Judith Prior Lawrie (HBRPA 1958)
"I've always said, having gone to the Business School, I knew the jargon. I mean literally I spoke the same language from day one. And so I tended to be accepted intellectually by young businessmen."
After graduating from HRPBA in 1958, Judith Lawrie worked for consulting firms that specialized in transportation issues and the emerging field of software development. Concentrating her strengths and areas of interest, she later worked as an analyst and portfolio manager for mutual funds specializing in technology. In 1983 she was the founding partner of HLM Management Co.
Learning about HRPBA
In 1953, I was not married or seriously engaged. I knew I didn't want to be a secretary, and I knew I didn't want to go to graduate school in English because it would mean merely putting off the moment of teaching, because inevitably it would lead to teaching. So a friend of mine from high school was at Cornell, and through a friend of hers had heard of the Radcliffe Program. And so I probably heard about it that winter or spring of my senior year.
So I applied to the HRPBA program. Rosemary Bachman came through Ann Arbor and interviewed me. I don't know why I remember that, but I do. And fortunately I was accepted and given, as I recall, a scholarship and a loan to make it possible. So for the age of twenty-one, I went east of Detroit for the first time in my life. I had never been to the East Coast, which I thought was very exciting. I enrolled in the program and lived at fifty Concord Avenue, which I don't think the College still owns.
HRPBA & HBS Experience
I did my fieldwork at Gilchrist's in the fall, and worked in the children's department of Gilchrist's basement, selling snowsuits. That was an eye-opener. I had never done anything like that, of course. Then in the spring I was at a new little company in Cambridge called Tech Built, which had created a design for a partially fabricated house. And there was two-hour special about them; Ford Motor used to sponsor Sunday afternoon television program, and I don't remember what they called it, but that was in the days when you did two-hour specials on nothing because there was no content to put on TV. And this little company had been swamped with orders. Really swamped. Thousands of inquiries from all over the country from builders, people who wanted to build a house, because it was modern.
It was a company with probably twelve employees at that point. So working there involved anything from running up to the company that made blueprints up on Church Street for extra blueprints, to going in on Saturday and opening the mail to see if there were any checks so we could meet the payroll. So I worked. I was essentially the only quasi-clerical office administrative person. And free. Of course they appreciated it being free.
They weren't able to pull it out, as it happened and finally they eventually did go bankrupt. But it was a very interesting experience, of course. Because they were inventing the company as they went along.
I've always said, having gone to the Business School, I knew the jargon. I mean literally I spoke the same language from day one. And so I tended to be accepted intellectually by young businessmen. And had I gone into those things with just a liberal arts degree, I'm not sure it would have been the same outcome.
My other favorite observation on the School which everybody's heard a hundred times is that the B School, I think, can make a good man better, but it can't make a bad man good. I think in my case it gave me the jargon and the confidence and some understanding of what the process was about. Certainly none of us knew that the first day we showed up. What's business? It was not in a young woman's vocabulary at the time.
When I graduated from Harvard, I went to work for a company that had been created by Paul Cherington who was then the transportation professor at the School. And this was a consultancy that dealt primarily with transportation matters, but almost entirely with the airlines. And had a big specialty in developing the case work for what was then the Civil Aeronautics Board hearings. And we did such things as a market study for North American aviation on whether their new Sabreliner jet aircraft would have any takers. All kinds of things related to it. The company was run by Dee d'Arbeloff, who went on to run Millipore, whose brother is the founder of Teradyne. And it was a very interesting experience to work for Dee. He was barely older than I was, probably twenty-eight or twenty-nine. And there again, it was a company with probably twenty employees on Mt. Auburn Street, right across the street from Tech Built. And in that case I was hired in as a research assistant, not a secretary. That was a giant breakthrough.
The money management business and the mutual fund business was very young at that point. What I came to realize after having been with Wellington for two to three years was that the nice thing about the money management business is it's a meritocracy. It is true that seniors can always claim credit for new ideas, but at some point it becomes obvious whether they have the talent for it or not.
That's what's kept me at it for thirty-three years now; it's a brand new world every day and I love it because I get up in the morning and I don't know what's happened overnight, but something has changed every morning, and away we go. And I remember the other thing about the early days, saying to somebody, "This has to be the best job in the world because I'm being paid to read."
Interview by Barbara Rimbach, March 27, 2000. Harvard-Radcliffe Program in Business Administration Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.