01 Dec 1999

A Class Act

Reflections on 75 Years of Alumni Notes
by Nancy O. Perry


If you turned to this article only after first checking out the Class Notes for your year, you are in good company. According to a 1995 Bulletin readership survey, 95 percent of all HBS alumni read the Class Notes regularly and have been doing so for some time. And as far back as the Summer 1943 issue, the Bulletin's editors were already aware of this alumni pre-dilection: "As we see it," they wrote, "the chief source of interest in the Bulletin is the Alumni Notes."

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the magazine and of the notes (dubbed "Personal Items" in the 1925 inaugural Bulletin), perhaps it is time to proclaim the success of Dean Wallace B. Donham's "experiment" in keeping alumni in contact with each other and with HBS. Donham would have been pleased to know that the School's "barest start in discovering and building up satisfactory methods" to achieve this purpose resulted over time in one of the most vibrant and highly regarded alumni networks anywhere.

Aside from their sheer volume (at present, a total of 300 pages per issue) and scope (current copy provided by 853 class and section correspondents writing for 650 different classes and sections), what makes the HBS Class Notes so appealing? Part of the answer is that they're just plain fun to read (see sidebar). The earliest HBS Class Notes, penned by the magazine's staff, were a fairly predictable listing of address changes, marriage announcements, and death notices. The class secretary system, introduced in 1949 following a successful postwar experiment with seven secretaries, changed all that. The lively, conversational style of "Pioneer Class Secretary" Robert R.C. Miller's (MBA 6/'48) first submissions sets the stage for years to come: "I, too, have decided to make the big leap into industry," Miller wrote in a 1948 issue. "After July 1, these class notes will emanate from Crossett, Arkansas, where I will be busily engaged in learning the forest products industry."

The Bulletin's expanded alumni reporting during World War II deserves special mention. From 1941 to 1945 the alumni pages were filled with news from enlisted men and officers serving in theaters around the world: letters sent in by parents from sons at sea; first-person and news accounts of harrowing escapes, rescues, and bravery; and reports about sailors sharing and rereading dog-eared copies of the Bulletin. Perhaps from these riveting tales grew the idea for a column "voice," leading to the innovation of class secretaries.

"Upon election, the Class Secretary accepts a long-term commitment to perform a liaison function within the class and between the class and the School," stated the aforementioned Robert Mil- ler in the Summer 1949 announcement of the new system. Miller explained that in addition to soliciting and writing up news about classmates, the class secretary "makes at least one direct-mail contact with his classmates during the year, in which he can wax eloquent, as permitted by budgetary considerations, upon the wonders of the class as a group."

That "one direct-mail" opportunity to "wax eloquent" has, half a century later, spawned what we believe to be the largest Class Notes section in any alumni magazine on the planet. Not only do today's class and section secretaries have a penchant for eloquence (and glibness, satire, whimsy, and good humor, to name but a few characteristics), but their loquaciousness combines with an ever-increasing roster of alumni (49 new correspondents added in 1999 alone) to create an ongoing challenge for the Bulletin: to keep printing and mailing costs in check without sacrificing quality overall.

"My class gets a big bang out of the sheer volume of the notes," comments Arthur W. "Artie" Buerk (MBA '63), who is serving a second term as the HBS Alumni Association's chief class correspondent. Part of Buerk's role is to maintain enthusiasm among the class and section correspondents, which he admits he does only too well. In the mid-1980s when it appeared that correspondence was slacking off somewhat, Buerk and a few fellow correspondents "got everybody stirred up" to such a degree that the quantity of notes increased dramatically, driving up costs and leading to segmentation of the notes in 1991. Thus, for the past eight years, three versions of the notes have been published and sent to the appropriate classes.

Technology may soon come to the rescue, however. At present, alumni may read the Class Notes online by logging on to the HBS Bulletin Web site (www.alumni.hbs.edu/bulletin). While the 1995 readership survey showed that only 25 percent of alumni were interested in the online format, that number had grown to 52 percent in a recent (February 1999) readership study. As more alumni log on to the Internet, interest in accessing the notes in this manner will likely increase.

Technology also assists on the processing end, enabling class and section correspondents to communicate with classmates with greater ease than ever before and to submit their copy seamlessly to the Alumni Programs Office for editing before publication. "I receive a considerable amount of my information and photos via e-mail from classmates, usually soon after a new Bulletin comes out, and people see my e-mail address," reports 1993 Section E cocorrespondent Julia Leung Chin. Many of the older class correspondents prefer the "old-fashioned" methods of communicating, such as letters and phone calls. Robert C. Berner (MBA '36), who has served as class secretary for 43 years, is in regular contact with his classmates. "The class is my extended family," Berner says. "Not many days go by that I don't think about my friends, the School, or what I'm going to say in my next column."

Berner speaks for the many dedicated class and section correspondents whose efforts ensure the vitality of the HBS alumni network, reaffirmed year after year in record-breaking reunion participation numbers. Class Secretary F. Gorham Brigham, Jr. (MBA '39), having just attended his 60th Reunion in June along with 75 classmates and their wives, friends, and grandchildren, offers this upbeat report: "Almost 20 percent of our class attended, including an alumnus who flew in from China. We even entertained a few widows, one of whom told me she was looking for a husband and planned to get her money's worth."

Keep those cards and letters coming!

