F. Gorham Brigham, Jr. (Harvard College 1937, HBS 1939), retired Senior Vice President of Commercial Lending, Citizens Bank of Massachusetts, turned 101 on January 14th, adding another milestone to his distinction as HBS’ oldest alumnus. Following graduation from HBS, Mr. Brigham began his career at Price Waterhouse before being called to active military duty, and advancing to a Legion of Merit-holding Army colonel between 1940 and 1946.
After the war, Gorham served various companies in financial roles before beginning his 43-year career in banking by joining the Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company as a vice president in 1962. Mr. Brigham is founder of the Treasurer’s Club of Boston, and the recipient of numerous awards, including, in 1999, the National Prime Time Award for the honor of being Massachusetts’ outstanding older worker, and, in 2009, the Boston Business Journal’s first-ever CFO of the Year Award for Lifetime Achievement, an award now named in his honor.
During a recent visit with Gorham, fellow alumnus and friend, Roger Shamel (HBS 1974), sat down with Gorham to ask him about his life, his advice for others, his interests, and his secrets to a long life.
RS: What was the toughest phase of your life and why?
FGB: When I went to the Boston Five Cent Saving Bank in 1983, at the age of 68, I was asked to do commercial lending—something that I had never done before. I had to work extra hard, and learn from others, in order to survive that phase, before retiring from banking 22 years later.
RS: What advice do you give to others on how to leverage their MBA educations?
FGB: Keep in touch with your alma maters, and develop and maintain many contacts. For me, having served as a colonel under General George C. Marshall during World War II, the Army Reserve was a key organization. The church, and a variety of other organizations, also provided me with valuable contacts.
RS: What were the greatest benefits of a Harvard education, which you had–undergrad and graduate?
FGB: Harvard is the greatest college in the world, and Harvard Business School is the greatest business school. I was very fortunate to attend these. One can’t get a better education than at Harvard. It has opened doors and served me well for my entire life.
RS: Why are you reaching out now to influence the Harvard community on climate change?
FGB: Climate change is the biggest worldwide problem that we face, and progress towards solving it has been too slow. We need the resources of the Harvard community to accelerate the rate of progress. Harvard is capable of great leadership when the school decides to take a stand. I suggest you read my recent letter to Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, for more about this. (RS note: Gorham’s letter to President Faust is attached.)
RS: What is your advice on balancing work, family and giving back to the community?
FGB: This is a difficult challenge, and one with no easy answers. I often tried to do it all, by working long hours, but this can lead to its own problems. One must continually review priorities and then focus on the present.
RS: What was it like dealing with all the changes you saw during your 66-year career?
FGB: My world did change quite a bit, and keeping up with things was often a challenge. I had no choice but to work hard to keep up with the changes and to try to keep myself up to date. (RS note: Gorham was reportedly known to arrive at the office at 4 a.m., and work 60-80 hours per week. He was also known to be extremely ethical, moral, punctual, and dependable.)
RS: What are your secrets to living to be 101?
FGB: My secret has been to be careful, to live a clean life, avoiding too much alcohol and too much partying. I spent my career engaging in good, solid, day-to-day work. Actually, there are no real secrets. I haven’t had a special diet, but I do try to eat good wholesome foods. I do not take supplements. The fact that I have developed and maintain contacts with many fine people may have helped somewhat too.