01 Sep 2012
Rebel with a Causeby Sean SilverthorneTopics:
As a junior Episcopal minister, Bob Massie (DBA 1989) infuriated church leaders by revealing to his congregation that its $9 million endowment was secretly invested in a number of unchurchly entities, including military contractors, casinos, and countries led by dictators. Massie’s rebel streak continued as a doctoral student at HBS, where he challenged GE CEO Jack Welch in front of uncomfortable first-year MBA students about GE’s investments that, according to Massie, supported South African apartheid.
Massie has never been shy about taking on powerful interests, as his autobiography, A Song in the Night: A Memoir of Resilience (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), makes clear. In addition to being a truth-to-power minister and antiapartheid crusader (his 1997 book, Loosing the Bonds: The United States and South Africa in the Apartheid Years, won a Lionel Gelber Prize), he has been an environmental activist and ran for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts (he lost).
HBS attracted Massie after he realized that business could be a powerful agent for shaping public policy and creating social good, “the most potent force in our century.” Corporations could use that influence for good or bad, but increasingly, it seemed to Massie, many big businesses lacked a moral compass.
Putting his newly acquired business knowledge to work, Massie developed the Project on Business, Values, and the Economy at Harvard Divinity School. He is best known for his work at the forefront of corporate environmental sustainability efforts, serving as executive director of Ceres, a coalition of environmental groups and institutional investors; initiator of the Investor Network on Climate Risk; and cofounder of the Global Reporting Initiative, the world’s leading standard for measuring corporate social responsibility.
As a diary of successful social activism, the book is engaging. What makes it inspiring is the back story: Massie was afflicted by hemophilia, a rare disorder that as a child left him in constant pain and without the ability to walk for weeks at a time. Later infusions with tainted blood introduced HIV and hepatitis C into his system. Today he’s in full health: a liver transplant cured both the hemophilia and the hepatitis, and tests showed he is naturally immune to HIV infection.
This past March Massie was named president and CEO of the New Economics Institute, an educational and advocacy organization. “I am no longer a racehorse trapped in a barn,” he writes. “I see a great deal of what is wrong with our economy and our world, and I want to join those who are seeking to renew democracy and to transform our economy into one that is newly prosperous and sustainable.” A long shot, or just another obstacle to overcome?
Class of DBA 1989