Our generation will be called to lead a great American renewal.
On January 26, 1986, addressing the United States in the wake of the deaths of seven astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, President Ronald Reagan reminded the country, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”
Today, as we face a tragedy of previously unimaginable scale, our generation of “leaders who make a difference in the world” would be wise to use President Reagan’s words to guide our response. We should allow this unique period in American history to reorient our priorities towards the societal good that free enterprise is so well positioned to deliver.
As members of the Harvard Business School community, it is our duty to lead this charge.
The current MBA classes will graduate into a world where the once-thriving business ecosystem has been thrown into survival mode. The near-complete shutdown of the consumer economy has led to a rise in unemployment, unprecedented in how rapidly it has metastasized. In the past four weeks alone, 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits and many more are sure to follow.
Some may argue that the past several months prove the inadequacies of the market system. “How can so many feel so much pain in such a short amount of time?” they may ask, pointing to more centrally-planned government as a cure.
While perhaps well-intentioned, efforts to seek respite by adding to the government’s burden can never truly replace the unmatched strength and perseverance that comes from the spirit of Americans lifting up their fellow man. As President Barack Obama reminded us during his 2008 campaign, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Indeed, every action we take—every decision we make—has an effect on those around us. Rapper Kid Cudi explains, “Living life is a choice. Making a difference in someone else’s isn’t.” It is on us to foster a spirit of making a positive difference in the world, even in the bleakest of times.
This spirit, which we’ve witnessed in the grit of tens of thousands of American healthcare workers serving on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19, should be an inspiration to us all.
It is a spirit we’ve seen in our own classmates with their founding of LivelyHood, a platform to connect elderly and immunocompromised individuals to healthy, young volunteers who can run errands for them. It is the same spirit that moved another enterprising group of classmates to launch “MBAs Fight COVID-19,” a website connecting students nationwide to help develop budgets for non-profits, coach small businesses, and help direct relief aid, among a number of other projects.
We ought to declare this crisis as a defining moment for our American generation. We will use the power of the free market and the skills that we bring to the table to protect the underserved, to contribute fairly to the larger national ecosystem, and to re-emerge from this moment as a stronger and more united force for good.
T.E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, wrote, “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”
There are two paths: to dream by night or to dream with open eyes—to return to a cynical world where tax evasion schemes and corporate welfare were too often accepted and even celebrated, or to embrace the calling for business leaders to be community leaders, and to lead with integrity. In the words of the late, great HBS professor Clayton Christensen, “Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.”
Chuck Nadd (MBA ’21) is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He serves as a US Army Aviator and has been deployed twice to Afghanistan, where he flew airplanes and Black Hawk helicopters.