Associate Professor of Strategy and Management
Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA
Ph.D. in Business Administration, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
M.B.A., Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts
My interest in big problems goes back many years. I was captivated by the great accomplishments in science, technology, arts, and other fields. Reading about them was absorbing but I was puzzled by the decision making process behind them. How did the people involved think? What did they do? Why? How did Picasso transform the world of art over and over? How did Edison invent so many transformative products? As an undergraduate, I studied economics because I wanted to understand economic development and the alleviation of poverty – natural questions for someone growing up in India. But my interests soon gravitated towards business. I saw it making material improvements in people’s lives. With a fully-paid assistantship, I earned an M.B.A. degree at Northeastern University in Boston. Studying business was exciting. I found the concepts, techniques, frameworks, and ideas powerful for thinking and deciding. But I felt I had much more to learn. I wanted to know how managers could make good, long-term decisions. The MBA program gave me some answers but I realized I would have to discover more for myself. So, I joined the University of Pittsburgh’s Ph.D. program in strategy.
The Ph.D. program opened up more new worlds. Riveted by James Watson’s account in The Double Helix of the decoding of the structure of DNA, I defined a particular class of decisions I wanted to understand. I called them distant returns decisions. They took shape over many years – they were distant temporally. And they were long shots – they were distant probabilistically. These were the great achievements (and failures) in business; the long-term decisions. With a research grant from the National Science Foundation and the Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, I began field research at DuPont to understand how people made distant returns decisions. Over a couple of years, I interviewed scores of scientists and managers, searched hundreds of feet of archival documents, and read patents and scientific papers. In my dissertation, I developed a model of the exploration process from analyzing four in-depth case studies on: how a blockbuster anti-hypertensive was invented, how a path-breaking herbicide was invented, how a pioneering industrial biotechnology company that changed food processing was created, and how DuPont was transformed between 1902 and 1921 from an explosives manufacturer to a giant, diversified chemical company. More recently, I have studied entrepreneurs who have taken on big problems: inventing a diagnostic test and building a business around it that transformed cervical cancer detection, creating a business that helps women rescued from sex trafficking to become economically independent and build new lives, and using a new business model to establish a pioneering maternity hospital for the working poor.
All of these threads have come together in my research and teaching on solving big problems. There is truth in the lines from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.