yes, we’ve been increasing numerically the number of women who study at Harvard Business School, but how can we make sure that they can thrive both at the school and in their careers thereafter. We’ve continued to push the internationalization of Harvard Business School, we are now—60% of the cases that we write—and we write about 300 cases a year—are international cases, so the education we’re giving our students is to prepare them for what I think will be a global century in business. And finally we’re taking advantage of the fact that we are part of a great university, so under the auspices of one Harvard, we’re trying to do things that make sure that Harvard business school can leverage the fact that it’s a part of this wonderful university.

Rose: Is the mission statement still “create young men and women who can make a difference”?

Nohria: First, the touchstone of what we do is to educate students who can make a difference in the world, and to educate leaders who can make a difference in the world. And all of the curriculum changes that we’ve done are designed to see how can we better prepare leaders who can go out and make a difference in the world.

Rose: Your expertise is management and leadership, correct?

Nohria: Yes.

Rose: Tell me about leadership. Let’s assume that a political leader came to you, let’s assume, that had some man or woman skills, that had some education, that had come to a position of trust and accountability, and difference . What would you say to them, that’s essential to know to maximize their impact?

Nohria: So, I think the first thing the leaders have to know that society will hold them accountable for will they make society a better place. It the difference they make don’t allow people to experiences their lives as having gotten better, they will not be judged as leaders. Because in the end, you can’t declare yourself to be a leader, the other person has to say that you’re a leader. And usually people will call someone a leader when they feel like, as a result of what that person did, their lives were improved. So if–leadership is in the end about making other peoples’ lives better.

Rose: And what’s the art of inspiration so that people want to follow?

Nohria: People want to know that you’re authentic, that you come from a place where what you are saying comes from a place that you deeply believe in, I think people will follow someone who’s authentic, people follow someone who has a clear moral compass. They want to know that what drives you is not just your own personal ambition but a broader cause or a greater purpose. People expect of leaders that they have a way of simplifying the complexity in the world and finding a way to head true north. They want to know what true north looks like. So my sense is that people in the world want someone who has a simple, believable, authentic, view of the world, which they feel if they follow will allow their lives to get better.

Rose: I mean, is this always seemed to me to be about—those leaders that I’ve admired the most–they were able to articulate the mission (Nohria: “yep”) and what you’re significance was to it, and what your success meant to it (Nohria: “yep”), you know, so that you were there for (Nohria: “a purpose?”), a purpose, and ownership.

Nohria: And yeah, your work matters, right. One of the things that I have learned is that we teach our students to recognize that in the end, you will be experienced as a leader if you feel that you are accountable for everything you do, and that through your work they can find meaning in their work, that together you will accomplish something that neither you or the other person could have accomplished individually, that there’s something about working together that allows the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. I think leaders create that experience in others, and that’s what makes them very powerful.

Rose: 2007 and 8 were a difficult time, for America, and its economy, and its businesses. What’s changed did it effect the way, did it impact the way you’ve felt the responsibility of the university and the business school?

Nohria: So, I think people realized then, and I hope that lesson will be taken very seriously, that effective business is about the display of both competence and character, (Rose: “right”) and that we can get ahead of ourselves, that if we’re not careful we can take on too much risk, that systemic risk when it collapses, it can collapse in very damaging ways, (Rose: “which is exactly what happened”) which is exactly what happened. So we have gone back and–after the 2008 crises–and written cases on literally every example—you know, we teach by the case method, so we’ve asked ourselves what can we learn from these experiences. We’ve had more cases of failure that have become a part of the curriculum than ever before. Because we want to make sure that students don’t get so enamored by the prospects of success and feel that everything they do will lead to positive outcomes, that they need to understand that what can cause failure, and what can we learn from these cases of failure. What is the personal accountability that they need to have. How can they create systems which—like incentive systems–that can run ahead and run amok. So I think we’ve learned a lot from that moment. Can we promise ourselves that something like that will never happen again? I’m not sure. But have we learned a lot? Certainly yes.

Rose: You have learned it also by creating something called MBA oath (Nohria: “yep”) as just one–as one consequence of it. Tell me what that is?

