01 Sep 2004

Edgar Koerner (MBA 1959)

by Garry Emmons


Born in Vienna, Austria, Edgar Koerner grew up in New Orleans and New York. A former partner at Kuhn Loeb and managing director at Lehman Brothers, he has for many years been active in pro bono work, particularly with The Children’s Aid Society, where he currently serves as board chairman.

At HBS, I remember our class as a conservative bunch, concerned with falling in line, getting a job, and making a buck. I, however, wasn’t so sure what I wanted to do. After graduation, an uncle at S.G. Warburg in London suggested I come work there for a year. I ended up staying for five years, including two as personal assistant to the legendary Siegmund Warburg, the firm’s founder and chairman. That was quite a postgraduate education.

When I got homesick for America, Siegmund helped me land a job at Kuhn Loeb in New York. Wall Street was different back then. For one thing, when you became a partner, it was assumed you’d stay with that firm for life. And if one of your corporate clients got a better offer from a competing bank, they’d stick with you anyway. Loyalty and relationships were everything. That is emphatically no longer the case.

In 1981, I cut back to half-time at Lehman in order to write poetry, study Judaism, and do more pro bono work. I eventually had about forty poems published in literary journals and a book of poetry as well. After fourteen years of writing, I felt, “I’m done with that now.” As for my interest in learning more about Judaism, through a mutual friend, no less a figure than Gerson Cohen, the head of The Jewish Theological Seminary, agreed to be my tutor. For six years we met once a week; that, too, was an extraordinary education.

Then, in 1988, I read Rachel and Her Children by Jonathan Kozol, a shocking book about homeless children living in New York City’s welfare hotels. It prompted me to volunteer in a Children’s Aid Society program inside the largest such hotel, the Prince George Hotel, helping kids with their homework, taking them to the park, and just being a friend. When the hotel was closed, I moved to the Society’s Frederick Douglass Center up near Harlem. For the next fourteen years, working mostly with children from the ages of 9 to 11, I started a newspaper, a book club, and a creative writing club. Now, when I visit the center, I’ll sometimes pass a young adult on the street who’ll exclaim, “Hey, Edgar! How you doing?” Many of the children are now in college, or have jobs, with families of their own. It’s wonderful to see them and how they’ve blossomed. — GE

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1959, Section G

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