Is Harvard Business School an Arrogant Marketer?

It was one of those next-to-back-page throwaway articles in The Wall Street Journal tucked in just above the itty-bitty 4pt type of the Legal Notices section (does anyone read these listings?) and below the heading of MEDIA & MARKETING featuring Harvard Business School’s new dean, Nitin Nohria (photo, left).

The story was about Nohria’s decision to not open a “full fledged campus overseas” despite surging demand for business education from Asia, outpacing “all other regions combined.”

Okay. No big news. So Harvard’s going to sit it out.

But then Mr. Nohria pulls a boner: “I don’t think we have the ambition to do that. We’re in the business of chasing knowledge and not chasing demand.”

Does that strike you as pure arrogance? I wasn’t expecting that from the leading business school where future leaders are taught to meet demand with innovative services and more customer empathy (e.g., see Harvard 2008 Global Branding and Advertising).

A Good Marketing Strategy?

I can’t imagine getting away with this attitude. It’s prideful. And everyone knows Pride comes before the Fall (Proverbs 16:18).

You get cocky. You think you have the best (and only solution). You can charge whatever you want because the world is beating a path to your door. You can name your price, time and place. No one can catch you.

Then a competitor comes along and cleans your clock.

That’s the way it was back in the early days of Intel when “Intel Arrogance” defined the company’s approach to marketing. Our competitors hated us. Our distributors tolerated us. And, unfortunately, a lot of our customers were just biding time until something better came along.

Then all hell broke loose when Xerox chose a competitor’s microprocessor for its word processors (this was a big deal). What’s often reported as Operation Crush (which I was a part of), was really an opportunity to eat a several servings of humble pie. For the first time, we had a technically inferior product and our arrogance was showing.

History proves that you can turn it around, but you have to ask how Intel got itself in that situation in the first place?

Could it be that management wasn’t in the business of “chasing demand,” started believing its own press releases and forgot to listen to the customer and the market? Hmmm….

While it’s way too early to write Harvard Business School’s obituary, let’s make sure you never have to write yours.

  • Brenda Taylor

    Hi John, Harvard is a unique case. For their brand to continue to have the aura that it does, they’re just practicing “Scarcity Marketing.” Simple supply and demand. They can name their price…and they do!

    However, for the rest of us pedestrians out here marketing products that are barely indistinguishable from one another (let’s be honest), being a market leader is often short-lived.

    The thing I don’t know what to do (love to hear what others have to say) is how to stay in the lead without losing the humility that defines you in the early days.

    As a PR professional, it’s the kind of advice I’d like to (gently) offer my clients.