By Lauren Anderson ‘15
Those green apples are the perfect antidote to hunger and fatigue around school, no Snow Whites here. But did you know they’re a donation from a man of particular wit and perspective, Howard Haas?
Here’s the picture from his perspective. He began teaching at GSB in 1989 (their first leadership class!). The GSB was in old gothic buildings with dim, echoing classrooms - a formal teaching environment like you see in the movies. An environment he found impersonal. If he taught class from 3pm to 6pm everyone would be gone at 6:05pm, no one stuck around after. It was about putting in time to get a degree in order to make a lot of money. It was all work and no appreciation for the fact that students are human beings. He felt people were missing out on something in an MBA degree outside complex theories and formulas. I wanted to alter the environment to one that was welcoming and invited lingering. Everyone likes apples and they are welcoming. “If the school didn’t want to have the apples then they could stop or just burn my money,” he thought at the time.
With the spectacular new Harper Center being built, Haas was concerned that it would end up like the buildings he taught in at Northwestern or Norte Dame. They are full of junk that alumni donated for tax breaks. He worked with the dean and curator from the Smithsonian to take control of Harper’s space and determine exactly where things could be put. He recalled speaking to the curator, “The only thing I’m going to tell you is not to buy anything that the students will understand. Buy stuff that will stretch their mind or make them scratch their head.”
When asked about teaching Booth’s first leadership class and why students should take leadership classes today, he thinks people don’t learn from success - they learn from failure, so people need to be trained to take insight from these experiences. He felt leadership was worth presenting to thoughtful business students who could look beyond the salary in their first job and at a lifetime career. After completing one of his classes, students would receive a paperweight in the shape of an Eskimo and sled dogs, inscribed with: If you are not the lead dog, the view never changes.
Mr. Haas is most famous for working his way up from cost accountant to CEO at Sealy Mattress Company and ruling that empire for almost 20 years. His main takeaway from decades as a CEO was: There is only one you. Who you are in business is who you are in non-business, you cannot compromise your character in either. Once you compromise, you can never return.
Haas attended University of Chicago for one year before going to serve in World War II so did not graduate from Chicago but has always had a warm place in his heart for the Institution. 2014 is the first year he has been fully retired and when he is not traveling the world with his son who is a professional musician, he can be found playing tennis or golf.