01 Oct 1997

Doing Something Real

A Classmate's Reflections on the Occasion of 1972's 25th Reunion
by Andrew Tobias (MBA '72)


Twenty-five years ago, our yearbook opened with a quote from John Kenneth Galbraith - esteemed professor from across the river - who said patronizingly of HBS, in that wonderfully dry way of his, "It's a good school. We should be grateful to it for training people who will shoulder the dull, tedious administrative jobs in organizations."

But I found the teaching at HBS a lot more animated and accessible than the teaching at Harvard College. The College was relentlessly academic, and few academics have the outgoing personalities of, say, a Galbraith (and few Galbraiths spent a lot of time teaching undergraduates). At the B-School, by contrast, the professors were, for the most part, a lot more fun. All but a few were great at relating to us, most of them with a wit and energy and clarity one did not find as often at Harvard College.

It was most appropriate that the setting for HBS was not Cambridge, the heart of academia, but business-like Boston, seat of august money managers and the then-hottest management consulting firm around, The Boston Consulting Group, with whom all but three of our classmates (it seemed) interviewed. To me, many of the "dull, tedious administrative jobs" were academic. What excited most of us, I think, was the prospect of doing something real. Twenty-five years later, better than half the respondents to our class survey answered "Yes" when asked, "Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?" Tedious administrative jobs, indeed!

What strikes me in contemplating our 25th Reunion isn't so much our two years in those United NationsÐlike Aldrich classrooms, or the upcoming reunion itself, but how much has changed in the interim. We have gone from the days (begun with that awful vending-machine coffee) of pocket calculators and inflation so severe (4 percent) that President Nixon (that laissez-faire Republican) imposed wage and price controls, to a world where each of our kids has more computing power on his or her desk, and each of us on his or her lap, than all of Harvard had in its entirety (or certainly all of Harvard Business School)... a world that seems to have found a better way than price controls to tame inflation (free trade, competition, innovation, dour central bankers)... and a world with a Starbucks on almost every corner. (Now that's coffee.)

In these 25 years HBS has gone from being an acronym only a little more palatable across the river and around the world than CIA, to symbolizing much that the younger generation and people everywhere aspire to. Not to say my classmates and I have had a whole lot to do with ending the Cold War, or the near universal acceptance of market economics. Or that dear old Professor Lodge succeeded in making us all ethical, compassionate capitalists. Certainly there are some spectacular successes among us, outstanding leaders and innovators who've gained wide notice. It's also true that we've had a couple of classmates who've made the wrong kind of headlines.

But most of us, from what I can tell, fall comfortably in between: modest to significant successes; honest; doing our bit for the economy and our communities; and paying our taxes (grumbling if we're Republicans and amazed if we're Democrats that the top federal bracket is only 39.6 percent - it was 70 percent in 1972).

We have gained some weight, lost some hair, seen the world take giant leaps forward and a few steps back. Many of us would never be remotely near where we are today had we not lucked into the HBS imprimatur and network of connections (not to say we would have been circus performers or postal clerks, but still). Most of us are really, really glad we chose business school rather than law school (except those of us, like one classmate-friend of mine, who chose both and now hobnobs regularly with the world elite). And almost all of us, I imagine, regard the next 25 years with a sense of wonder, but also with a sense of profound gratitude that we have gotten to a place where we can possibly even make a (very) small difference.

Andrew Tobias: The Funny Money Man

by Garry Emmons

Writer, speaker, and commentator Andrew Tobias has made a career of demystifying money for the American public, often by analyzing his own investment home runs and errors with his trademark wit and insight. The author of nine books on personal investing and business, a columnist and regular contributor over the years to magazines such as Time, Parade, Worth, and Esquire, he also helped create the first-ever personal finance software program, "Managing Your Money." For millions of Americans, Andy Tobias has become the funny and friendly advisor they depend on to make sense of the sometimes threatening, often inscrutable worlds of finance and business.

Tobias's bestsellers include The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need (over one million copies sold); Fire and Ice (a biography of Charles Revson and Revlon); Getting By on $100,000 a Year (and Other Sad Tales); and The Invisible Bankers, an irreverent look at the insurance industry. He has won the Gerald Loeb Award for Business Journalism and the Consumer Federation of America Award for Media Service.

His most recent book,My Vast Fortune, due out this month, is a memoir that recalls some of his greatest adventures and misadventures with money. It includes accounts of another facet of Tobias, his activist side. His two biggest causes in recent years have been campaigns in favor of automobile insurance reform and against smoking. As told in the book, both efforts were conducted with typical frenetic panache.

Tobias, whose principal residence is Miami, spent more than $250,000 of his own money to push for reform of the auto insurance system in high-profile California. To the consternation of the trial bar, his advocacy group placed three initiatives (ultimately unsuccessful) on the state's March 1996 ballot.

On the smoking front, Tobias, a Slavic languages and literatures major while at Harvard College, made and paid for antismoking spots on Russian TV in which he addressed some 90 million bemused viewers in his version of their native tongue. Notes Tobias, "Sure, it meant I had to pronounce words like pryedopryzhdyeniye> while reading from a makeshift teleprompter. But night after night, I could get my message out to a Super BowlÐsized audience for $1,000 - instead of $1 million - per spot."

Such bargain hunting has always appealed to Tobias, who buys just about everything in bulk and is rumored to stockpile toothpaste and tuna fish by the case lot. Similarly, his investment advice tends toward frugality and old-fashioned common sense. He believes in saving money as much as making it. Friends note, however, that he is unfailingly generous.

"Never invest in something you don't understand, or anything that eats or needs repairing," Tobias cautions. "Spend less: a penny saved is nearly as good as two pennies, after taxes, earned. And never ignore the magic of compound interest."

Each day, a Tobias commentary can be found on the Internet at www.ameritrade.com. And this fall, he can be seen on public television, cohosting an eight-part series, "Beyond Wall Street: The Art of Investing." Also this fall, Tobias is visiting a number of cities to promote My Vast Fortune, which has received rave reviews from readers. Says one, music industry mogul David Geffen, "If you don't think finance, politics, or real estate can be funny, read Andy's book."


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