Rebecca Henderson

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Foremost Authority on Sustainable Business, Technology and Innovation; Author, “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire” (2020); Professor, Harvard Business School

Biography

Rebecca Henderson believes business enterprise is one of the most powerful forces on the planet when it comes to effecting positive change – but that it must move quickly if we are to successfully address the problems the world faces. One of the most articulate and insightful academic scholars on the influential role business can play in ensuring a more sustainable future, her research explores the strategic and organizational forces that lead to sustainable business.

The John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, Professor Henderson has a joint appointment at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in the General Management and Strategy units and is the Co-Chair of the Business and Environment Initiative. She is also a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and in 2018 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For many years, her work focused on the difficulties large, successful organizations experience in attempting to respond to large-scale technological shifts. In this context she worked with some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical, IT, materials and CPG firms to build a rich understanding of the ways in which effective leadership can enable strategic renewal. Her most recent research explores the ways in which firms can successfully respond to the next great challenge of building a sustainable economy. She is particularly interested in the role of organizational purpose in supporting accelerated innovation and exceptional productivity.

Professor Henderson teaches two MBA level courses “Innovation in Business, Energy and Environment” and “Reimagining Capitalism,” and also teaches in HBS’s Executive Education program. She is an advisor to some of the world’s leading companies in the sustainability space and a board member of Amgen and IDEXX Laboratories. Her work has been featured in a range of scholarly journals including Administrative Science Quarterly, The Quarterly Journal of Economic and the Strategic Management Journal. She speaks frequently to companies and in public forums around the world. A book she has edited entitled “Leading Sustainable Change: An Organizational Perspective” was published by Oxford University Press in March 2015. It centers on how large complex organizations are undertaking changes in their business as they move to become more sustainable. She also contributed to “Accelerating Energy Innovation: Insights from Multiple Sectors (University of Chicago Press, May 2011). Currently, she is writing her next book, “Reimagining Capitalism in A World on Fire” (Public Affairs, April 2020), which will offer a new intellectual framing for a capitalism that has lost credibility and its moral and ethical foundation in the single-minded pursuit of maximizing shareholder value, to one that can simultaneously make a positive societal impact and deliver sustained financial performance to ensure economic growth, bringing prosperity and well-being to society as a whole.

Previously, she was the Eastman Kodak Professor of Management at the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she ran the strategy group and taught courses in technology, strategy and sustainability. She received an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and a doctorate in business economics from Harvard.

Rebecca Henderson is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Books & Research

Reimagining Capitalism In a World on Fire

(Public Affairs, April 2020)

Leading Sustainable Change: An Organizational Perspective

(Oxford University Press, March 2015)

Accelerating Energy Innovation

(University of Chicago Press, May 2011)

Making the Business Case for Environmental Sustainability

(Harvard Business School, February 2015)

Media

Should a Pension Fund Try to Change the World? (Audio)

The hill logo

Harvard Business Professor Rebecca Henderson Discusses New Class Aimed At Reimagining Capitalism (Video)

April 23, 2019

Rebecca Henderson: Reimagining Capitalism (Audio)

February 27, 2019

Is Only Focusing on Shareholder Value Bad For Business

September 4, 2018

What Would it Take to Get Businesses to Focus Less on Shareholder Value?

August 21, 2018

Reimagining Capitalism: Business and the Big Problems (Audio)

April 17, 2018

Minds Worth Meeting

Minds Worth Meeting Episode 16: Reimagining Capitalism: How Business Can Save the World with Rebecca Henderson (Audio)

March 13, 2018

Harvard Business Review logo

More and More CEOs Are Taking Their Social Responsibility Seriously

February 12, 2018

Harvard Business Review logo

The Fortune 500 Can’t Go Along with a Rollback on Climate Policy

November 11, 2016

Harvard Business Review logo

A Partial Defense of Our Obsession with Short-Term Earnings

May 7, 2015

Good Business Needs Bad Lobbyists

February 9, 2015

Do Managers Have a Role to Play in Sustaining the Institutions of Capitalism?

