The mission of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government is to advance the state of knowledge and policy analysis concerning some of society’s most challenging problems at the interface of the public and private sectors. The scope of its work ranges from the local to the global. Drawing on the unparalleled intellectual resources of the Kennedy School and Harvard University, and bringing together thought leaders from both business and government, the center conducts research, facilitates dialogue, and seeks answers that are at once intellectually rigorous and policy relevant.
The Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government traces its history to the late 1970s. Several individuals figure prominently in the center’s founding—Harvard President Derek Bok, Kennedy School Dean Graham Allison, Harvard alumnus Frank Weil (AB’53; JD’56), and Lamont University Professor John Dunlop being chief among them.
John Dunlop advocated for the creation of the center in essays and writings appearing in 1978. Dunlop had served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (1969–1973) and as Secretary of Labor in the Ford Administration (1975–1976). He returned to Harvard as the Lamont University Professor to teach at both the Business School and the Kennedy School of Government and launched an examination of the University’s role in promoting a better understanding of the relationship between business and government. One result of that effort was his proposal for Harvard to hire new professors and support staff so that the Business School and the Kennedy School could pursue convergent work on business-government relations. It was these initial explorations that led, a few years later, to the founding of the Center for Business and Government.
Dunlop’s proposal appeared about the same time that President Bok and Dean Allison presented their new vision for the Kennedy School as it moved from its cramped quarters in the Littauer Building near Harvard Yard to its present-day location adjacent to the Charles River. In a publication entitled A Commitment to Excellence in Government: Harvard University, the two wrote: "Harvard University is now prepared to undertake this major new commitment: to build a substantial professional School of Government that will attempt to do for the public sector what Harvard’s Schools of Business, Law, and Medicine do for the respective private professions. Specifically, the mission of the School will be…to serve as a focal point at which to bring together leaders from government, business and other parts of the private sector to work on major issues of national policy."
Appearing later in the same publication was an elaboration of this theme: "At Harvard’s School of Government, this dual responsibility— to build intellectual capital and bridge the public and private sectors — will be fulfilled by six new research centers…. [The Center for Business and Government] will build on the initiative of Professor John T. Dunlop who is coordinating the development of a joint venture between the Business School and School of Government—the new Program on Business and Public Policy. The center will include the School of Government’s Regulatory Reform Project…(and) will also serve as a focus for research on such topics as capital formation, the interrelationships of policy planning in business and government, and opportunities for less adversarial relations between business and government consistent with the public interest — opportunities for a new partnership…[T]he Center will attempt to bridge the gap between researchers and those with practical experience in addressing the problems of business and government. Perhaps even more importantly, it will attempt to link members of the public and private sectors in collaborative efforts at problem solving."
Based on John Dunlop’s initial explorations, Derek Bok’s and Graham Allison’s vision for a revitalized Kennedy School, and Frank Weil's generous support and recruitment of first director Winthrop Knowlton, the Center for Business and Government was established in the fall of 1982.
The Center was formally renamed the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government during a special conference on December 14, 2005. The renaming recognized a generous endowment gift from Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani and her husband, Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani, a Kennedy School alumnus, that allows the center to expand its long-term capacity for research, scholarship, and teaching on some of society’s most challenging problems at the intersection of business and government.
In the years since its founding, the center has benefited from the involvement of many distinguished faculty. Click here to learn more about the center's Distinguished Service Awards.
Winthrop Knowlton was appointed the first director, serving in the position from 1982-1987. Knowlton had been a Baker Scholar at Harvard Business School, a partner of White Weld & Co., an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and, before coming to the Kennedy School faculty, the CEO of Harper and Row Publishers, Inc. Knowlton initially organized the center’s research agenda around four principal areas: public-private partnerships, capital formation and economic growth, reform of regulatory processes, and problems of American competitiveness in a global economy, later adding a fifth, corporate governance. During his tenure, the Center raised more than $10 million for tenured chairs, research projects, conferences, and case studies, with important support coming from Frank Weil, Aetna, and IBM. Over a dozen new courses were established and more than 1000 business executives were brought to the Center to participate in classroom activities as well as in conferences on education, tax reform, industrial policy, community revitalization, and a variety of other subjects. More than a dozen books were published, including American Society: Public and Private Responsibilities, a collection of essays from distinguished American scholars that appeared on the occasion of Harvard’s 350th anniversary in 1987. Virtually all members of the Kennedy School faculty played a role in the Center’s early years, prominently among them John Meyer, Raymond Vernon, Richard Zeckhauser, and Robert Reich.
