Last Saturday, September 21, HBS administration, faculty, and University President Larry Summers welcomed 350 alumni and guests in an elaborate day-long event to kick off “The Campaign for Harvard Business School.” Guests attended discussion panels throughout the day, a multimedia presentation hosted by Professor Nancy Koehn, and a banquet dinner featuring Dick Spangler (Campaign Chair), President Summers, and Dean Kim Clark.
The first panel, “Society and Technological Innovation,” was moderated by Professors Warren McFarlan and Bill Sahlman. Professors Debora Spar and Richard Vietor moderated “The Complexities of Globalization” next. All participants came together in Spangler for lunch, which featured Senior Associate Dean of External Relations Howard Stevenson and University Professor Michael Porter. The afternoon featured another panel, “The Leadership Challenge,” moderated by Professors Tom DeLong and Linda Hill. Panels ran in two concurrent sessions.
The School debuted a specially commissioned multimedia program in the evening, hosted by business historian and Entrepreneurial Manager Professor Nancy Koehn. On a specially constructed stage, with theatric lighting above her, a large screen behind her, and two teleprompters in front of her, Prof. Koehn delivered a narrated presentation with a style similar to Stone Phillips and Jane Pauley. She introduced vignettes that featured different stories about people who’ve been affected by the work of a faculty member, alumnus, or alumnae. After the stories, the protagonist walked onto stage and gave thanks to the attendees for their support of Harvard Business School.
One story featured a woman who started her own golf driving range in recovery from personal bankruptcy, with the help of HBS’s Center for Women in Enterprise. Another story focused on a young latino man from San Fernando Valley who worked his way up in Pizza Hut to become a manager of ten restaurants. Pizza Hut is led by two HBS alumni.
A video told of an alum from the class of 1947 who established the largest pulp mill in the world in Brazil – which processes only pre-planted genetically modified eucalyptus trees in Brazil’s rainforest. Participants gasped when the professionally-produced video showed soaring eucalyptus trees, and a plant manager said the trees were engineered to grow to maturity in only seven years.
“We are a community that knows the value of creative dissatisfaction,” said Prof. Koehn, referring to the entrepreneurial drive of HBS graduates and those they affect. “Note the ripples coming from Soldiers Field.”
Prof. Koehn also told of a dramatic turnaround of The New England Conservatory’s finances, with the assistance of an HBS faculty member who joined the board. Instead of a video clip, a young concert violinist from the school, Rimma Yermosh, appeared in full dress and wowed the audience with her performance of Bach’s Adagio in G minor. Still images of the HBS campus were projected onto the screen behind her as she played.
Emotions in Burden ran high when the final vignette presented the most dramatic story of a young girl afflicted with a rare disease called dystonia, “a condition that literally ties limbs in knots and leaves [those afflicted] to suffocate or starve,” according to the presentation. Warned Prof. Koehn, “This is a graphic story. It’s also an emotional one.”
The film vignette showed a young girl and her mother as they struggled with the onset of her condition. Dr. Greg Locholai (HBS ’00) began his post-HBS career as a salesperson for Medtronic, a medical equipment sales company. He sold the equipment to a hospital where a doctor performed a pioneering and successful surgery on the girl after she fell into a drug-induced coma. The film ended with footage of her and her mother preparing for and then attending her eighth grade graduation, where she received extended applause from her classmates as she, once bound to a wheelchair, walked across the stage.
The girl and her mother then walked onto the stage in Burden Auditorium to a standing ovation, where they thanked HBS and its supporters.
Prof. Koehn concluded the presentation by telling the crowd, “This is the work of this school. This is the veritas, the gravitas of this school… This is the essential evidence of who we are and what we stand for.” She then directed the attendees to take bronze medallions with images of HBS on them from underneath their seats and “wear them as a tangible symbol of the school and our tangible connection to it.” Most participants obliged through the evening.
Several guests received the presentation and its style favorably. Remarked one guest to Prof. Koehn outside Burden after complementing her performance, “It’s the concept I’m fascinated by.” Another guest remarked while standing in line to enter the Shad Hall banquet, “She must have an acting background.”
Participants strolled along the path from Burden to Shad Hall amidst roving professional photographers, on site all day, and intermittently placed security guards. Several attendees and panelists were high level executives with major firms.