February 1, 1928

Theodore Sander, Jr., has resigned his position with Goldman, Sachs & Company and has been appointed assistant sales manager of the Royal Baking Powder Company, 100 East 42nd Street, New York. Alumni Notes, Class of 1925

February 1940

The first known casualty among the alumni of the Business School during the present war was Lt. Claus von Bohlen und Halbach, son of the head of the Krupp works in Essen, Germany. He was an aviator in the German Air Force and was killed in action on January 10. Obituary 1935-36 in Alumni Notes

Summer 1942

William H. Lipsitt, M.B.A. 1939, Lieutenant (jg) in the Supply Corps of the Navy, arrived safely "somewhere in Australia" after sailing for two months with four other officers in a small, open boat [from the Philippines]. According to newspaper reports, their only navigation aides [sic] were "an alarm clock, a compass, a torn page from a schoolbook atlas, and a radio that worked part of the time." War Notes

Of all the naval officers who have obtained degrees from the Business School, the one with the highest rank is the Japanese Vice-Admiral Tomokazu Mogi, who graduated from the School in 1926. We understand that he has been an active member of the Harvard Club of Tokio [sic] and observe that his alumni dues are paid through October, 1942! War Notes

Winter 1955

Married college sweetheart and went with Commercial Credit Company, both in '34. Still with both. William D. Washburn (MBA '34)

February 1961

Heard from Pete Foster, who continues to operate very successfully as a brand man for Procter & Gamble's Germasetic Dreft Soap - which is especially for diapers. His wife reports adequate opportunities at home for research as to the effectiveness of the product! Class Secretary Major Albert C. Riggs, Jr. (MBA '50)

August 1974

Up to my ears raising kids, plus skiing at Sun Valley and fly-fishing in Montana and Idaho; working has been interfering something terrible! William B. Webber (MBA 3/'43)

February 1981

By the time this is in the Bulletin, we will know who will serve our country for the next four years. You can sense the disinterest wherever we go, which is a sad commentary on our available leadership, and let's hope it will be corrected in time. Maybe another Harvard Man like Teddy Roosevelt is in the wings. Frank M. Cashin (44th AMP)

October 1986

Business is typical. Forecasts spell wealth greater than imagination; actuals result in delay-the-dividend/bonus one more quarter. How in God's name I ended up in satellite insurance is beyond me. The mindless, youthful enthusiasm that led to embarking on the entrepreneurial free-for-all five years ago has long since been beaten into submission by the myriad personnel, administrative, and legal hassles of "management." John B. Higginbotham (MBA '79)

February 1988

It seems that every high- and low-brow periodical in America is nailing us - the Yuppies, the golden-passport fast-trackers, the hotshot stockbrokers, Ivy League Napoleons, young fogies, conspicuously consuming baby boomers, the self-important MBAsŠ. Is the press right? Do you all really drive his and hers BMWs, buy $2 ice-cream bars, wear suspenders, trade on insider information, have children "for the experience - this year a baby, next year Europe," to quote one commentator, and do all those other things the media tells me you're doing to destroy our economy, tradition, ethics - our very way of life? Section D Correspondent Kathleen Fitzsimmons (MBA '81)

April 1999

My company, Home Financial Network, is doing well. We are a leading provider (or so we like to believe) in the topsy-turvy world of Internet banking. Like any good, young Internet company, we are struggling for revenue, are losing money, and have a valuation that beggars the imagination. Did anyone teach us this at Harvard? The Internet space is like the Wild West with a bunch of companies led by CEOs riding bareback at full speed. Hit a bump and you never know what you're going to land on. Daniel M. Schley (MBA '81)

June 1999

I have always retained a vivid recollection of the unique appearance of Professor Arthur Dewing with his beard, his vast knowledge of finance, and particularly his caution about business getting too big for effective management. If he were alive today, he would find many supersized mergers to be concerned about. S. Francis Nicholson (MBA '23)

Milestones in HBS Class Notes History 1925-2000

January 3, 1925 Class Notes introduced as "Personal Items," featuring notes from the MBA Classes of 1914 through 1924. (Notes had previously been published along with other graduate schools' news in the University's alumni magazine.)

October 22, 1925 "Personal Items" becomes "Alumni Notes."

November 1, 1926 First obituary published.

Autumn 1941 Bulletin changes from letterpress to offset printing "in order to facilitate the use of photographs without increasing production costs and to improve the appearance of each page."

In keeping with a new policy to "present interesting and significant news about alumni," alumni profiles are introduced as "Interesting and Important Things about Men You Know."

Summer 1942 Full page photo/obituary announcing the death of Ensign Francis X. Clarke (MBA '41), the first American alumnus "to lose his life in the country's service to the war."

First tear-out form for alumni to send in their news: "If you have no news, send us your opinions. We will print anything printable!"

Winter 1943 New, larger Bulletin format; photos introduced in Class Notes (a few photos appeared earlier in special War Casualties listings).

Spring 1944 First appearance of engagement and wedding photos.

Summer 1944 First appearance of paid advertising (ads for "Photo-Offset Lithography for War Conservation," war bonds, and books from the Coop).

Summer 1949 Class secretaries (both MBA and AMP) make formal debut, following "experimental" postwar secretaries' program; Robert R.C. Miller (MBA 6/'48) is the "Pioneer Class Secretary"; a Society of Class Secretaries proposed.

Autumn 1950 Fourteen MBA classes and seven AMP groups have elected "permanent class secretaries."

February 1958 New policy announced: each class will have notes in every other issue.

Early 1960s Increasing use of section secretaries as notes quantity expands significantly; early 1960s classes are the first to publish section reports under correspondents' names.

February 1967 Bulletin resumes publishing notes for all classes in each issue.

Early 1970s Notes photos featured some younger alumni with longish hair and sideburns, but alumnae photos were few and far between.

August 1979 Notes published on newsprint to save on paper and postage.

Late 1980s Bulletin consistently publishes 150 to 200 pages of notes. Alumni begin to send in more lively photos of their activities.

February 1991 Notes divided into three sections, each over sixty pages.

June 1994 Notes posted on the Internet, via AOL.

October 1996 Notes posted on HBS Web site.


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