"Why don't you become a member of the HBS Alumni Association's Board of Directors?"
It was at the end of last year over lunch at the Tokyo Club with Shinsei Bank President Thierry Porté that I was invited to join the Alumni Board of Harvard Business School.
This Alumni Board is a very prestigious group, and past members have included Mr. Kenzaburo Mogi of Kikkoman from Japan and Thierry Porté. I was very interested to hear more…
Members serve a three-year term and must travel to Boston three times a year. They are also encouraged to take part in the annual Global Leadership Forum (something like the Asuka Meeting for Globis Management School (GMS).
All costs are borne by the individual, and so it means a major commitment in both time and money.
I finished lunch telling him that I was interested and that I would consult the GLOBIS Board. That same day I sent an email to the members of the GLOBIS Board Meeting (BM) as well as to the company Executive Committee (EC).
The GLOBIS BM consists of two external directors and one external auditor, which means I'm the only internal member. We get together once a month, but email is used when a top executive is called upon to commit a significant amount of time or a quick decision is required for an important issue.
Incidentally, the EC meeting is held every Monday. This group discusses important decisions related to the entire GLOBIS Group.
My interest in joining the HBS Alumni Board was not so much for the prestige; in fact, I believed that I would learn a lot.
GLOBIS is aiming to be the No. 1 business school in Asia. Along the way we also see the potential of becoming a graduate university. GMS also runs an Alumni Board.
I was eager to join the HBS Alumni Board and learn how it worked. What are the current issues for HBS, and what is the strategy? How is the organization constituted?
How do they make use of their alumni network? I wanted to explore these issues and swap ideas with the dean and the alumni representative of HBS.
I told the GLOBIS BM and EC that I wanted my participation on this alumni board to be viewed as part of my job, and, therefore, the costs of travel and member fees to be the covered by company.
The BM agreed and told me to go and learn as much as I could. So I immediately obtained application forms from HBS, and then wrote and turned in a brief essay. After a series of telephone interviews I received official approval from the Alumni Board in June and became a member.
The first board meeting was scheduled for October 20 to 22. Luckily this coincided with a career forum being held in Boston from October 21 to 23. GLOBIS has been participating in this forum since last year (refer to column: Around Three-Week, Round-the World Business Trip (Part 1: Why It Was So Long).
My fifth child has just been born, and I was reluctant to leave Tokyo, but work is work, so it can't be helped. I left Tokyo on October 20 and traveled to Boston via Chicago. At this time last year, Boston was on fire due to the Red Sox historic advance to the World Series, but this year the Sox were already out of the running so it was pretty quiet.
I felt the spirit of autumn from the trees along the Charles River. The start of the Head of the Charles Regatta (boat race) was taking place this weekend in Boston. My taxi sped past many regattas.
I arrived in the hotel near HBS, checked in, and took a shower. I was checking my email when the time came for the reception. I always try to be the first to arrive at events such as this in order to speak with as many people as possible. That way I can catch people as they get there.
As planned, I was the first one at the venue. People dressed in all styles began to gather. Apart from me, other Asian representatives came from Shanghai and Pakistan. European countries that were represented included the UK, France, Ireland, and Greece. From South America, representatives had come from Brazil and Chile. There was one guy from Australia and one from Africa, who actually lived in New York.
The Alumni Board consists of 36 members, with 12 members elected every year. A mentor program has started this year, and each new member would be assigned a mentor to consult with as necessary.
My mentor is a person who had acquired his PhD from the HBS doctoral program, and he is currently serving as vice dean at the business school of Emory University in Atlanta.
He has had a really interesting career, starting as a musician (!) and making his living as a professional guitarist for seven to eight years. He then studied at MIT, and earned his PhD at HBS and has since been continuing along an academic path. He was a very well-rounded individual.
The cocktail party was followed by a simple buffet-style dinner. It was the first day and so the meeting wound down early.
The next morning I strolled along the Charles River to the HBS campus. The weather was sunny and pleasant. After a while, I encountered a flock of ducks. I walked right through them, wishing that I had brought a camera so I could have posted some photos on my blog. About 20 of them were floating on the river or standing on the path, looking as though they were freely enjoying autumn in Boston.
