by John Cremer
It is no small feat to be chosen as winner of the best faculty award the first time you teach for the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA programme, but that is exactly what Harry Kraemer has managed to achieve.
Of course, with 10-plus years’ experience as clinical professor of strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, he wasn’t exactly a rookie. But, even so, it takes something special to win such recognition from a class of hard-nosed executives in senior positions in various industries and against the “competition” of fellow professors who are all experts in their respective fields.
“In short, I teach the same way I used to manage,” says Kraemer, who spent 25 years with healthcare multinational Baxter International, rising through the ranks to become chairman and CEO before stepping down in 2005. “I tell students I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a lot of opinions, and I expect them to jump in and make suggestions or ask anything. It is never a one-way monologue.”
His course on “leading a global company” was one of the last in the programme, acting as something of a capstone. The basic goal was to explain what it entails to be a chief executive with responsibilities that span departments, disciplines and regions and which make one ultimately answerable to every kind of stakeholder. The parallel aim was to show how to do it, bearing in mind that the ambition of many in the class is to land a C-level role with a major organisation.
To this end, Kraemer could draw not just on his Baxter experience, but also his subsequent roles as an executive partner in a private equity firm in Chicago and a director of numerous businesses in which they invested.
“Overall, my approach was to get students to realise it is not that complicated, which may have surprised them,” he says. “There are some broad skill sets, but I started by asking them about their core values, their main purpose, and what really matters. My view is that you need to be self-reflective and insightful enough to ‘lead yourself’ before you can expect to lead other people well. I then had a series of seven or eight key topics or messages to cover in every class and would bring them in depending on how the discussion evolved.”
Kramer admits to feeling “a little emotional” when he heard about the award. He will be back in Hong Kong to attend this year’s graduation ceremony – and to teach again next year.
In offering a few words of advice for the graduating class, he commends their achievements, but also stresses that they must expect to wrestle with an ever-shifting array of challenges.
“They will need to be unbelievably prepared to manage change and uncertainty in everything from financial and foreign exchange markets to innovation, the future supply of water and energy, and even dealing with different generations in the workplace,” he says. “Global business leaders will have to deal with all this and more.”