01 Dec 2014
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Five Degrees of Doriot

Tracing the lasting—and sometimes unlikely—legacy of a legendary HBS professor
Re: Claude Janssen (MBA 1955); Olivier Giscard D'Estaing (MBA 1951)
by Dan Morrell

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LIFE VEST: A soldier displays a piece of shrapnel that lodged in his armored vest during frontline action in Korea on March 30, 1952. The impact knocked him to the ground, but the vest, reinforced with Doriot’s “Doron,” was credited with saving him from serious injury. (Associated Press)

In the fall, the Baker Library / Bloomberg Center debuted an exhibit tracing the life of Georges Doriot (MBA 1922), one of HBS’s most storied professors. Well known by students for his popular Manufacturing course and his quotable insights, his circle of influence extended well beyond the classroom. Here, a few of the ideas and inventions that Doriot helped bring to the masses.

Venture capitalism

Before Doriot founded the world’s first VC firm, American Research and Development Corporation (ARD), in 1946, people with big business ideas had to hit up wealthy private investors for funding. ARD’s model fostered the growth of a new generation of entrepreneurs—a group that Doriot held in high regard. “An average idea in the hands of an able man,” goes one of his famous quotes, “is worth much more than an outstanding idea in the possession of a person with only average ability.”

 

The digital revolution

One of Doriot’s earliest ARD outlays was $70,000 for 70 percent of Digital Equipment Corporation, which would go on to become one of the world’s largest computer companies. The company also played a role in launching the world’s largest software maker: Microsoft founders Paul Allen and Bill Gates wrote their first PC software using a DEC computer.

 

Body armor

While serving in World War II, Doriot was tasked with heading a confidential project to develop new plastic body armor. Two years later, the new “Doron” body armor passed a stress test designed to quell officers’ nerves—a live demonstration that featured the firing of live rounds at an officer wearing a flak jacket filled with Doron plates.

 

Global business education

French-born Doriot realized a decades-long dream of developing a graduate-level business education program in Europe when he founded INSEAD in 1957 with the help of former students Olivier Giscard d’Estaing (MBA 1951) and Claude Janssen (MBA 1955). Today, INSEAD boasts more than 46,000 alumni across 171 countries and is one of the highest-ranking business schools in the world.

 

“Duck” boots

In another wartime effort, Doriot sought to help solve the “trench foot” problem—which was becoming an epidemic due to cold, wet winter conditions—with an early version of L.L. Bean’s iconic leather-and-rubber boots. Doriot made his case to the higher-ups; in late 1944, the boots went into production and soon became regular issue.

 
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