I arrived early at the campus venue. Since I graduated, HBS has aggressively embarked on new construction. But as everything reflects a Victorian architectural style, a common feel is retained across the campus.
The Board met in a fan-shaped classroom with tiered seating. It didn't have the air of a conference and I felt like I was back at school.
The first session was a dialogue with the dean. Actually, the previous dean, Mr. Kim Clark, had retired after nine years at the helm, so a provisional dean appeared in his place.
The provisional dean seated himself on a desk, and began to talk. Even though I had been taught by American professors, I've never gotten used to this casual display of manners. It's simply unthinkable for a Japanese person to sit on top of a desk.
As though he were addressing friends, the provisional dean spoke about a wide range of topics including current issues, his management of time, the process for selecting a new dean, and HBS's priorities.
However, it was certainly a provisional point of view, and rather than discussing his vision, it felt like he was simply following what has been decided previously in a practical manner.
Next was an orientation session. This is the session that was initiated this year, in which we "newbies" were told what the HBS Alumni Board does, and for the first time, I grasped the principles, articles and history of the Alumni Board.
I always speak out at these kinds of gatherings to show my presence. There was something I really wanted to ask, and so I raised my hand and stated my question.
"I would like to know what the stance of the HBS Alumni Board is. Is it a governing entity or a forum for deliberating the direction of the university, or does it serve as a channel of communication between the alumni and the university? Could you clarify this for me?"
GLOBIS also has an Alumni Board, so it was worth finding out.
The answer was, "We don't intervene in decision-making, and we can't govern. (1) As representatives of alumni, we transmit the thoughts of alumni; (2) We share what is happening at the university with alumni; and (3) As representatives of alumni, we do have some influence over the direction of the university."
Despite being called a board, it apparently had no governance function. When I further enquired as to who did play the governance role, I was told, "The president of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, handles it."
Actually, it had been explained in the previous session that "Mr. Lawrence Summers will be making the decision with regard to the appointment of the dean of HBS. This is a tradition that Harvard has had since its inception, and we don't feel any need to change it now."
After lunch, Professor James L. Heskett led a case discussion.
Professor Heskett is a giant in service management, and everyone at GLOBIS has read and learned from his book, "The Service Profit Chain" to improve the service capacity at GLOBIS.
We had all read a column by Professor Heskett before coming to the session and we used it as a case study for exchanging ideas. One very interesting case was "Will an MBA become unnecessary?"
This question was posed while quoting from an article written for the "Harvard Business Review" (HBR) by the dean of Yale School of Management, along the lines of, "Have business schools relinquished their primary duty as professional institutions for nurturing business managers and made an MBA too academic?
The duties of most university professors are divided into the academic research, like writing theses, and teaching, a responsibility for nurturing management.
At other universities, writing a case is not highly valued, and the quality of teaching is not really talked about. After all, education at these schools is completely centered on a thesis, and you aren't appreciated until you have written one.
Conversely, at HBS, both writing case studies and the quality of your teaching are evaluated; the key point of evaluation being whether you are turning out many numbers of capable students.
HBS is the only school in the U.S. that places this level of priority on teaching. Therefore, its criteria for evaluating teachers are different from other universities, and it is difficult for teachers to have any career beyond HBS. The issue is that even if you're a good teacher and you write good case studies, the fact that you haven't written any theses means you won't be recognized by other schools.
(Certainly when I visited the Stanford's Business School later, I noticed a photo of a Nobel Prize winner on the wall.)
Nevertheless, Professor Heskett made it clear that HBS would continue to emphasize teaching. "Other universities may play down the role of teaching, but in order to raise teaching standards, it will take us a lot of time. As a professional school, we see the field of teaching as having the utmost importance," he said.
This experience at HBS validated our thinking at GLOBIS. I re-affirmed that GMS would continue to prioritize teaching and our benchmark for self-evaluation would be how many leaders of change and creativity we successfully manage to turn out.
