29 Sep 2020

Letter From Dean Nohria: Renaming Building to Honor James I. Cash


Dear members of the HBS community,

Today we are announcing that we will be celebrating the legacy and contributions of James I. Cash, James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, by renaming the building now known as Glass House as Cash House in his honor.

Jim has been described throughout his career with words reserved for the most special of individuals: pioneer, trailblazer, legendary, game-changer. He was the first African American to accept a basketball scholarship at Texas Christian University, joining what was then the Southwest Conference at a time when police escorts might be needed to enter an opposing team’s gymnasium. After receiving his BS in Mathematics from TCU, followed by MS and PhD degrees in Computer Science from Purdue University, he joined the HBS faculty in 1976, and became the first Black member of the faculty to receive tenure in 1985. He taught in the MBA Program and in all the School’s long Executive Education programs, and was a prolific case writer, the author of numerous books and articles, and a noted scholar in the area of the strategic use of information technology in the service sector—including as a key member of the School’s then-burgeoning management information systems group, where he helped build a new curriculum. During his time at the School he served as Chair of the MBA Program and head of the ambitious Leadership and Learning initiative, a comprehensive, multi-year, School-wide review of every aspect of the MBA Program curriculum and experience. He also served as Senior Associate Dean and Chair of HBS Publishing, helping to prepare and lead the group for success through a true digital transformation. He retired in 2003 after a 27-plus-year career at the School so that he might, in his words, “contribute to society on a wider scale.”

Jim’s impact at HBS, however, has continued unabated and is felt by many across our campus to this day. We have been the beneficiaries of his extraordinary mentorship and friendship, and we know countless individuals have stories of his generosity and the support he’s provided them at key moments in their careers. He’s been instrumental in strengthening our diversity, quietly recruiting faculty, staff, and students to the School and then welcoming them and making vital introductions to the HBS, Harvard, and Boston communities. Look at any pivotal moment at HBS, from our centennial celebration in 2008, to the W50 anniversary in 2013, to the AASU50 commemoration in 2018, and there is Jim: leading a thoughtful discussion about the role of leaders in the 21st century, reflecting on the School’s history, and bringing our community together for important conversations. Role model, advisor, coach, collaborator—Jim is all these things and more.

Jim’s impact beyond the School is extraordinary as well. He’s served on the board of major companies across the United States, including General Electric, Chubb, Microsoft, and Walmart. He was a pivotal figure in the founding of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. His Cash Catalyst organization brings together executives for peer-to-peer exchange (and has been a benefit to many of the School’s CIOs). As part owner of the Boston Celtics, working with coach Brad Stevens, he’s helped launch community-based initiatives to bring attention to issues of racism and racial inequality.

Moreover, he is deeply devoted to his family, including his wife Clemmie Cash, his daughter Tari Cash (MBA 2005), and his son Derek Cash, daughter-in-law Lindsay Parsons, and granddaughter Iris Olivia Cash.

In short, Jim exemplifies the School’s mission of educating leaders who make a difference in the world in every aspect of his personal and professional life. In addition to his extraordinary intellect and accomplishments, he is a man whose humility and genuine warmth make him beloved by all who know him. Indeed, he once defined power and influence as “the ability to make things happen without people knowing that you are responsible.” This is how he leads his life, and he honors the School in allowing us to recognize him in this way.

The renaming also rectifies a wrong. Seven buildings on the original HBS campus were named, in the late 1920s, after influential U.S. Secretaries of the Treasury. Glass Hall’s namesake, Carter Glass, was a Virginia politician who played a prominent role in shaping American business and banking. As Treasury Secretary during President Woodrow Wilson’s tenure, for example, he helped establish the Federal Reserve System; later, as a Senator, he co-sponsored the Glass-Steagall Act that created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Yet Glass also led efforts to assure that the Virginia Constitution of 1902 would strip Black citizens of their voting rights through means such as a poll tax and literacy test—efforts that intentionally disenfranchised Blacks and promulgated segregation, with pernicious and long-lasting effects. We therefore cannot allow the Glass name to remain at the School, even while we recognize and cannot forget that it has been a fact of our history for 75 years. It is important that members of our community see themselves in our spaces and take pride in those whose names define our physical landscape. Cash House will reflect our deepest belief that leaders are individuals of not just great competence, but also outstanding and impeccable character.

If you are among those who have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Jim, you can learn more about him—including in his own words—through these selected articles and videos.

Big man on the boards” (TCU Magazine, Summer 2004)
Where are they now? – Jim Cash” (HBS Alumni Stories, June 1 2008)
Celtic part-owner James Cash sees light in the long social justice tunnel” (Boston Herald, June 21 2020)
HBS Making a Difference Alumni Stories – video and video


Executive Dean for Administration Angela Crispi and Dean Nitin Nohria

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Brian Kenny