Management in Perspective

On Monday, September 10th, we worried about permanent class seat selection. We sweated the early-term cold-call. We carried around tomorrow’s cases. We meandered through the job bank, muttering about our limited prospects. Living in our HBS world&-living with our daily pressures&-never felt so comfortably acute.

That is, until Tuesday. Until our classes were interrupted. Or until we heard it from a friend. Or until we witnessed the hell for ourselves on TV. The common metaphor we all bank on-that HBS is our own little oasis away from the “real world”-was pierced. And it’s hard to believe our year will re-form itself in the way it was before.

Whether we would like to accept it or not, it is this event-and the unknown action of the coming weeks and months&-that will define our HBS year. Not a tanking economy. Not taking Investment Management with Perold. Not our plans for playful ageless&-student frolic.

Tuesday’s initial shock and the beginning of subsequent physical and psychological healing have dramatically altered many perspectives. While still ultimately relevant to our experience here, cases and job searching and the never-ending other sources of stress and enjoyment have moved into a different place in each of us. Some will tuck the events of September 11 deep down, best left there as the optimal mechanism to cope. Others will be profoundly changed in the way they think about things. There is, as there has always been here, room for everyone to internalize in their own way.

In letting one’s mind drift&-if only to escape the harrowing realities for a minute&-one might wonder what the HBS Class of 1942 was thinking right around first-term exams in December 1941, when the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the country into World War.

That Class of ’42 is included in what many older American commentators and historians have decided to call “The Greatest Generation,” for the sacrifices they made and the way they came together to ensure that the U.S. became the expansive ultra-successful community it was over the second half of the 20th century.

What is a legacy of “greatness” at the Harvard Business School? Greatness in business leadership? Greatness in intellectual effort? Here’s an alternative definition, which may be far more powerful and satisfying at a time when satisfaction is hard to find: It is the action of the HBS student collective last week. It was the concern and inquiry of the masses packing the Spangler Grille on Tuesday. It was the development of prayer groups across every faith represented by the student body. It was the moving afternoon campus-wide service.

The first words from fellow students were, “Is everything okay?” Everyone’s concern was for the well-being of their classmates, including classmates’ family and friends. The immediate intuition was, “How can I help?”

Laying off the unnecessary cell phone calls. Figuring out how to donate blood or emergency financing. Offering a sympathetic shoulder to lean on. While many of us were intellectually stunned by the sheer magnitude of the tragedy, other students found ways to do their part by preparing cases, allowing the classroom environment to resume-to even take our minds off the harrowing events-without the full participation of every student. The Classes of 2002 and 2003 cared-about the tragedy, yes, but also about our community.

No, we did not come close to acting on the scale or scope of the communities in New York or Washington, D.C. These people saw and felt the moments with a severity that we can’t even fathom; their actions have been absolutely heroic in the shadow of staggering fear and disaster. Here on the HBS campus, however, we have done what we can. We will do

We face uncertain&-troubling, terrifying, triumphant&-times ahead for us this year. We can and should be comforted-even energized-by the power that our collective display of strength, caring and community may yet wield.