John T. Dunlop, who had played such a pivotal role in conceiving the center, served as the center’s second director from 1987–1991.Dunlop enhanced relations with the Harvard Business School and other parts of the University. He strengthened and expanded the fellows and visiting faculty programs, bringing in individuals who taught with CBG faculty members and provided career advice to student groups. Conferences covered topics as diverse as the cost of capital, the credit crunch, bank regulation, telecommunications policy, and urban revitalization. The Thursday business and government seminar series was begun, which continues to the present day, and breakfast forums for the Boston business community were launched, which also continue, now as the Leadership Council. Dunlop had been a widely respected labor economist and adviser to many U.S. presidents, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was secretary of labor under Gerald Ford, serving from March 1975 to January 1976. Other government posts included director of the Cost of Living Council (1973–74), chairman of the Construction Industry Stabilization Committee (1993–95), chair of the Massachusetts Joint Labor- Management Committee for Municipal Police and Firefighters (1977–2003) and Chair of the Commission on Migratory Farm Labor (1984–2003). He died in 2003. In 2007, the center established the John T. Dunlop Undergraduate Thesis Prize in his memory.
Richard Cavanagh, former executive dean of the Kennedy School, partner at McKinsey and Co., and future president of The Conference Board, served the center as director from 1991-1993. From 1977–79, in the Carter Administration, Cavanagh was an executive director of the Office of Management and Budget, where he instituted cash management improvements that the General Accounting Office said had saved the Government $12 billion annually. Under Cavanagh’s direction, the Center initiated a program of Case Studies in Business and Government intended to reflect private sector contributions to public policy. A major event was a telecommunications conference to assess the fast-changing international telecommunications marketplace and discuss how to make Massachusetts an international center for the burgeoning telecommunications industry. Congressman Edward Markey, Governor William Weld, Lt. Governor Paul Cellucci, and CEOs from telecommunications companies were some of the more than 300 participants that gathered for the event. Under Cavanagh’s tenure, the Center also co-sponsored a large conference on Globalization and the New England Economy, hosted several events on energy issues following the volatility in oil prices after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, increased its consulting role to the government of the new country of Ukraine (following the dramatic breakup of the Soviet Union), and extended the growth of the fellows program significantly.
John P. White joined the center as director in 1993, following his active involvement in both the Perot and Clinton presidential campaigns in 1992, and served until 1995. White then became the Robert and Renée Belfer Lecturer at the Kennedy School and the Managing Partner of Global Technology Partners, LLC. His extensive government service includes Deputy Secretary of Defense; Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget; Assistant Secretary of Defense, Manpower, Reserve Affairs, and Logistics; and as an officer in the U.S.Marine Corps. In the private-sector he served as Chairman and CEO of Interactive Systems Corporation from 1981 to 1988 and, following its sale to the Eastman Kodak Company in 1988, as General Manager of the Integration and Systems Products Division and as a Vice President of Kodak until 1992. In nine years with The RAND Corporation, he was the Senior Vice President for National Security Research Programs and a member of the Board of Trustees. White continued to advance the original mission of the Center and devoted much of his time raising the core endowment needed to maintain the Center’s day-to-day operations. During his tenure as director, the Center organized conferences on electricity regulation, taxation, retirement policy, and numerous other topics. Under White’s leadership, the Center also supported Professor Bill Hogan’s Electricity Forum, the Bretton Woods Conference, and the first Ray Vernon Conference held in Washington, D.C.
Roger B. Porter, the IBM Professor of Business and Government at the Kennedy School, was named director of the center in 1995 and served through the summer of 2000. He was reappointed director in August 2008 and served through the end of 2010. Porter has served for more than a decade in senior economic policy positions in the White House, most recently as Assistant to the President for Economic and Domestic Policy from 1989 to 1993. He served as Director of the White House Office of Policy Development in the Reagan Administration and as Special Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the President’s Economic Policy Board during the Ford Administration. Under Porter’s leadership, the Center undertook a substantial curricular development effort adding nearly a dozen courses. The Regulatory Reform Program was organized under the direction of Robert Glauber and Cary Coglianese, the Asia-Pacific Policy Program was established, and the David T. Kearns Program on Business, Government and Education was launched. An ambitious research effort was undertaken dealing with trade policy including a symposium in London, a year-long series of lectures on the future of the World Trade Organization, and a major conference honoring Raymond Vernon dealing with the Multilateral Trading System. The Harvard Electricity Policy Group grew in size and stature and a long-term relationship was established with the Kansai Keizai Doyukai in Osaka, Japan. The Leadership Council and the Fellows Program were revitalized and their activities greatly expanded and the Center’s financial foundation was substantially enhanced. Porter also instituted the Center’s Distinguished Service Award and oversaw the selection of its first three recipients — Raymond Vernon, John T. Dunlop, and F.M. Scherer. During his second term as Director, 2008-2010, he organized a major conference on New Directions in Financial Services Regulation and edited a book with the same title with co-editors Robert Glauber and Tom Healey.