February 9, 2015

Tackling Climate Change Will Cost Less Than We Think

September 24, 2014

Harvard Business Review logo

We Don’t Have to Ditch Capitalism to Fight Climate Change

September 24, 2014

Management Practices, Relational Contracts, and the Decline of General Motors

February 12, 2014

Relational Contracts and Organizational Capabilities

September - October 2012

Rebecca Henderson: Harvard Portrait

November 2011

The Innovator’s Dilemma as a Problem of Organizational Competence

January 2006

Untangling the Origins of Competitive Advantage

Fall 2000

Biography

Rebecca Henderson believes business enterprise is one of the most powerful forces on the planet when it comes to effecting positive change – but that it must move quickly if we are to successfully address the problems the world faces. One of the most articulate and insightful academic scholars on the influential role business can play in ensuring a more sustainable future, her research explores the strategic and organizational forces that lead to sustainable business.

The John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, Professor Henderson has a joint appointment at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in the General Management and Strategy units and is the Co-Chair of the Business and Environment Initiative. She is also a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and in 2018 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For many years, her work focused on the difficulties large, successful organizations experience in attempting to respond to large-scale technological shifts. In this context she worked with some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical, IT, materials and CPG firms to build a rich understanding of the ways in which effective leadership can enable strategic renewal. Her most recent research explores the ways in which firms can successfully respond to the next great challenge of building a sustainable economy. She is particularly interested in the role of organizational purpose in supporting accelerated innovation and exceptional productivity.

Professor Henderson teaches two MBA level courses “Innovation in Business, Energy and Environment” and “Reimagining Capitalism,” and also teaches in HBS’s Executive Education program. She is an advisor to some of the world’s leading companies in the sustainability space and a board member of Amgen and IDEXX Laboratories. Her work has been featured in a range of scholarly journals including Administrative Science Quarterly, The Quarterly Journal of Economic and the Strategic Management Journal. She speaks frequently to companies and in public forums around the world. A book she has edited entitled “Leading Sustainable Change: An Organizational Perspective” was published by Oxford University Press in March 2015. It centers on how large complex organizations are undertaking changes in their business as they move to become more sustainable. She also contributed to “Accelerating Energy Innovation: Insights from Multiple Sectors (University of Chicago Press, May 2011). Currently, she is writing her next book, “Reimagining Capitalism in A World on Fire” (Public Affairs, April 2020), which will offer a new intellectual framing for a capitalism that has lost credibility and its moral and ethical foundation in the single-minded pursuit of maximizing shareholder value, to one that can simultaneously make a positive societal impact and deliver sustained financial performance to ensure economic growth, bringing prosperity and well-being to society as a whole.

Previously, she was the Eastman Kodak Professor of Management at the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she ran the strategy group and taught courses in technology, strategy and sustainability. She received an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and a doctorate in business economics from Harvard.

Rebecca Henderson is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

Reimagining Capitalism

The emergence of capitalism as the primary system for organizing economies and generating prosperity has taken root across the globe. But can it be a force for tackling the biggest challenges our burgeoning population faces, namely the threats posed by global climate change and finite resources on the planet? Rebecca Henderson believes that not only does capitalism have a role to play, but it is uniquely qualified to harness the enormous intellectual, technological, financial and motivational resources that humankind can bring to bear on these challenges. However, the framework of private enterprise, along with enlightened state and intergovernmental factors, require a fundamental re-imagination. Professor Henderson illuminates how this important debate is unfolding and its impact on the future of sustainable business.

Sustainability as a Fulcrum for Corporate Innovation

Driving innovation for organic growth is always challenging for companies, says Rebecca Henderson. But it is especially hard when new markets often look less profitable than existing ones and all organizations become increasingly comfortable with the status quo. Yet, leading companies are finding that the immense challenges posed by climate change and the need to use resources more efficiently provide the essential stimulus to focus and act in new ways. Professor Henderson explains how business’ commitment to solving “big problems” can unlock not only tremendous enthusiasm amongst employees, but also exactly the kind of creative thinking and commitment to work across organizational boundaries that is at the root of most significant innovation. She shares stories of companies such as Unilever that are getting it right—often using a big overarching game plan, like becoming a leader in creating sustainable solutions—to catapult the company into a new direction.

Coaxing Organizations to Do New Things

Throughout her career, Rebecca Henderson has been fascinated by the difficulties that large, well-established companies encounter as they attempt to leverage technological innovation to reinvent themselves. In many industries, incumbents have seen new entrants come in, either entrepreneurial firms or established players from other industries, and yet they cannot respond effectively to these disruptors. Professor Henderson digs deep to uncover why it is so hard, examining the strategic, organizational and behavioral shifts that can help managers create the right conditions for discontinuous change to occur.

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A-Z Name

Henderson, Rebecca

Intro Video

Video ThumbnailBuilding a Sustainable Organization - Rebecca Henderson - youtube Video