Highlights from the Fall 2023 Alumni Board Meeting
Re: Rupal Gadhia (MBA 2004); Patrick Mullane (MBA 1999); Andreas Stavropoulos (MBA 1997);
C. Fritz Foley (André R. Jakurski Professor of Business Administration Senior Associate
Dean for External Relations); Leslie A. Perlow (Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership);
Srikant M. Datar (George F. Baker Professor of Administration Dean of the Faculty)
On the evening of Wednesday, October 11, Alumni Board members joined with current HBS students in the Spangler Center for “A Conversation about Life Lessons”, which was led by Leslie Perlow, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership.
This October, more than 75 members of the HBS Alumni Board returned to campus for the Board’s annual fall meeting, which featured two days of engaging updates and lively discussions about the School’s work and its future. The HBS Alumni Board, whose members are selected from a pool of active volunteer leaders, represents the global HBS alumni community. Members provide input, expertise, and feedback to the leadership of External Relations and the School.
After an introduction by current Board President Andreas Stavropoulos (MBA 1997), HBS leadership shared updates on the MBA program, the School’s ongoing digital transformation work, and fundraising and alumni engagement, along other topics, and also ran a design thinking workshop focused on reimagining reunions.
On behalf of the current members of the board, in their role as ambassadors to the HBS alumni community, what follows are highlights of the Fall 2023 Alumni Board meeting.
External Relations Update
The External Relations department outlined their efforts to support alumni in their lifelong relationship with the School, which includes exploring new models of engagement that marry faculty research on important topics with alumni who are doing important work in the real world.
The department went on to highlight some of the robust engagement opportunities the School offers to alumni, including an Alumni Dinner series, which brought together alumni and rising EC (2nd year) students for 19 dinners in 10 cities; recent regional events that featured Dean Srikant Datar; and a slate of upcoming on-campus alumni conferences, including a Generative AI conference in the spring. External Relations is also introducing a new tool for volunteer management, GiveCampus, that will increase transparency in the fundraising process that will be beneficial for volunteers.
MBA Program Update
During an overview of the MBA Program, Jana Kierstead, executive director of the MBA and Doctoral programs, said, “Our focus now is on three priorities: invigorating our sense of purpose, centering on the education, and attracting the very best students.” She noted that the average class size and sense of rigor in the classroom have returned to what they were before the pandemic, adding that the School is also supporting students’ educational journeys at HBS in new ways.
Kierstead discussed the naming of Rupal Gadhia (MBA 2004) as the new managing director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid and explained that the School is complying with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling regarding admissions while still ensuring HBS classroom diversity in support of the case method. She added that the School is doing more work on affordability, pointing to HBS’s commitment to provide full tuition and fees to students with the greatest financial need—roughly 10 percent of the student body.
In the past year, Kierstead noted that two courses were introduced into the RC curriculum: Social Purpose of the Firm, which examines the role of business in advancing society’s well-being, and Data Science for Managers, which helps students use data analytics tools to identify business opportunities and shape solutions to problems. The MBA Program is also incorporating content about inclusion throughout the curriculum and is exploring in the Elective Curriculum the creation of half courses that give students a wider range of topics to study. Kierstead also noted that HBS has been experimenting with programming and activities that are both educational and build community.
HBS Online and Executive Education Updates
Patrick Mullane (MBA 1999), executive director, Harvard Business School Online and Executive Education offered updates on his two organizations, beginning by noting their ongoing integration. He then led a breakdown of macro trends that have impacted the organizations, starting with HBS Online. The pandemic, Mullane noted, led to a more crowded market for online education—and therefore, a cost of customer acquisition that has more than doubled. In addition to managing those challenges, HBS Online is focused on staying engaged in the market, experimenting with emerging trends like AI, and launching new products. Notable among those is Credential of Leadership, Impact, and Management in Business (CLIMB), said Mullane, a rigorous yearlong seven-course asynchronous program designed to help new and experienced leaders accelerate their career, which launches in January of next year.
For Executive Education, the macro trends include a lower number of participants whose fees are covered by employers (which has an impact on participant diversity), growing demands for programming on emerging trends like ESG and AI, and a rising interest in blended programs, which offer both in-person and virtual components. Overall, there has also been a strong demand for in-person programming, Mullane said, noting that last year saw record numbers for participation and revenue for Executive Education. “People want to connect; they want to be back on campus,” Mullane said, noting that one of the organization’s strategic initiatives was to understand this trend and be deliberate about how they address the market.
Financial Model of the School
C. Fritz Foley, the Andre R. Jakurski Professor of Business Administration and senior associate dean for External Relations, reviewed the financial model of the School, highlighting how our mix of activities across the School is a reinforcing circle in terms of ideas, feedback, and financial support. Foley also stressed the School’s “deep commitment to fiscal responsibility.”
Foley noted that philanthropy makes up 27% of the School’s revenue, and Senior Director of Development Joanna Bakule offered the case for supporting the HBS Fund, which provide resources that the School can put to use immediately toward core priorities, such as financial aid and faculty research, and promising new ideas and innovations.
Discussion with Dean Datar
This session featured a conversation between Alumni Board president Andreas Stavropoulos (MBA 1997) and Dean Datar, followed by an audience Q&A. The discussion between Stavropoulos and Datar touched on the challenges the University and School leadership have faced after the terrorist attack by Hamas against Israel, the recent inauguration of Harvard President Claudine Gay and the impact of her leadership; ways the School can promote stronger, and more scalable, community building amongst its alumni in the future; and the implications of Generative AI for academia.
The audience questions spanned several topics, including the dean’s thoughts on improving higher education and the public perception of capitalism; the deep mission of the School; and how he views competitors in the marketplace. Asked to close with a few takeaways that could help guide Alumni Board members as they communicate with the rest of the alumni community, Dean Datar suggested that they focus on the School’s thought leadership; its work on MBA affordability and innovation; and the ongoing digital transformation work, which seeks to create a much larger global footprint for the School.
Digital Transformation Update
HBS’s Chief Digital Officer Katia Walsh laid out a vision for the School’s work in digital transformation, which aims to create a platform that connects the HBS community all over the world. “We will make this happen and we will need your help, but it will take time,” Walsh said.
In practice, Walsh noted, the future might resemble a flywheel, where digital products across the School create massive amounts of data, which in turn fuels AI, which can in turn make the digital products smarter. The challenges include internal education around data, systems modernization, and privacy concerns, while the opportunity is the creation of a value-producing business function that considers all the assets around the School to unearth something that did not exist before, she noted. Walsh closed by highlighting a first project in the very early stages with External Relations, which will explore how to help entrepreneurs leverage to the alumni network connect with each other and gain access to particular areas of expertise.