Ira A. Jackson served as director of CBG from the fall of 2000 to the summer of 2002. He had previously been chief of staff for Boston Mayor Kevin White, senior associate dean of the Kennedy School during the School’s transformative years in the early 1980s, Commissioner of Revenue for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and executive vice president of BankBoston. He is now Dean and Professor of Management at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at the Claremont Colleges in California. As director of CBG, Jackson strengthened the Regulatory Policy Program, brought the School’s Asia Programs within CBG and helped launch the Environmental Economics Program with Professor Robert Stavins. He also encouraged Professor Dick Light to launch the Young Faculty Leaders Program; Dr. Jerry Grossman to mount the Health Care Delivery Policy Group; Tom Vallely to extend the Fulbright Teaching Program in Vietnam; Professor Tony Saich to begin the China Public Policy Program with Tsinghua University and the Taiwan Leaders Program; and, with financial assistance and intellectual energy from Frank Weil, started the Weil Program on Collaborative Governance. Also during this period, CBG hosted major conferences and produced books that focused on entrepreneurship and public policy; DNA, technology, and justice; and a major review of economic policy-making during the Clinton years, led by Professor Jeffrey Frankel.
John G. Ruggie served as center director from 2002 to 2006. Ruggie is the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs, having previously served as Assistant Secretary-General and Chief Advisor for strategic planning to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He was also previously the Dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where he taught for many years. Ruggie brought a heightened international focus to the Center, creating a research program on business and human rights, as part of his six-year mandate as special representative of the UN Secretary General, ending in 2011. He also founded the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, which examines the role of business in international development and corporate accountability, and he brought the Ethiopia project — the School’s largest sponsored research activity — into the Center. During Ruggie’s tenure, the Center was renamed the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, following a generous gift from Bijan and Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani. Ruggie introduced a new program to provide seed grants for faculty research, which awarded nine grants in its first year of operation in 2006/2007. He introduced the Dunlop Undergraduate Thesis Prize, a center-wide seminar program to bring together the various business-government areas, and he revised the fellows program so that it was better integrated with the Center’s other programs and activities.
Lawrence H. Summers became center director in January 2011. His is President Emeritus of Harvard University. During the past two decades he has served in a series of senior policy positions, including Vice President of development economics and chief economist of the World Bank, Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, Director of the National Economic Council for the Obama Administration from 2009 to 2011, and Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, from 1999-2001. He is currently the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University. He received a bachelor of science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975 and was awarded a PhD from Harvard in 1982. In 1983, he became one of the youngest individuals to become a a tenured member of the Harvard University faculty. In 1987, Summers became the first social scientist ever to receive the annual Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and in 1993, he was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, given every two years to an outstanding American economist under the age of 40.
John Haigh became center co-director in January 2011. He is an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, and teaches a seminar on business and government interactions to second year Master in Public Policy students. He focuses on teaching general management skills along with addressing issues of competition, technology, innovation and regulation. From 2005 through 2017, he served as the Executive Dean of the Kennedy School, engaging in strategic decisions and overseeing the operating and financial activities of the school. From 1996-2005, he was an officer at AT&T and subsequently AT&T Wireless, where he held a variety of strategic and leadership positions. Prior to joining AT&T, he was at Mercer Management Consulting for 13 years, where he was a partner. Haigh holds a BA from Grinnell College, where he was Phi Beta Kappa and the President's Medalist, and an MPP from the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
A generous gift from Frank and Denie Weil established Weil Hall for the use of the Center for Business and Government in the School's Belfer building, dedicated in 1984. Frank Weil is pictured here, second from the left, at the ground-breaking of the Belfer Building. Also pictured, left to right, are Robert A. Belfer, Graham Allison, Renee Belfer, and Frank Stanton.
Former and current M-RCBG directors (l to r): John Ruggie, Richard Cavanagh, Ira Jackson, Co-director John Haigh, Director Lawrence Summers, and Roger Porter.