HBS Professors Discuss US Outlook in NYC

Harvard Business School convened more than 600 business leaders in New York City on Monday night to discuss U.S. competitiveness in the global economy and propose steps that individual companies can take to strengthen American business.

The event, part of the Business School’s U.S. Competitiveness Project, included opening and concluding remarks by Business School Dean Nitin Nohria and panel discussions featuring HBS faculty members and New York business leaders.

Nohria mentioned in his opening remarks that more Business School alumni live in New York City than any other town in the world.

At the event, professors Michael E. Porter and Jan W. Rivkin presented the results of a recent survey of more than 10,000 Business School alumni meant to assess graduates’ views of America’s ability to compete with other countries. The study was featured in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review.

“America needs to be and needs to remain a very central part and a very competitive part of the global economy, because the world still depends upon America’s prosperity, as do we here in the United States,” Nohria said.

Speaking to attendees, Porter argued that the decline in U.S. jobs reflects not only a short-term economic downturn but also deeper problems in American life. Ineffective legislators, a complex tax code, and failing elementary and secondary education all weaken U.S. competitiveness, alumni said in response to the survey, though they praised the American university system and the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Porter said business leaders should not just wait for the federal government to fix the problems that the survey participants identified. Instead, he encouraged business leaders to take action by supporting local manufacturers, creating apprentice programs to train U.S. workers, and expanding domestic operations.

“Our real focus in this project is to think also about the role of business,” Porter said. “What’s the role for us? What can we do without the need for government passing legislation?”

In a panel session moderated by Harvard Business Review Editor-in-Chief Adi Ignatius, professors discussed policy recommendations based on their research.

To provide concrete examples of business decisions that fit these academic models, New York business and civic leaders including Citigroup CEO Vikram S. Pandit and IBM executive Stanley S. Litow shared their experiences on a second panel.

“America’s unparalleled ability to pair entrepreneurs with capital creates innovation and growth that benefit people in every corner of the world,” Pandit said in a press release. “That progress is currently stalled but could be reignited through sound policy.”

—Staff writer Brian C. Zhang can be reached at brianzhang@college.harvard.edu.

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