Nohria: So, it was inspired by the idea of the Hippocratic Oath, which is to say, what should business leaders believe in, as a set of true moral views that they should have, that just like doctors say, “do no harm” is one of the first things that they—and “patients’ interests come before anyone else’s interests”–in the same way that we have tried to articulate this MBA oath as a way for business leaders to recognize that they too, should start off with a dictum that says “do no harm”. And they should be deeply concerned about the long-term welfare of the companies and the constituencies that they serve, other than getting caught up in the short term. We’ve tried to ask them to make sure that, when they think about a business, they ask themselves that beyond the profit of the business–business has externalities—it can cause harm to the environment, it can improve or diminish the welfare of various constituencies like labor or customers—and to think hard about these externalities, and to make sure that business leaders recognize that they’re accountable for these externalities, as much as they are for what the firm does directly. So teaching people about these broader set of responsibilities that they have is one of the things that we hope that the MBA oath would encourage our students to think harder about.


Rose: Was there some resistance to it?

Nohria: So, we couldn’t get people to say that the MBA oath should be something that all our students should be able to sign onto, so it’s taken voluntarily by students, but the ideas behind the oath are something that we have now been able to incorporate into our curriculum. We have a first year course called “leadership and corporate accountability”, which encourages our students to think through an ethical lens, an economic lens, and a legal lens, and to recognize that sound business judgment is just one that actually meets all three lenses. So at least the oath, even though it was not something everybody was willing to sign, the underlying ideas of the oath have become very much a part of our curriculum.

Rose: When the president of Harvard asked you to become dean of the business school , did she tell you why she wanted you?

Nohria: So, I think that all she told me was that you’re someone that the faculty trusts, you’re someone who comes from a background of leadership. The mission of the school is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. I hope you will stay true to that idea and remain committed to developing the best leaders that the school can.


Rose: Do you think that because you’re had the diversity in your life you’ve had that you’re better at doing this job in 2015 ?

Nohria: I would think that–I do believe that my background helps. The fact that in many ways I didn’t grow up in the United States brings inherently a more global perspective. If you think about the future of the world, it certainly lies in emerging markets as much as it lies in the developed economy. I just came from a trip to India, China, and to Tokyo—to Japan—and when I was in China you’re always reminded about the extraordinary economic opportunities that lie there. In many ways I feel more comfortable in places like that. I’ve tried to get our students through these global field experiences that they’re now have. All nine hundred of our first year students now go out as part of their first year experience and go to emerging markets all over the world. I don’t think that these are things that would have been as easy for someone who didn’t have the perspective as I did. I also think that in many ways I’ve experienced my own life as a living example of the American dream. I was a member of a minority and I’m sitting here as dean of Harvard Business School. Only in American are stories like this possible.

Rose: But when you left India did you think that “I will never come back”, that “I’m going to America and I’m going to hitch my star to the great American dream?

Nohria: I really–to be honest, I didn’t leave India and think –and did think that I would try to find a way and make a career in the United States. Did I ever imagine that my career would one day lead me to being dean of Harvard Business School? Never.

Rose: But it would be something in terms of the academy.

Nohria: Yeah, I had hoped that I would be a professor, that one day I might get tenure, I mean that was my dream.

Rose: Right. The world has changed, hasn’t it? Because a lot of kids coming out of India today , they think about coming back. (Nohria: Yeah.) More so it seems, because they have seen (Nohria: the economic opportunities) the economic opportunities, and the intellectual opportunities change.

Nohria: So I think the intellectual opportunities still have to catch up, but the economic opportunities certainly have changed dramatically, so we see in our own programs, many people apply to our university programs, now we have as many international students applying to our MBA programs. Several of those students stay, but as many have begun to go back , sometimes if not immediately but we start to see in five years if our students graduating, many more people go back to these emerging markets, so you’re right, the world has changed…

Rose: Some of them go back because of the immigration policy of the United States (Nohria: Yes.) does not work as it should.

Nohria: I wish we could staple a staple a green card to every diploma. That would be a wonderful thing for this country and, you know, I’m an example of how—one of the reasons it was great to become an academic was that it was very easy to get a green card by becoming an academic. It made it easy for me to stay here and I’ve had a great career. I wish we would create that opportunity for more international students who come to the United States.

Rose: Tell me about online education as it applies to the Harvard business school.

Nohria: So the…we think that online education represents a remarkable opportunity for the future of education. I must confess that when I first became dean I was not sure that online education would be that important to the school. We’ve always believed in the intimacy of the case method, we’ve been lucky that we attract the most remarkable students. That is usually small scale, so 900 students, and you know it’s not easy to imagine that you can attract equally remarkable students if you make that 10,000. We have great faculty members who create magic in the classroom. But we’ve learned that even online you can start to bring that same kind of magic to an online platform. We have built a very unique online platform called HBX. We’re trying to do case method online, we’re trying to make it engaging, we’re trying to make it interactive. You can’t spend three minutes on HBX without having to do something, to interact with the other peers who are online. So we have, once we put our minds to it, we learned that actually there are many things that we can bring to an online setting that start to capture at least some of the magic of the case method, that we have been so known for .

