Reality Bites: Operating an Independent Business on Campus

Did you know that The Harbus is not financially supported by Harvard Business School and does not fall under its direct supervision?

In fact, we are the only student-owned and operated independent business here on campus. While Harvard Business School’s administration graciously donates, and has for 65 years, office space and certain on-campus privileges to The Harbus, our financial health and ultimate survival is dependent upon only ourselves – there is no school funding available to see us through tough economic times, and we accept that as a fundamental part of our mission.

All parties agree this independent status ensures our ability to deliver the news with editorial objectivity, but this arrangement also creates some operational and political difficulties. In that light, The Harbus business management team wanted to take this opportunity to educate the general readership about who we are and, in that process, dispel some common misperceptions about The Harbus.

MYTH #1: The Harbus is a part of the Student Association.
Actually, The Harbus is not a part of any official HBS organization, we are an independent business operating on the HBS campus (similar to Shad).

MYTH #2: The Harbus is a for-profit venture.
Incorrect. In fact, we are intentionally organized as a not-for-profit organization. At the end of each fiscal year, profits are given to the foundation created in our name, The Harbus Foundation, which issues grants to community organizations in the local community.

In fact, The Harbus’s donations to the Foundation have been so generous in years past that it has left The Harbus without sufficient cash reserves to take us through the lean times.

MYTH #3: The Harbus is a cash cow..
Not anymore. The Harbus’s profits are derived primarily from advertising sales. When the economy was strong, we were a fairly profitable organization. But, for the past two years our revenues have been declining – about 30% per year – while expenses have remained constant. Last year we barely broke even and this year we are forecasting a loss – with not much cash left to continue operations next year. The situation might be described as “potentially perilous.”

MYTH #4: The Harbus’ profits, derived from advertising access to the students, are not shared with the HBS community.
False. For several reasons:
1. The Products: Managing the timely publishing if this school’s only weekly newspaper is the core service that we provide for the entire HBS community and our flagship offering.
2. The Experience: The Harbus, like many other student organizations, gives students the opportunity to participate, write and manage a group of their peers. The Harbus also employs four partners of current HBS students.
3. A Real Business: The Harbus gives HBS students the opportunity to apply their management skills in an independent organization with a regularly produced set of products and a real P&L from those products. The Harbus has no guaranteed right of survival.
4. Losing Money. . .For the Students: Two of our businesses – the Yearbook and QuickPay – have been losing money for years. Yet, The Harbus continued to publish the Yearbook and operate QuickPay, despite the losses, as a service to the students. It was not until 2002 that we had to let them go. Unfortunately our other advertising revenues this year will not be enough to offset the losses on those two businesses. To survive, we have to hunker down and focus on our core offerings.
5. The Harbus Foundation: And, if you still disagree with all the reasons listed above, you can hardly argue with the fact that all our net profits (in profitable years) are given to The Harbus Foundation. And, the Foundation gives students the opportunity to sit on the Board of Trustees of a not-for-profit organization that gives thousands to needy local charities.

MYTH #5: If I donate to The Harbus Foundation, am I funding The Harbus?
No. While money flows from The Harbus to the Harbus Foundation, it cannot (as stated in the Foundation charter) flow the other way. So, in this year when The Harbus may not be able to support the good deeds of The Foundation, your sections and any individuals should feel comfortable doing so. If you want to support The Harbus, please buy an ad.

The Harbus is certainly not the only organization that serves the students here on campus. We are one of many. Yet, in trying to deliver on our mission, we sometimes encounter negative perceptions and honest misunderstandings about our primary motive and objective: which is to deliver timely, newsworthy, quality publications to the community of HBS.
We hope that this article has cleared up any questions you may have (and probably many you didn’t). As always, feel free to talk to your section’s Harbus Representative or to any member of the Harbus Editorial and Publishing staff if you want to know more about The Harbus.