Helen Adams Keller, 1880-1968, blind and deaf from an early age, was taught
to read and to write. A brilliant mind emerged. Keller is known and mostly
remembered as an articulate spokesperson for the blind, constantly
illustrating with her living that sensory impairment challenges a life.
In her role with the American Foundation for the Blind, Keller raised money, established a presence and created a dynamic persona for the movement. Little, however, is remembered of her once equally outspoken advocacy for women, civil rights and workplace equity.
The pathos played out in the Anti-Communist hysteria savaging diversity and creativity in early post-WWII years especially raised her ire.
She knew the sacrifices exacted by the shackles of expectations she confronted and overcame. She wanted her life to inspire others to find their own courage, their own voices.
Keller formed a backdrop for my formative years. We shared 34 years of living although, of course, she didn't know me in any tangible way.
By the year of her death, 1968, I had been forcibly weaned from the comfortable assumptions and relatively clear directions of a conforming life. In my own way, I was dealing with the blindness and deafness of my own upbringing.
A Meal and some talk with the Dean, Prof. Kim B. Clark:
Last week, I shared a meal and talk with a few 1962 alumni of Harvard Business School, West Point of Capitalism.
There, we met Professor Kim B. Clark, recently appointed Dean, and his wife Sue. Dean Clark is a pleasant appearing and confidently behaving man of modest proportions, sandy hair, fair complexion, an affable and easy smile. He has a faint aura of the mountain West about him in spite of 30 years confined in the hallowed halls of Harvard.
And Mrs. Dean from Waterflo, New Mexico:
Sue Clark, mother of seven, grew up in Waterflo, New Mexico. Waterflo, a rural village of maybe 300 people, is up in the Four Corners area, west of Farmington a few miles and hard by the San Juan River—casually draped along a narrow strip of commerce between native peoples' reservations.
Out there, contrasts are etched, starkly-marked. The constant beauty is nearly overwhelming—hard as the invading white folks try to squelch it. It is easy to see how Georgia O'Keefe chose her palette, how she shaped lines.
Those lands sharpen, toughen and, alas, harden people especially those who come with the wrathful image of a Christian God ridden into their souls. Frontier attitudes die hard as do the native peoples still lashed by them. I am glad that Sue Clark still feels for both land and peoples of her home country.
The State of Harvard Business School:
Dean Clark told much about the state of Harvard Business School. The School trains leaders to be general managers. He told us how traditions are being maintained. That the directions focusing the School which were etched sharply by the early 1920s still guide it today. That accommodations to today and projections for tomorrow were also being met within the guiding frameworks of the School and the University. That now fully one quarter of the students are from other countries. That women form nearly forty percent of the present student body.
Dean Clark doesn't look or act like a key member of the world's power elites. He is very sincere and quietly persuasive. I am glad he is at the HBS helm. Capitalism seems secure under his tutelage. Neither American nor world elites need fear any radical departures.
Alumni (and now alumnae) of the Harvard Business School take leading roles in their communities, too. With an expanding global constituency, the Harvard Business School community is more than ever the world itself.
Dean Clark named a long list of community interests and involvements which seem to characterize HBS graduates: education, the arts, museums, symphonies and operas, big name charities and philanthropic institutions matching in tradition and emphasis the School itself. Institutions as impeccable and as constant as the University itself.
Those charitable, not-for-profit, eleemosynary, philanthropic and/or non-governmental organizations are and continue to be important in our social fabric of community, frayed and weakened as it be.
One man told me of his work and frustrations with homeless people in his area. Another alumni leads an emerging group of globally-oriented business interests with a focus on issues of world community. From within the HBS ethic, the School takes a prominent role in many areas of community as well as in business.
Appropriate Leadership Roles:
For me, appropriate roles for leaders trained as general managers encompass a now much broader understanding than I had 35 years ago.
Now, I want courage as well as leadership.
I want clear thinking, clear-sightedness, acutely sensitive hearing and awareness.
I want bountiful wisdom and focused compassion.
I want leaders for all of us.
Leading a Lemming Stampede?
Harvard Business School as an institution and its 60,000 graduates, as a whole, are also prominent in leadership of too much that brings all of us to the brink of planetary disasters.
The businesses— small, medium and increasingly very large— which mine and drill the earth, build the machinery, create mass and specialty consumerism, who pollute, ravage and destroy with little abatement are neither deflected nor tamed by HBS leadership, HBS faculty or HBS philosophy.
What My Classmates Thought about BRAS:
In my era, the two courses which impressed me the most, Business Responsibility in American Society and Administrative Practices (which dealt with "human resources"), were jokes to many of my classmates. BRAS was subjected to many "Texaco-type" in-group sneers which we would now call puerile and sexist. ADPRAC never penetrated the ethos of the hard minded downsizers and re-engineers who now dominant world business leadership.
An Incomplete Question. . . and a Plea:
All I could say to Dean Clark was, "Yes, everything you laud is very commendable and..."
That "and" was an unarticulated cry for the vast majorities of humankind, for the nearly total realms of all other sentience sharing this planet at this time who have been and are being savaged by businesses— too many of which are led proudly and defiantly by very wealthy HBS graduates.
Blinded and Deafened:
I now see them as blinded and deafened by their narrow assumptions and confined worldviews—which I once shared so eagerly, so naively.
The thirty five years since I and those assembled for this meal graduated represent thirty five years of accelerating rather than diminishing planetary destruction. Thirty five years built on the preceding fifty four years of Harvard Business School-trained leadership.
The leadership I hope emerges from Dean Clark's HBS will be steeped in different, more diverse models.
And Then I Remembered. . . :
It was then I remembered Helen Keller. But I didn't know why until I picked up the August 1996 edition of "Utne Reader." In a sidebar, "Helen Keller, Radical" Kathi Wolfe reports that, during World War II (1939-1945), Keller wrote to a friend: "I regard philanthropy as a tragic apology for wrong conditions."
And Then I understood. . . :
It was then I understood philanthropy and all its relatives as part guilt money, part expostulary service, part confessional for elites. Rather than use our energies to fix; we pay, we rationalize, we humble ourselves. . . too little, too late.
I understood a fatal flaw in the persuasive and dominant ethic taught especially well by Harvard Business School—The same Harvard Business School ethic proudly taught to increasing numbers of students from overseas and to increasing numbers of women who are to lead our collective institutions into the twenty-first century and... over the cliffs of this time.
I Find Part of "And":
So, Dean Clark I now have a part of the "and" I couldn't adequately name at our dinner.
"Yes, and. . . who is working to right the wrong conditions?"
Moreover, "Who is succeeding?"
Milo Clark, Class of 1962,
Harvard Business School