Rose: Do you believe that it might lead to some kind of degree qualification?


Nohria: As of now, we are very committed to now having it compete with our degree programs.
So, we’re doing our online education as pre-MBA, and we’re doing our online education as something that will provide lifelong education, but we don’t think that it needs to replace the MBA which we still think is a degree that stands for judgment, it stands for immersion, it stands for a deep investment in learning a set of things, so as of now I don’t think our online programs, or in fact any online program will easily rival the degree programs that we have.

Rose: So what happens, you do it for your own edification?

Nohria: No, so the first product that we created is something called HBX Core. It’s a suite of three introductory courses: the basics of accounting, the basics of economics for business people, the basics of (Rose: “analytics?”) and we offer it to undergraduates, largely trying to say that if you’re a liberal arts major, or a science major, then you can be—you can continue to be a liberal arts major, but if you want a head start in business, then this gives you the basic vocabulary of business, and you can start a career, and you don’t have to do an undergraduate degree in business. Some day you might consider doing an MBA, but we think that there are hundreds of thousand of liberal arts majors all across the United States, and in other parts of the world who should do in undergraduate degrees what their heart tells them to do, whether to do history or biology or science or engineering. But then if they want a career in business, we can give them, through HBX Core, in a hundred hours, a great foundation to at least learn the language, so that they can begin their business careers. And then if they have a further appetite for business education we would say to them “come spend two years at Harvard business school and we will prepare you for a lifetime of leadership”.

Rose: And do you prefer they have some time in between undergraduate and the business school?

Nohria: So we ideally would like people to spend at least three years working before they come to the business school. We have begun to admit some people in their senior year in something called “two plus two”, where they can spend two years working before they come to business school, but they at least are admitted, right in their senior year, so they know that two years later they can come to the business school.

Rose: That would be a great satisfaction if you know, that I can do that now and go and take all the advantages from a different kind of experience from the academy.

And you know, what we found is that “two plus two” in fact, the reason we introduced it was we wanted more people who were scientists, we wanted more people that who, in their two years between undergraduate school and their business years might do things that were closer to their passions, as opposed to still having to do work that was building their resume toward getting to the business school . So we have people as a result take more chances with entrepreneurship, we have people admitted to “two plus two” that go out and make a movie, we have people who go out and work in non-profits, so we end up creating many more for people to spend those two years quite differently than just going to work for a consulting firm or investment bank.

Rose: Do you think the business community has done a good job in explaining the role and the possibilities of creating viable sustainable enterprises?

Nohria: So I think that right now, to my mind one of the great challenges that business has, is that the role of business society is being questioned. And we as people (Rose: “and its integrity and its morality and its…”) No, I think people are beginning to (Rose: “and its values and its culture) doubt that businesses in the end great for the prosperity of society. I think that that is such a tragic state to find ourselves in, because to my mind, if you think about the world and you ask yourself “what is the best mechanism for creating prosperity in society… in the 20th century about a billion people were brought into the circle of prosperity by business. There is nothing more powerful than business in creating a sustainable way for people to have jobs, for customers to have products and services that they care about, for investment to flow into an enterprise which only lives as long as it creates value and dies when it stops creating value. It’s one of the most robust, organic, adaptive mechanisms that we know for creating value in society. We have by the end of this 21st century, nine billion people in the world. That’s seven and a half billion more that have to be brought (Rose:”right”) into this circle of economic prosperity, and I don’t think we’re going to be able to do it without business So business leaders need to remind people on the one hand that business is the greatest force for good in society, but on the other hand, as in any powerful instrument not used properly, can cause harm as well. So emphasizing the positive role of business and making sure that we embrace, and are open minded about the restraints that need to be put. So we can’t say all regulation is bad, we can’t say that business should not be conducted morally. We have to recognize that corruption is something that is, in the end, bad for business.

Rose: Now here’s the interesting thing, most business executives that I know would say, “I agree with all of that, but the question for me is”, you know, they say, I agree with that, but they’re doing things in a proactive way, to see that those things are true.

