Nancy F. Koehn, an authority on entrepreneurial history, is the James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Koehn's research focuses on leading in turbulent times and the social and economic impact of entrepreneurship.
She is currently working on a book about the most important leadership lessons from Abraham Lincoln and another on social entrepreneurs. Her upcoming book, The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times (2009), sketches some of the most important people and moments from the last 150 years of U.S. business history. Koehn's most recent book, Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers' Trust from Wedgwood to Dell (2001) examined six entrepreneurial visionaries who have created powerful brands and best-of-class companies in moments of great change.
Koehn consults with many companies on a range of issues including leadership development, effective brand stewardship, and customer relationship management.
Question: Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic?
Nancy Koehn: I’m optimistic because I believe that the young … The generation of people that are coming into adulthood now – stepping into their maturity – have extraordinary talents and have extraordinary vision. I say vision, how they see the world is very important. So I’m just very optimistic about the people that will begin to lead companies, communities, countries over the next eight to 20 years. That’s one aspect of my optimism. I’m optimistic because I believe fundamentally that the better angel of our nature will prevail in enough places to make a very positive difference. And I’m most optimistic finally because I think that the sense of urgency that looms over issues like the environment, like healthcare, like global poverty and disease … there’s such a sense of urgency to those things that I believe that in the crucible of that intensity will come lasting responses, lasting answers.When we teach change management at the Harvard Business School – I do a lot of work on coaching people … coaching leaders who change – we often teach about creating a sense of urgency. A corporate leader will need to have a very strong rationale to steer a big organization in a different way. See we have the wonderful … call it luxury or a tragedy if you think that way … We have the wonderful luxury at this moment in history of having a number of very, very, very rapidly boiling kettles on the stove, if you will. We don’t need to do anything to turn the flame up higher. It’s plenty high enough. And I think that out of that rolling … out of that rolling boil will come some very important responses.
Recorded On: 6/12/07