The “Nohria Effect” on Harvard Business School

A condensed version of this post originally appeared on the U.S. News — Strictly Business Blog.

Nitin Nohria celebrated his first anniversary as dean of Harvard Business School on July 1st, making it a fitting time to reflect on the considerable changes underway at this venerable b-school. From major innovations to its curriculum and shifts both subtle and less-so within the class of 2013 profile, to huge surprises””some might say upsets””in M.B.A. admissions, the past twelve months have been anything but business as usual.

While curriculum tweaks and overhauls have taken place almost across the board at elite M.B.A. programs, the innovations ushered in by Nohria are particularly progressive in that they will reduce Harvard’s dependence on the case study method of teaching in effect since the 1920s. The changes will also impact every single M.B.A. candidate as well as the majority of the school’s faculty.

“We think now is the right time to act to take the Harvard Business School M.B.A. Program to the next level,” Dean Nohria said of the curriculum changes in an alumni bulletin this spring. “The case method will always be a central part of what we do, but we’re now at a point in history when we can do some really interesting things in the field. Both methodologies ”” case and field ”” are absolute complements,” he added.

In order to prepare self-aware leaders for a global economy, as of this fall all first-year students will take a yearlong Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD) course offering small-group learning experiences that are experiential, immersive, and field-based.

According to Youngme Moon, senior associate dean and chair of the M.B.A. Program, the FIELD course “ups the ante” in three key content areas: leadership, globalization, and integration based on experiential learning. Self-reflection, hands-on learning, and teamwork are the process skills that unify the three content areas and define the FIELD experience.

Students must also participate in off-campus immersion experiences during the January Term. In a recent interview with John A. Byrne of Poets & Quants, Nohria calls lining up 150 organizations in countries such as India, China and Vietnam to give meaningful project work to more than 900 M.B.A. students “a mammoth administrative and intellectual undertaking. It’s not just global tourism. It’s a spectacular opportunity for students to begin to imagine how to operate in this global century.”

Harvard has redesigned the second-year curriculum by splitting the existing two terms into four half-terms to allow faculty more creativity in shaping innovative courses and students more flexibility in building their schedules. While less far-reaching on the surface, the school says over time, the modular approach promises to transform the elective-year experience, particularly from a social standpoint.

“You could imagine that people working in small teams of six might develop friendships and bonds that would be even deeper than those that they have historically formed in the sections of 90 students each,” Nohria tells Poets & Quants. “These will be really intense bonding experiences that will add a more intimate social experience to the program.”

The curriculum isn’t the only thing that will look different at Harvard this September. The school made headlines last month when it revealed that the class of 2013 will include 39% women””its highest percentage ever””and substantially fewer candidates from the fields of finance and consulting.

The Wall Street Journal cites preliminary figures from Harvard admissions, which notes that about 25% of the 919 students in the class of 2013 are from finance industries”” including private equity, banking and venture capital””compared with 32% last year. Meanwhile, students with manufacturing backgrounds make up 14% of the class of 2013, up from 9% the previous year. Technology rose three percentage points to 9%.

Deirdre Leopold, managing director of M.B.A. admissions and financial aid, explains in the WSJ that the school doesn’t “run with quotas or targets”; rather, Harvard seeks to compose a diverse class that can contribute to the overall learning.

The talk in admissions circles this year has been that applicants with typical profiles weren’t admitted and those presumed to be “sure things” faced unexpected disappointment. But in my view, what we’re seeing are surface “shifts” that are helping Harvard refocus more clearly on its founding principles. This is not a program where a certain profile or pedigree is guaranteed admission””it’s a place that seeks out incredibly ambitious, world-changing leaders of all stripes.

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