Nohria: I think that we’re beginning to see examples of business leaders who are stepping up to take that case, Paul Polman at Unilever is a great example. Here’s someone who says “I’m going to expand the revenue of Unilever by twice, but I’m going to half the environmental footprint at the same time as I do that. I think people should challenge themselves and their organizations to continue to create economic value, while thinking hard about the negative externalities of business and making sure that they minimize these negative externalites, those are the kinds of leaders that will set the new examples for what business needs to be, and I think we’re very fortunate that we have examples of business leaders who are showing that way. We’re trying to study those examples, we’re trying to make sure that we inspire our students to think about that. We’re also very lucky that one of the great surprises that I’ve had as dean of Harvard business school, is that of course I know that our graduates have always done very well in business, but what’s been amazing to me is to see how many of our graduates are so devoted to social enterprises, so if you think about the great hospitals, if you think about universities, K-12 education, charter schools, we’re now seeing business leaders devote themselves to making these institutions in society better as well, not just as philanthropists, but actually bringing their management and leadership insights into their fields. So I think that this is another thing that business leaders will have to do, to restore their confidence in society, which is to say that we actually have in interest in these other institutions as well, and in making sure that they function effectively.


Rose: You know who thinks about this a lot, is [Google CEO] Larry Page, I mean he’s given a lot of thought, and he and I have had these conversations in different places, you know, the role of the corporation. He thinks just as you did, and articulates it as well, the idea of what is possible within this institution.

Nohria: I mean it’s a remarkable institution, if you just think about the great inventions of humanity, I think the corporation is one of the great inventions of humanity. And yet, as in so many great inventions, it’s a power that can be a force for good, but wielded badly as we saw in the economic crisis and other things it can cause great harm as well, but that’s what good leadership is. Good leadership is about husbanding this force which can be an extraordinary power for good. And make sure that we realize that and I think institutions like ours that have the responsibility of educating these leaders need to show people how to think about that.


The question of women

Rose: So on the question of women (Nohria: “yup?”), did you think Harvard was doing a good job, both in terms of women as professors, women as graduates, and women participating in the academic life of the business school?

Nohria: So now we had been– we started admitting women at Harvard business school in 1963, and we took great comfort in the fact that each year, from the eight women we admitted to the first class, we were admitting more women each year, and many of these women went on to have great careers. And so we were satisfied. We looked at an increasing number of women.

But when we looked harder at the numbers, we realized that even though we had been increasing the participation of women, not all of them were thriving at Harvard business school. So for example, every year we award graduating students Baker scholars—these were people who were honors in the first year and second year. This is the highest academic honor at Harvard business school. We also give people first year honors and second year honors. And we found that women were about half as represented, in these honors, as they should be, by the percentage that we admitted, so for example when we had thirty per cent of the women who were a part of the class, only fifteen percent were getting honors.

So that made us at least pause and discuss among ourselves “why?” Why would it be the case that we believe that we’re admitting equally qualified equally qualified women—we’re not putting our thumb on the scale to admit women who are not as qualified as men. So why would they not do as well at Harvard business school? It’s hard to believe that women don’t aspire to get honors at the same rate as men do.

And what we learned is that there was nothing deliberate that was going on in our classrooms. So we found, for example, that some people suspected that maybe male professors were more hostile to women, and since participation is 50% of the grade, we were just undervaluing the comments of women. But we learned that no, women were as likely to under-perform in classes taught by women professors as by..

Rose: So why were they under-preforming in classroom participation?’

Nohria: So what we learned was that there were very subtle things. Women were a little bit more tentative sometimes, to get into the classroom discussion. As a result, they might not get called upon at the same rate as men. We learned that women’s comments were not as likely to be remembered as men who spoke up. So I was far more likely to–if Charlie spoke–to say that Charlie had a great comment. On the other hand if a woman spoke, I might just ignore that comment, and not give it as much attention.

Rose: But why?

Nohria: I think that this is just a … we’ve learned through lots and lots of research that’s been done on gender that we’re all socialized, all of us, both men and women, that women as as likely to under-represent, undervalue, overlook, not pay as much attention to the comments of a woman who speaks as a man. And, …but once you become conscious of that, and this is all we had to do, once we made people mindful of that, once you become conscious of that, you can correct yourself quite quickly. But you have to actually know that that’s a bias that we all have. And these forms of subtle bias, we think is one of the things that is actually getting in the women succeeding, not just at Harvard business school but in all organizations.

