HBS Plans New Center in India

Within the next year, Harvard Business School (HBS) may open its sixth overseas research center—this one in India.

According to Sr. Assoc. Dean Richard H.K. Vietor, a committee which he chairs will recommend a location in India to Dean Kim B. Clark ’74 within two weeks. Clark will subsequently decide whether to endorse the proposal.

Though several other sites are possible, the leading contenders are Mumbai, located on the western coast, and Bangalore in the South.

“Mumbai is the New York of India, and Bangalore is the Silicon Valley,” Vietor said.

Sr. Assoc. Dean Krishna G. Palepu, who also sits on the committee, played down the importance of the exact location of the center.

“It doesn’t matter,” Palepu said. “Bangalore is where a lot of phenomena actually are happening, and so there are many who would like to see it there, but the location is relatively unimportant. It may be a matter of logistics.”

If HBS did decide to open an office in India, it would be their sixth such research center, adding to branches in Paris, Hong Kong, Japan, Buenos Aires, and Silicon Valley. Most of the centers have a director and one or two research associates who help HBS faculty conduct research in their region.

“The theory behind the research centers is that we want to make it easy to access local phenomena, local data, local companies,” Palepu said.

Palepu said he has much experience doing case studies abroad, both with the aid of HBS research centers and that he has found the contacts and know-how cultivated by the regional center indispensable. With years of experience researching in India, Palepu now wants other HBS professors to have the same chance.

“Personally, I have been able to establish a lot of contacts in India. Having been through this costly process, I want to help other faculty who do not have to go through it,” he said. “It will help the faculty be more plugged in. In general I have found that to be very useful.”

But Vietor said that until funding issues are resolved, the center remains only a possibility.

Although more than half of the operating costs of the center would be paid by the HBS Division of Research, estimates from the other centers suggest HBS would need to raise $2 million to fund the new center for three to five years.

And Vietor said that if HBS does open a research center in India, the number will stay at six for some time.

“The India center would be the last one for some years,” he said. “A, it’s expensive. B, we have 207 faculty and you just can’t do much more. Maybe in five years, ten years, we could do some more.”

Why India?

HBS faculty cited interest in India for a variety of reasons.

“India has important manufacturing, important finance, important outsourcing, important hi-tech. It also has an important government,” Vietor said.

Palepu also stressed the role of IT, entrepreneurs, and democracy as factors particular to India.

“India is one of the few emerging markets where entrepreneurs are building global companies,” he said.

India’s multiparty democracy, according to Palepu, makes their economic reform process more complex than in other emerging economies, such as China.

South Asian Society co-president Vinod E. Nambudiri ’05 said that HBS’ interest in India is representative of a general campus-wide interest in the country.

“There has definitely been a rising interest in India and the entire South Asian subcontinent in recent years at Harvard from a variety of perspectives,” he said. “With the recent rise of South Asian culture making its way into the West…there seems to have been a rise in interest in understanding the basis of these influences.”

Nambudiri said that the American business world has been trying to capitalize upon the IT success of Bangalore.

“From a political [and] economic standpoint, cities like Bangalore have thrived in the age of Information Technology, and the business world has been actively pursuing outsourcing strategies in recent years toward all sorts of industries in the subcontinent,” he said.

He added that India’s political climate is also being carefully studied.

“As India is the world’s largest democracy, a lot of international attention is focused on understanding the complexities that shape—or impede—the government’s functioning,” he said.

—Staff writer Joseph T. Scarry can be reached at scarry@fas.harvard.edu.