There are many paths to the top. Tuck’s renowned strategy professors know them all, and are learning new ones every day.
Strategy is an old word but a modern phenomenon. Its etymology is traced back to the Greek strategia, which is best translated as “generalship.” The military connotation is strong and intentional, because for most of history strategy meant the “art of war.” Militaries still have strategies today, of course, but the difference is that everyone else does too. We have career strategies, parenting strategies, weight-loss strategies. The term has been coopted so often that we barely know what it means anymore. But if you peel back the layers of interpretation, you can still find its core. The British military historian Sir Lawrence Freedman calls it the “art of creating power,” and reminds us that strategy needs conflict like fire needs air. Strategy is therefore imbued with drama. It is the story of the leader trying to hold on to the lead, or of the underdog scratching its way to the top. Strategy is about figuring out how to win.
So it’s surprising that strategy wasn’t applied to the business world—a cauldron of competition—until the 1960s, with the publication of Igor Ansoff’s book “Corporate Strategy,” and Boston Consulting Group’s offer of strategic consulting. Ansoff, who is now called the “father of modern strategic thinking,” had recognized like many others that the business environment had become stunningly complex, creating the need for rational decision-making processes that could guide corporations. Business schools agreed, but didn’t immediately adopt Ansoff’s vocabulary. At Tuck, the course on how to lead an organization through a difficult, dynamic, competitive landscape was called Business Policy, and it was developed and taught by the legendary professor James Brian Quinn. Quinn was the ideal person for the task; he was a Renaissance man, a generalist who could teach a case where the issue was operations, or finance, or marketing. He taught at Tuck from 1957 to 1993, a time of revolutionary technological change, and became a leading thinker on the intersection of strategy and technology.
Quinn’s era, where strategy meant a broad application of business principles at high levels of management, has since transformed into an era of increased strategic specialization. That’s true at Tuck, but the mission of the school is the same as it has always been: to be the best leadership education program in the world, with a faculty of thought leaders. So when it comes to strategy, Tuck’s mission is reflected in the strength and diversity of the professors in the strategy group. “Tuck has a strong general management reputation,” said Dean Paul Danos. “Our students become CEOs, business owners, leading consultants, and part of that has to do with our strategy group, which is very eclectic. Students get a variety of perspectives on this complex topic so they can create their own approach to business strategy.”
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Read the entire series!
Part 1 - Tuck Strategists: The history of “strategy”
Part 2 - Vijay Govindarajan
Part 3 - Richard D'Aveni
Part 4 - Constance Helfat
Part 5 - Sydney Finkelstein
Part 6 - Giovanni Gavetti
Part 7 - Ron Adner
Part 8 - Andrew King
Article originally published on Tuck.edu, December 12, 2014.
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