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Henderson, Rebecca M.

Rebecca Henderson is the John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, where she has a joint appointment at the Harvard Business School in the General Management and Strategy units and is the Co-Director of the Business and Environment Initiative. Professor Henderson is also a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Her work explores how organizations respond to large-scale technological shifts, most recently in regard to energy and the environment. She teaches Innovation in Business, Energy, and Environment and Reimagining Capitalism in the MBA Program.

From 1998 to 2009, Professor Henderson was the Eastman Kodak Professor of Management at the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she ran the strategy group and taught courses in strategy, technology strategy, and sustainability. She received an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and a doctorate in business economics from Harvard.

Professor Henderson sits on the boards of Amgen and of IDEXX Laboratories, and she has worked with both members of the Fortune 100 and small, technology-orientated start-ups. She was retained by the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with the remedies phase of the Microsoft trial, and in 2001 she was named Teacher of the Year at the Sloan School. Her work has been published in a range of scholarly journals including Administrative Science Quarterly, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Strategic Management Journal, Management Science, Research Policy, The RAND Journal of Economics, and Organization Science.

Her most recent publication is Accelerating Energy Innovation: Insights from Multiple Sectors, edited jointly with Richard Newell and published by the University of Chicago Press for National Bureau of Economic Research.

Research Interest 

Energy, IT, real estate, and sustainability

Professor Henderson’s current research focuses on the energy, information technology, and real estate sectors and the challenges firms encounter as they attempt to act in more sustainable ways. This work is an outgrowth of her decade-long examination of the organizational and strategic issues that well-established companies face in responding to significant technological and competitive shifts across a wide variety of industries, including semiconductor capital equipment, aerospace, branded consumer goods, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, information technology, and telecommunications.

Her latest work is motivated by the challenge of climate change. If, as current scientific research suggests, it would be prudent to remove 80 percent of the carbon from the economy by 2050, it is critical to find effective ways to support far-reaching change in both products and processes across the entire economy – and particularly in the energy, information technology, and real estate sectors. Increasing the use of carbon-free fuels is an undertaking of enormous magnitude to the energy industry; real estate is perhaps the largest single consumer of energy; and information technology is the most powerful enabler of change throughout the economy.

In conducting this new research, Professor Henderson is attempting to leverage the insights she has gained in studying large firms that have been particularly successful in responding to major technological shifts. Her previous work highlighted the importance of simultaneously understanding the strategic barriers to change (“We won’t make any money.”) and the organizational barriers as well (“And we won’t be able to get it done anyway.”); of managing overload so that a firm does not become “stuck”; and of learning to communicate with courage and integrity in order to maintain and grow the “relational contracts” that are fundamental to success. Her current research, including work with two large oil companies interested in investing in alternative energy, suggests that these findings are highly relevant to building a low-carbon economy.

More information

  • Harvard University Center for the Environment
  • Future of Energy at Harvard
  • Harvard Business School
  • Harvard Environmental Economics Program