The Secrets of Harvard Business School: Q&A with Andrew O’Brien, COO of HBS

By Tetiana Petruk

Just as every HBS class is curated to include an intentional mix of backgrounds, industries and experience, every aspect of the campus is also thought through in infinite detail. Ever heard of The Life Lab? Did you know Shad hall has 855 visitors every day? Read on to find out more about the secrets of HBS campus, in an exclusive interview with Andrew O’Brien, COO of HBS.

 

How did the school look like back at the time when it started? What are the oldest buildings on campus now?

Morgan Hall, Baker Library and generally all the buildings between Harvard Way and Charles River, they all were constructed around 1927 to create the original campus. The classes were held in the two auditoriums in Baker Library, students and teachers lived in the resident halls. Back then it was hard to imagine that one day we would occupy all the land area from the Charles River to Western Avenue.

 

And our campus keeps growing… Could you tell me about the Klarman Hall: What was the idea behind it? How is the construction going?

This will become our new convening center. Currently Burden Hall has about 750 seats and cannot even fit one MBA class (900+), Klarman will have just over 1000 seats. HBS aspires to create more events and conferences. We already feel that we are running out of space and need something bigger with more capabilities than Burden Hall. Moreover, Klarman Hall will be wheelchair accessible and will have green rooms and other back of house support spaces. Our guest speakers will no longer have to prepare for the speeches in Spangler. Also, Burden Hall tiered seats are quite steep and high. You may be surprised but a lot of people are afraid to walk down those stairs to take the seats in the front.

The construction is going very well, you’ll soon see steel on site rising out of the big hole.  I am happy to have the site excavation behind us. It’s noisy, disruptive and at times well “stinks.”  The organic soils we have to dig though give off an odor like rotten eggs!

 

I think most of our students have been to the iLab, but what is the Life Lab?

It’s our new development that opened this fall in the building behind the Hives. It is supposed to be a co- working wet lab for Harvard life sciences startups. To be eligible startups should be founded by Harvard faculty, students, alumni or postdoctoral scholars. They offer a lot of support, like the 15,000-sq ft fully equipped lab on the second floor. Additionally, startups get to fully keep their IPs. Life Lab can fit 10-15 teams and companies have already started to move in.

What about the art on our campus? What do those new sculptures mean?

There are four new sculptures on the campus, but they don’t belong to HBS. We received them on a one year loan from each of the artists.   The current pieces will be changed out during the summer and 4 new ones will take their place.  I hope we will find a way to keep the 20’ tall dark head between Aldrich and Hawes for a little longer, everyone seems to like that one a lot.

As for the other things – we have a truly great collection of paintings and photographs thanks to Gerald Schwartz.  I personally love to walk around the campus and look at our art. Sometimes they move the pieces around and it takes me a while to find the ones I like again.  

 

What about our fluffy wild-life, bunnies and squirrels? Who brought them here and who takes care of them?

Actually, we have 40 acres of perfectly vegetated land here. They come over from the Charles River and enjoy themselves on our campus.  Well, those who make it safely across the highway do. Their food is whatever they can find here and no one specifically feeds them or anything like that. We also have foxes and coyotes hunting here from time to time, but not very often. Our biggest celebrity in this sense was a turkey that walked around campus for about a year. I think it was last seen on campus in 2009 or 2010 so it was some time ago.

 

How will the campus change in the future? What next projects are you planning?

We will significantly expand the landscaped area between Spangler and Aldrich. Once Burden Hall will be gone it will open a lot of space together with the area between Hawes and Kresge Way, which is currently used to support the construction. We asked students what they would like to see there and made a project based on their wishes. Current ideas are to have an outdoor food/drink kiosk with fireplaces, a space for food trucks and even a small amphitheater for performances.

 

Wow! I’m almost sorry that I study in HBS now and not in a couple of years when all this will become reality. If you had a magic wand, what would you do to make our campus better?

I would use it to cure the traffic and parking problems in Cambridge/Boston and make getting to and around our campus a lot easier. I think the majority of people on our campus would be happy to see those problems alleviated.

 

Definitely agree about the parking. Any funny story about the campus or HBS students?   

I’ve got lots of them, let me share one with you that was humorous in hindsight, but both incidents probably involved alcohol and could have ended badly. So this was a teachable moment.

When we paint the exterior of the buildings we use a lift truck to quickly and safely get the painters up to do their work at the higher areas of the buildings.  We sometimes leave the truck parked out of the way near the building we are working on so it is ready for use in the morning.  One night a student decided to get into the lift truck and figured out how to get it to operate without a key, but what they didn’t know if you extend the boom too far it has a safety shut-off so you don’t accidentally tip over.  The boom will not move again unless you execute the correct sequence of operation with the controls.  When the painters arrived early the next morning they thought it was odd the lift was up and found the student still in the bucket.  They student begged the painters to help him down which they did by throwing the keys up to him and explaining how to work the controls.   Strangest part for us was how the student got the boom to operate without the keys.   We still are not quite sure how he did it.

 

Thank you a lot Andy! I’m glad that now we are getting closer to understand who stands behind the great atmosphere of learning that we have here! Good luck to you and your team!

 

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