The final session that day was a debate, split into various committee groups. I was the member in charge of events commemorating the 100th anniversary, which HBS would celebrate in 2008. I would be involved in this function during my term. Enthusiastically, I volunteered to participate from the planning stage.
The next morning, the professor in charge of the HBS External Relations (ER) office made a presentation. Over the last four to five years, HBS had unbelievably amassed about 65 billion yen in donations, completely surpassing the 50 billion yen target.
There was also an explanation as to how this "live ammunition" would be deployed. No other university could ever compete with this. This economic clout enables HBS to operate, including the use of this fund, entirely in the black. All anyone can say about this is, "Wow!"
(I learned the following week during my interview with the Dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business that even at Stanford, over 50% of the dean's time is spent fundraising. Only half of the revenue comes from student fees, the other half comes from donations. Half of the donations come from the management of funds, and the rest come from actual gifts.
Furthermore, as many as 85 people work in the ER office at HBS. The ER organization deals with a range of activities from fundraising to alumni relations and also runs regional alumni clubs.
The next session focused on how IT is utilized at HBS. This was also a masterpiece. It began with a presentation by the staff member in charge of the E-Library, the electronic services arm of the Baker Library.
She was originally from Microsoft and held a master's degree in library science. A few others at HBS were also involved in the electronic library.
Afterwards, there was a session that explained how IT is used to support teaching. This included utilization of e-learning as well as an introduction to the multi-media transformation of case studies.
The focus on teaching at HBS was once again thoroughly on display. Typically, professors would balk at creating this kind of content, but at HBS, content development was highly valued.
A case study review of the most recent Discovery shuttle tragedy was fascinating. At first, we listened to the communications between the Discovery and the Kennedy Space Center. Everyone carefully listened to this exchange. Several minutes later the Discovery penetrated the atmosphere and exploded, meaning the entire crew lost their lives. Listening to the recording of this event induced a genuine sense of sorrow.
In this case study, students were assigned different roles within NASA to try to determine the cause of the disaster. Each student had a role, and information was limited.
Within the case was video footage in which an actual NASA staff member talked about the problems they were aware of. Each student participated in the class by analyzing the cause of the disaster in their own way, based solely on the information possessed by the person whose role they had been assigned.
This led to a role play session involving each of the different positions they were representing. The purpose of this was to learn about group dynamics.
Apparently, HBS has developed more than 80 cases like this one that combine video and audio components.
With regard to e-learning, before enrolling, students are required to study a minimum of four modules, such as accounting, finance, and the science of decision-making. Each module takes seven to eight hours. I was left with the impression that GLOBIS is ahead of the game when it comes to e-learning.
After this session was over, I got into a taxi and headed for the Boston Career Forum. GLOBIS has a recruitment booth there and this year we had also secured a speaking engagement.
Three people from GLOBIS attended: Ms. Okajima and Ms. Saito from the executive search firm, Globis Management Bank (GMB) and Mr. Yoshida from the human resource department.
On arriving, without really having sufficient time to prepare, I gave a speech directed at students studying abroad, inviting them to join me in building the No. 1 business school in Asia. Naturally, I became passionate in my presentation. Many students were very interested in venture capital.
I then returned to HBS by taxi to participate in the last lunch meeting, which I didn't want to miss.
An update was presented on the committee discussions that had taken place while I was gone, and the schedule of future events was presented. The next Alumni Board meeting would be next year in January. Saying goodbye to everyone, I got into a taxi and rejoined the GLOBIS staff at the Career Forum.
We interviewed about ten outstanding candidates at the Career Forum over the weekend.
On Saturday evening, a Chinese friend studying at Yale came all the way down by car from New Haven to see me. This friend, with whom I had once had deep discussions in Tokyo, was now studying at Yale. I felt we were becoming closer and closer. I realized how indispensable a candid exchange of opinions is for developing mutual understanding.
Refer to column; Debates with my Chinese Friend No. 1: Yasukuni Issue, Tokyo Trial
My flight on Sunday afternoon was headed for San Francisco.
It was rainy and cold when I left Boston, but six hours later, I was greeted by the blue skies of California.
October 24, 2005
In my hotel in San Francisco