HBS Launches Executive Program In India

Krishna Palepu teaches a HBS Senior Executive Leadership Program—India class. Courtesy photo

Harvard Business School has launched its first alumni status-granting international executive program in more than a decade. The Senior Executive Leadership Program—India, currently in its first year, is intended for senior executives with 15-20 years of experience who expect to ascend into senior leadership positions soon.

The program is also the beginning of HBS’s expansion into new regions with promising economies.

HBS offers several executive education programs featuring significant portions abroad, including programs in China and Africa. While HBS has offered programs in India in the past, the Senior Executive Leadership Program—India is the first alumni status-granting program in that area. An executive program will launch in the Middle East next year, and the school is looking elsewhere, too, says Professor Frances Frei, UPS Foundation Professor of Service Management and Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education.

The intent of the Senior Executive Leadership Programs is to develop leadership to help regions diversify their economies and strengthen their local business ecosystems, Frei says, without participants having to travel to Boston for long periods of time. Seventy-five percent of participants in the first class are from India, and 25% are from nearby countries.

“Our mission, the mission of HBS, is we really want to help develop leaders who will make a difference in the world, and we’re realizing that they can’t all come to campus,” Frei says. “So if we go into a region, and we educate 80 folks at a time, then in a few years we can really make a difference there. People who go through our programs often call it a transformative experience.”


The Senior Executive Leadership Program—India is chaired by Professor Krishna Palepu, and takes place over a full academic year. The program is divided into four modules, two on the HBS campus in Boston and two in Mumbai.

“The business environment in India offers a myriad of opportunities for research and development,” Palepu says. “For more than a decade, the faculty at Harvard Business School has formed close partnerships with India’s business community to address pressing challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities. We’re looking forward to sharing the insights we gained from these partnerships with executives who represent the next generation of business leadership, and who will effect change in India and around the world.”

The program covers 15 themes, each taught by a different HBS faculty member. Module 1, in Boston, focuses on global strategy and understanding the global economy. Module 2 takes place three months later in Mumbai and covers how to develop and deliver a customer value proposition, achieve service excellence, create shareholder value, and drive corporate performance.

Module 3, also in Mumbai, focuses on leadership, design, innovation, and digital business. And the final module, back at HBS, explores how to lead breakthrough change, build businesses and ventures, and lead an accountable organization.


Frei, now back in Boston, traveled to Mumbai with another professor, Das Narayandas, to teach the second module. “In India, in the Taj Hotel, there is a classroom that is identical to the classrooms in executive education,” Frei says. “So the cool and eerie thing is that it really feels like you’re on HBS campus.”

She and Narayandas arrived on a Sunday and taught customer-centric strategy straight through to the following Saturday, making an effort to customize their content for India.

“We were there 24/7, so we spent a lot of time with participants outside of class,” Frei says. “It was a luxury on the faculty side to be so immersed, and I think, from the participants’ side, it’s a good thing to have the faculty around so much.”


So far, the Senior Executive Leadership Program—India has received positive feedback from this first group of participants.

Most of the participants were from India, though there was great diversity among them – from people working at small companies with the potential to grow, to executives within established companies. Frei says they expect the upcoming program in the Middle East to have a similar participant breakdown, with most hailing from the United Arab Emirates, and others coming in from surrounding areas.

“The motivation and inspiration I gained from this experience were both exhilarating. And the confidence I walked away with was invaluable,” writes Radhakrishnan Kodakkal, senior director of research and development at Philips India Limited and a Senior Executive Leadership Program—India participant.


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