My Harvard Business School yearbook opened with a quote from John Kenneth Galbraith. "It’s a good school," he said, in his wry way. "We should be grateful to it for training people who will shoulder the dull, tedious administrative jobs in organizations."
This goes back 25 years, but my recollection is that the teaching at the Business School was a lot more animated and accessible than the teaching at Harvard College. The College was academic. Few academics have the outgoing personalities of, say, a Galbraith (and few Galbraiths spent a lot of time teaching undergraduates). At the B-school, by contrast, the professors were, for the most part, more fun.
Business: dull? Tedious? I don’t think so.
Better than half the respondents to our class survey responded "yes" when asked, "Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?" Tedious administrative jobs, indeed.
What strikes me in contemplating our 25th reunion isn’t so much our two years in those United Nations-like horseshoe classrooms (instead of signs in front of us that read NIGERIA, CUBA, FINLAND, we had signs that read PERELLA, HOBBS, SCHWARZMAN), but how much has changed in the interim. We have gone from the days of pocket calculators and inflation so severe, at 4%, that President Nixon (that laissez-faire Republican) imposed wage and price controls, to a world where each of our kids has more computing power on his or her desk, and each of us on his or her lap, than all of Harvard had in its entirety (or certainly all of Harvard Business School) . . . a world that seems to have found a better way than price controls to tame inflation (free trade, competition, innovation, dour central bankers).
In these 25 years HBS has gone from being an acronym only a little more palatable around the world than CIA, to symbolizing much that the younger generation and people everywhere aspire to.
Not to say my classmates and I have had a whole lot to do with ending the Cold War or the near universal acceptance of market economics. Or that dear old Professor George Lodge, in our day more or less the liberal "conscience" of the B-School, succeeded in making us all ethical, compassionate capitalists. One of my most likable sectionmates made the front page of The Wall Street Journal for massive insider trading even before our fifth reunion. Another — a centi-millionaire by now, I would guess — was featured in that same newspaper with a quote so unsentimental, in connection with a takeover years ago, that it was runner-up only to the "greed is good" quote Gordon Gekko wound up using in Wall Street. But most of us, from what I can tell, fall comfortably in between: modest to significant successes, honest, doing our bit for the economy and our communities, paying our taxes (grumbling, if we’re Republicans, and amazed, if we’re Democrats, that the top federal bracket is only 39.6% – it was 70% in 1972).
We have gained some weight, lost some hair, and seen the world take giant leaps forward and a few steps back. Many of us would never be remotely where we are today had we not lucked into the HBS imprimatur and network of connections (not to say we would have been circus performers or busboys, but still). Most of us are really glad we chose business school rather than law school. (We surely need good lawyers just as we need good politicians — but talk about maligned professions!) And almost all of us, I imagine, regard the next 25 years with a sense of wonder.
Quote of the Day
Everything that can be invented has been invented.~Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.
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