Rose: As you know, there’s an article been written—there’s an article written about Harvard business school as you well know (Nohria: “yeah”) and, did you think about this issue, because people wrote articles about it or did you come to it on your own?

Nohria: So we came to it on our own because we just had to confront this data, which was just very—it was data that I think anyone who’s committed to being a meritocracy—and certainly, as I mentioned to you, my own life story makes me deeply believe that I’m sitting here because Harvard business school was a meritocracy for me (Rose: “Right.”)–that it could not be a meritocracy in the truest sense of the word for others was deeply disturbing to me and to many of my colleagues. So we just started with that, we started with an inconvenient truth. We said, let’s get to the bottom of it. And I have learned that on this matter, the simplest lesson that I’ve learned is from a great, actually militarist, Louis Brandeis who once said, “sunshine is the best disinfectant”, (Rose: “Right.”) and that’s the policy that we adopted on this matter at Harvard business school. We said, we’re going to bring everything that we know, full sunlight onto this issue. We ‘ll let people discover any hypothesis that they have, we’ll try and bring the best data and the best analysis that we can to the topic, and that’s what helped us.

What helped us was to make this issue discussable, to try whatever experiment we could, to address the issues that we saw. And you know in three years we were able to close the gap, so it’s a pretty remarkable thing.

Rose: Silicon valley has the same problem, as you know.

Nohria: Yes, and every organization has this problem. You know this problem exists in Wall Street. I would hazard a guess that it exists in your industry, so this is not a problem that (Rose: “I’m sure it does in my industry.”) …so this is not a problem that I think is just restricted to business circles. And the advice I would have for anybody is to do the same thing we did. First, look at your data carefully, and ask your own organization to say, what is it about the micro-culture of your organization. Because it’s not the big macro-culture—we’re past the days when anybody is deliberately and overtly trying to discriminate against women. I think this is a much more subtle thing.

Rose: See, I do too. See, I’m fascinated by this, the notion, because it’s a much more subtle thing. Take this particular–bringing it home, you know–we constantly ask ourselves, why are there more men than women as guests on this television program—important question. You really do have to say to yourself “are you doing everything in a proactive way”, you know, “have you examined that in a proactive way”–to say that, and let…and ask yourself, how can you change.

Nohria: You know, it’s interesting we saw this thing with boards, right. Of course, correctly in America we have aversion to doing things by legal fiat, requirement of, but in Europe, for example, in Norway and Finland and some other parts of Europe there now been a mandate for a certain percent of women to serve on corporate boards. (Rose: “Right.”)

When this mandate was first announced, a lot of people said, but where would we find the women; there just aren’t enough qualified women to serve on these boards. But very rapidly, the mandate forced them to look, and lo and behold, there were actually plenty of qualified women who were being ignored or not looked at seriously, who people could find to serve on these boards. So…and when they served on these boards, people found that they were plenty competent and plenty capable.

So I do think that we have to all collectively realize that there have been many many years in which the talents and achievements of women –not for any deliberate reasons—but for very subtle reasons—tend to be underestimated. Just by a little bit. And in a competitive world, all it takes is to be underestimated by a little bit, for discrimination to take root. (Rose: “Yes.”) And that’s what we discovered at Harvard business school. And when we found ways of correcting that, like a simple thing, we now make sure that there’s an independent person who is a scribe in our classrooms, who takes note of who said what. It just makes the faculty member after the class, have an easier ability to recognize and make sure that women who make great comments, aren’t in any way, being neglected or ignored. That one simple intervention …(Rose: “Exactly.”)

Rose: I obviously believe, and you don’t give any credit for this–and it sometimes has to do with religion as well, in a sense make sure, that that can effect the life of a culture, a different culture,–I firmly believe that if you take an institution, that is competing against another institution, and one institution does not fully use all the skills and talents of women and the other does, the other is going to be better. And win.

Nohria: Because, look we are in the end, a place that …whose success depends on attracting the very best people, so if you think about what Harvard business school is, our very success depends on saying, we’re the kind of place that should attract the very best people, men or women, whatever nationality, whatever religion, and if they come to Harvard as a school, they must feel that they can thrive at Harvard school, that they’re given an equal chance to succeed. If we can be an institution that can make that promise, then it’ll be easier for us, to continue to attract the best people, whether they are men or women, and in the long run that’ll make us more competitive that we’re doing this because we deeply believe that as an academic institution that it’s committed to excellence. This is a way for us to be better, to out-compete others; I think this would be true of any other organization. (Rose: “I agree totally.”)



