Are you Committed to our Mission?

The mission of the MBA program at Harvard Business School is to develop outstanding business leaders who will contribute to the well being of society. This is certainly an ambitious goal. It might even be argued that a touch of arrogance (despite the HBS abhorrence of the word) can be found in this one sentence. I take this opportunity to ask two questions of everyone in our community: Has HBS been able to achieve this goal? Are you committed to achieving it yourself?

You may be thinking, “Who am I to ask these questions?” The answer, I suppose, depends on who you are. To some I am a sectionmate, to others an EC classmate, but to most I am a complete stranger.

Regardless of whether we have met, we are all joined as members of the HBS community. I ask these questions, however, for only one reason: I have spent time reflecting on them myself. Do not think that I am a continually introspective philosopher (those who do know me can stop laughing now). It took an external experience to set this reflection in motion – an experience that will be made available to you this Friday, November 1.

I was fortunate to participate in the September 21 kickoff of the Campaign for Harvard Business School. The afternoon events included a multimedia presentation that, though untitled at the time, could be described as, “The HBS Ripple-Effect.” The presentation is the compilation of five stories that reveal the power that is created by those who understand the mission to which we have subscribed. What makes the presentation all the more powerful is the perspective from which each story is told. Unlike the ubiquitous HBS Case, our illustrious alumni are not the protagonists of the story. Rather, each vignette is told from the perspective of a person two, three, or even more steps removed from HBS – the people who make up the society to which we have been engaged to contribute.

I will not describe the content of the presentation; I hope you will see it yourself on Friday. Rather, I want to reflect on my feelings having seen it. My first reaction was to recollect September 12, 2001. I choose September 12 because, for EC students, we were back in class that Wednesday. My first class that day was LVDM with Professor Malcolm Salter who led an open discussion. The discussion opened when a student said, “What happened yesterday makes me want to leave. How can becoming a better businessperson help the world?” With an equal amount of passion I replied, “Because it is us who will shape the businesses of the future, to provide the jobs, and to build society.” At the time I think my reaction may have come more from rationalization than anything else, but perhaps my reaction a year-ago may have actually had some truth in it.

My second class that day was Creating Modern Capitalism with Professor Richard Tedlow who started class by saying (and pardon me if I paraphrase, it has been a year), “I’m not sure how this is going to go today, but let’s do it together and see what happens.” How does this demonstrate the HBS Mission? Professor Tedlow, intentionally or not, demonstrated two things: (1) People turn to their leaders for direction and to contribute to society a leader must provide that direction; (2) It is the collective strength of a community that sustains it and if we expect to absorb some of that strength we must also contribute to it.

These are reflections on the past; what about the future? Well, I’m not going to share that here. It is for each of us to determine how we will absorb the HBS Mission for our future. But the message of the HBS-ripple effect cannot be isolated to 350 alumni whom the Harvard Business School invited to enlist in the efforts of a capital campaign.

These five stories embody five ways in which HBS leaders have actually contributed to society. The stories demonstrate the possibilities of the HBS vision and embody the lofty vision that the school has for us.

I hope that you will consider adding this 1-hour presentation to your schedule this Friday at 3:00 in Burden Auditorium. It is an experience you will not soon forget. Perhaps it will also help you to determine how you will commit to the mission of Harvard Business School and develop into a business leader who will contribute to the well being of society.