Nice (Smart and Passionate) Guys Can Finish First

I was delighted to hear last week that Harvard Business School selected long-time HBS Professor Nitin Nohria as their next dean.  (Here's the news on that from Harvard Magazine.)

I caught of glimpse of Nitin’s intellect and working style 15 years ago in my days at the Cambridge, Mass., consulting firm CSC Index.  In his non-teaching time, Nitin helped Index’s utility industry practice develop new thinking on strategy in a fast-deregulating industry.  That effort led to a prescient Sloan Management Review article.  

Nitin also worked with me and Index CEO Jim Champy on a research project that explored how the nascent World Wide Web was beginning to reshape several industries (media, employment recruiting, travel and residential real estate brokerage among them). This is evident today.  But remember, this was in 1995 – before the birth of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and other Internet mega brands, and before Amazon.com was profitable.

We were asked by the preeminent IT executive magazine, InformationWeek, to publish an article on the research, so we did. That article, “The Rise of the Electronic Community,” predicted a tough road for the newspaper industry (which was thriving at the time) and for any business sector whose product could be digitized and distributed over the Internet.  Extending Index’s reengineering thinking, we argued that the power of the Web was in reengineering the processes of consumers – using the Internet to revamp the way they looked for jobs, booked trips, obtained news and other consumer activities. (Apparently, the article still resonates: It finishes at the top of 89 million results in a Google search for “electronic community.”)

Nitin brought very high levels of passion, energy, drive, curiosity and humility to the work of developing new management ideas -- a style that was apart from most of the business professors with whom Index had relationships. He was truly a delight to work with. I remembered thinking at the time that he would be onto great things in his career, and he was: becoming a tenured professor, writing or co-authoring 16 books on leadership and other topics over the last 15 years, and then his most recent pinnacle, running HBS.

Congratulations to a thought leader who will now lead many other thought leaders.

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