Rose: President Obama’s first state dinner was for the prime minister of India. (Nohria: “Yep.”) He’s going to India. You recently returned from India. Tell me what he’s going to find there under the new prime minster that you believe suggest change for the future.

Nohria: So I think we have a new prime minister who, very much like when President Obama was first elected, has created a real feeling of hope in India. My hope is that (Rose: “Why is that? What has he done to do that? ”) First, he is an example of a person who wasn’t a part of a dynastic family. His father was a humble tea seller, so he’s the first common man, in some ways, to be elected to the position of prime minister in India, which is a—a big deal. He has also had, in U.S parlance, he would be the equivalent of a governor, he was the chief minster of a state, and he had an extraordinary track record as chief minister of his state. A very pragmatic, a very clear commitment to economic development, someone who puts the administrative functioning of the government paramount, is not as enamored by policy as he is of that making sure that government is efficient and is well functioning. I had the great opportunity of spending some time with him when he visited New York, and I asked him this question. I said, there’s some people who have been disappointed that there haven’t been bigger policy pronouncements from you, especially since you’ve now won this rare mandate of an absolute majority in parliament, which would give you the ability to enact these laws that historically in a much more coalition he was –the previous governments were hard-pressed to do. And he says, you know, what’s the point of having policy if nobody in government actually works to enact the policy. So he’s a pragmatist, he’s someone who believes in effective administration and effective leadership. I think he will do a lot to get the country moving again. It’s also time when I think relationships between India and America could be as positive as they’ve been in a very long time. So I think this is a very promising moment for Indo-U.S. relationships, and Prime Minister Modi—President Obama will find some one who could be a very pragmatic and very effective friend of the United States.

Rose: You don’t believe that any particular part of the world is going to own the 21st century.

Nohria: I have said that often.

Rose: I know. [laughs]

Nohria: You know, some people, in fact, chastise me because, thinking that I’m from Asia, they often hoped that I would say 21st century would be an Asian century, or a Chinese century. I think it truly will be a global century in which the world will not be unipolar but will have multiple areas of strength. The United States, will continue to be for the 21st century the strongest nation and region in the world. But they will not be alone, there will be other strong nations and regions. And this greater parity in the world I should think would be better for the world and for the prosperity of the world. As I said, there will be nine billion people in the world by the end of the 21st century, and they will not be in any one region, they will be all over the world.

Rose: And with respect to American in what you just said, do you believe in something that some people like to call American exceptionalism.

Nohria: so maybe this is the bias of someone who didn’t grow up in this country and has benefited so much from becoming American. I deeply believe in America. I believe that America has some unique properties and capabilities that do make it an exceptional nation. The commitment to freedom of thought, the commitment to innovation, the commitment to confronting a problem when you see it and making sure you address it head on, not hiding from the problems that we have, the ability to be self-critical, to have debate, these are features that you might think, well other nations can have these features too, but I actually think that they’re very special and they’re very rare. And they’re not that easy to imitate, I’ve seen other countries try and imitate some of these things, but they’re not so easy. So I think that America for all these reasons, even though it has its ups and downs, and we saw its downs after 2008 (Rose: “Right.”) it’s still an extraordinary nation with an extraordinary future.

Rose: But it’s also important at every step to understand how important it is to make sure that you don’t take anything for granted (Nohria: “but we don’t, this is why…”) and to know who you are and where you’re going.

Nohria: So this is why, for us at Harvard business school in America. We have this U.S. competitiveness project, and you know it was a project we looked at very hard and we said, here are some features of the U.S. economy that are becoming uncompetitive: infrastructures falling behind. We have government that seems more polarized that it has ever been before, we have a K through 12 education system that isn’t functioning, we have a middle skills gap in this country. But at least we were able to name it, and when we named it, people didn’t say no, no, no, it’s really not what’s going on. That doesn’t mean that we have answers to all these problems today, but at least we are confronting them, we’re vigorous in asking ourselves how much change these things, and that gives me optimism that we will find changes to improve these things because America has consistently been able to do that, it’s an adaptive nation, it’s an inventive nation, it’s a nation in which we don’t hide from our problems, and I think these are great strengths of the country.

Rose: It’s great to have you here.

Nohria: Thank you so much.

Rose: A pleasure. To talk about the role of corporatism in America, Harvard business school, women and values and competition and immigration and all of those things that are sort of part of the conversation today.

Nohria: Thank you Charlie.

Rose: Thank you for joining us. Back in a moment.


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