23 Apr 2012

Harvard Business School’s Baker Library Receives Papers of Professor Georges Doriot

Legendary faculty member was also pioneer in field of venture capital
Georges Doriot

BOSTON—Harvard Business School announced today that its Historical Collections, housed in the School's Baker Library I Bloomberg Center, have received on permanent loan from the French Cultural Center in Boston a wide array of papers that belonged to one of HBS's most renowned and remembered professors, Georges F. Doriot (1899-1987), a legendary member of the School's faculty from 1926 to 1966 and one of the founding fathers of the venture capital industry.

The earliest records in the collection are Doriot's student notes and papers, created in 1922 when he was a special student in the Harvard MBA program. In addition, the collection includes class and lecture notes that Doriot created in preparation for teaching his famous second-year MBA elective course in Manufacturing as well as his personal copies of the extensive industry and company reports that he required his students to write.

Doriot's pioneering work in the field of venture capital is also documented through his records from the American Research and Development Corporation (ARD), the world's first publicly-funded venture capital firm, which he headed for many years. Among these papers, dating from 1949 until 1972, are correspondence, board meeting agendas and minutes, and annual reports. Also in the collection are original copies of the many speeches he delivered and articles he published between 1922 and 1976.

Finally, the collection holds Doriot's personal library of nearly 400 volumes, including works on management, technology, history, and education.

"Georges Doriot was a major figure in the history of Harvard Business School and in the history of American business," said HBS Dean Nitin Nohria. "We are delighted and honored to have this important collection at Harvard Business School, where it can be made readily available to help generations of students and scholars learn from the past as they prepare for the future."

As a professor at Harvard Business School for 40 years, Georges Frederic Doriot was said to have "inspired and trained more leaders of U.S. corporations than any other person" during that time. A total of 7,000 MBA candidates took his course in Manufacturing. Many, having survived its rigors, attributed their later success to it. Former students went on to head such firms as American Express, Cummins Engine, Ford Motor Company, and Levi Strauss.

In 1946, Doriot became the first president of ARD, which, as he wrote, provided capital to "creative men with the vision of things to be done." Under his guidance, ARD made its most successful investment in 1960, when it gave $70,000 to a young researcher from MIT named Kenneth Olsen, who used it to start Digital Equipment Corporation. Twelve years later, the computer manufacturer had grown from three employees to 7,000 and had annual sales of $147 million. In time, it was second in size only to IBM. Doriot remained president of ARD until 1972, when it merged with Textron. In 1979, Fortune magazine named him to the National Business Hall of Fame.

In his role as a venture capitalist, Doriot thought of himself as someone who nurtured others' dreams. Comparing his role to that of a father with his children, he refused to give up on a business that was going through hard times. "A history of profits is much more important in the long run than a profit in any one year," he said. During his career, he was a director of more than 16 companies, including Digital Equipment.

Doriot was born in France on Sept. 24, 1899, the son of a foreman in a Peugeot bicycle plant who became interested in automobiles and then showed his own entrepreneurial bent by founding a small car manufacturing company. Although his secondary schooling was interrupted during World War I when he enlisted in the French army, he did not see combat and graduated from a lycee in 1920. He came to the United States in 1921 intending to study industrial management at MIT. But after using a letter of introduction that enabled him to meet with Harvard University President A. Lawrence Lowell, he decided to take Lowell's advice and enroll as a special student at Harvard Business School.

After completing the first year of the Harvard MBA program, like a number of other students at that time (when the MBA degree, first granted by HBS in 1910, was just a little over a decade old), Doriot left the School and headed for a job in banking in New York City. However, when HBS Dean Wallace Brett Donham, eager to bolster the faculty with practitioners, asked him to return to HBS several years later, he was happy to accept the offer. He returned to Harvard Business School in 1926 to become an assistant dean (a position he held until 1931) and associate professor of industrial management. He was appointed a full professor in 1929.

Doriot was renowned for his dedication to hard work and ethical conduct and for his commitment to thinking about the future. He expected nothing less from his students, whom he required to do extensive field work on companies in the Boston area, writing reports on "subjects that will make a contribution to American business."

Many of these "topic reports" satisfied Doriot's requirements so effectively that they put their authors on the leading edge of important new trends and technologies and were even published. In 1951, for example, one group coined the word "automation," and a decade later another team took an early look at the uses of lasers.

A master of the well-turned phrased, Doriot insisted on lecturing to his students (rather than use the School's renowned case method), while also offering them memorable words of advice, such as:

  • "A real courageous man is a man who does something courageous when no one is watching him."
  • "You will get nowhere if you do not inspire people."
  • "Always remember that someone somewhere is making a product that will make your product obsolete."
He also expounded on such basic topics as proper dress and behavior and urged his charges to read obituaries to learn how accomplished people had led their lives.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Doriot became a naturalized American citizen and was called to active duty as an Army officer. Assigned to the Pentagon, he served first as Director of Military Planning for the Quartermaster General and then became Deputy Director of Research and Development for the War Department General Staff.

In his book Creative Capital: Georges Doriot and the Birth of Venture Capital, Spencer Ante writes: "During World War II, Doriot played a critical role in the Allied victory, leading a revolution in the military by applying science to the art of war. Under his command, the U.S. Army found substitutes for critical raw materials and developed dozens of innovative items such as water-repellant fabrics, cold weather shoes and uniforms, sun screen, insecticides, and nutritious compact food....For his achievements, Doriot was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General...." As a result, for the rest of his life, the professor was often referred to as "The General."

After the war, Doriot returned to Harvard Business School to resume his teaching. He also played a key role in establishing INSEAD, a leading business school near Paris. In 1969, a group of Doriot's friends, associates, and former students created an international fellowship fund in his name to provide financial support to MBA candidates coming to Harvard Business School from abroad.

In honor of his World War II service, Doriot was awarded the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal, the highest honor that can be given to a non-combatant. He was also a Commander of the British Empire and a recipient of France's Legion of Honor. He held honorary degrees from six colleges and universities, including Harvard, and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1973, Doriot received the Distinguished Citizens Award from the Harvard Business School Club of New York City, which had honored him in 1966 as Business Statesman of the Year. In 1974, the Harvard Business School (Alumni) Association gave him its Distinguished Service Award for "extraordinary service."

Doriot served for many years as president of the French Library in Boston, now the French Cultural Center, which promotes French language and culture—an abiding interest he shared with his wife, Edna, who was president of the Library from 1966 until her death in 1978.

The Doriot Collection will be available for research beginning in mid-May in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room, Baker Library | Bloomberg Center, on the HBS campus in Boston. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on major holidays. Please contact Baker Library Historical Collections at histcollref@hbs.edu or 617.495.6411 for more information.

About Baker Library Historical Collections
Baker Library Historical Collections (www.library.hbs.edu/hc/) is a rich resource for scholarship in business and economic history and cross-disciplinary studies. Thousands of items - including business records, diaries and correspondence, research papers, rare books, ephemera, and visual materials - provide the documentary evidence that allows scholars to investigate firsthand the important business theories, organizations, movements, and individuals that have shaped our nation's history and globally influenced progress and developments today.


Jim Aisner

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.