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The Great American Business Leaders

Published: 02/15/2006

Years of research at Baker Library are paying off for the HBS Leadership Initiative, whose work producing a database of top American business leaders has also led to several books and other materials that explore the subject of great leadership.

Starting in 2001 and continuing today on a weekly basis, the Leadership Initiative team has dived deep into Baker Library resources, says Director Anthony Mayo. To compile background material on the 1,000 business leaders profiled in The Great American Business Leaders of the 20th Century database, a variety of biographical research resources were employed including the Biography Resource Center, ABI/Proquest's historical archives of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Lexis/Nexis, Who Was Who, OneSource, Hoover's, and Factiva. "In addition, we made extensive use of the library's collection of biographies and historical and current company annual reports," Mayo says.

To determine whether candidates for inclusion in the Great Business Leaders database met certain financial metrics, Leadership Initiative researchers first worked with Research Computing Services to run a variety of analyses (e.g., return on assets, market capitalization appreciation, and Tobin's Q) to determine which companies might qualify for inclusion in the database. "With the list of companies and associated timeframes, we then needed to track down specific CEOs," Mayo relates. "Since no database of CEO tenure exists prior to the late 1970s, we made extensive use of Moody's and Standard & Poor's directories within Baker Library to identify specific tenure periods. This was a manual process which transpired over a number of weeks."

The research staffs in Historical Collections and in the main library helped identify specific sources of materials on individuals, industries, and particular time periods, according to Mayo. "The library staff were very helpful in identifying alternative sources of information or books which were not included in the Baker Library collection through the Interlibrary Loan Program."

The hard work paid off. The Great Business Leaders database has become the foundation for two books published by Harvard Business School Press: In Their Time: The Great Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century, released in October 2005, and Paths to Power, to be released later this. A third book about contextual intelligence in the airline industry is also underway.

Chaired by Professor Linda Hill, the Leadership Initiative was organized to be a catalyst for research on leaders and leadership and to design effective leadership development programs that are relevant for the twenty-first century. In addition to the Great Leaders database, the program has created a number of case studies, Executive Education programs, a video series, and other resources that support Harvard Business School's overarching mission to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

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