Next week, New York Times editor Joel Kurtzman, 45, will assume control of the Harvard Business Review, replacing T. George Harris as executive editor. Review officials describe the transition as friendly and beneficial to all parties involved.
"We reached a mutual decision about a change in responsibilities that reflects the needs of the organization as a whole and George's needs," said William A. Sahlman, senior associate dean and director of publication activities at the Business School.
If only the story were that simple.
According to accounts in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, the changing of the guard was anything but friendly. The papers reported this week that Harris helped recruit Kurtzman, expecting the latter to come on as his number two. But the Review decided to replace Harris behind his back, and the former editor is now out on the streets.
The Review, which has had four top editors in five years, did not mention Harris last Thursday when announcing the appointment of Kurtzman, currently Sunday editor of the Times business section. It wasn't until a full day later that the journal acknowledged Harris's demotion to "consulting editor," a title that is "corporatese for being fired," according to The Journal.
News of the editorial shake-up comes in the wake of a much-publicized controversy over an article cut from the January/February issue of the Review. Mark Stahlman, the writer of the article, "Why IBM Failed," said Harris has become a scapegoat for a journal marred by excessive faculty influence of editorial policy.
When news leaked that the article had been canceled, Harris took full responsibility for the decision.
"As editor, I of course made my own choices about the selection of articles from the best range of advice I could find," said Harris, 67, in a statement last week.
Stahlman said he was "highly confident that George was pressured" by faculty to scrap the article, which argued that IBM's problems reflect a deeply troubled computer industry.
"The article is highly critical of the management of IBM," Stahlman said last week. "It is unusual for an article to appear in the [Review] that adopts that critical tone."
Review officials denied that the canceled article was in any way related to the hiring of a new editor.
"[The] so-called IBM episode is not related...to the decision last week [regarding Harris]," said Alex McCallum, a spokesperson for the Review.
McCallum echoed remarks made by Sahlman and Ruth McMullin, president of the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation--the Review'sparent company--to the effect that the changing ofthe guard was a friendly process.
Emphasizing Harris's lasting influence on thepaper, McCallum said "Some of his ideas havealready been incorporated." Harris is stillworking on the March/April Review, although he"won't be primarily responsible" for futureissues, according to McCallum.
Harris's tenure at the Review proved to beshort-lived, as he was hired just four months agoto run the journal. His firing appears to be justanother step in a long effort on the part of the71-year-old Review to find its identity.
In the early 1980s, the magazine dependedmostly on Business School professors forcontributions. But when circulation slipped, itlooked for harder-hitting journalism and a moderngraphic design.
According to The Times, the magazine, whichcurrently has a circulation of about 200,000, isseen among Business School administrators as a"potential gold mine whose revenues could soar to$100 million under the proper management.