Dean of Harvard Business School says historians need to start writing more biographies of business leaders

Historians in the News
tags: business



Nitin Nohria is the dean of Harvard Business School.

I once had the pleasure of visiting the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin at her home in Massachusetts. I wasn’t surprised to find her home filled with books, but one particular bookshelf did surprise me. It ran the whole length of a library wall and contained nearly 500 books.

Each one was a biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln is, of course, a giant historical figure who is worthy of study and admiration, and I’m especially fond of “Team of Rivals,” Ms. Goodwin’s masterly look at how Lincoln built his leadership team.

But as I’ve reflected on her vast library of Lincoln histories, I’ve wondered whether society might benefit if authors, filmmakers and the public paid as much attention to the history being made by business leaders.

I thought about Ms. Goodwin’s Lincoln library a few nights ago while watching the new film “Steve Jobs.” Mr. Jobs was a once-in-a-generation business leader, and while one can applaud or criticize his portrayal in the new Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle film, or the recent Alex Gibney documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” or the other releases that preceded them, in my view it’s a positive thing for the public to be considering his legacy.

In fact, if more C.E.O.s were subject to this sort of retrospective assessment, they might manage differently....




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