Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Like Ronald Reagan, last week my grandfather would have celebrated his hundredth birthday. George F.F. Lombard devoted his professional life to the Harvard Business School. Since I'm temporarily in Cambridge, I decided to head over to the Business School to see if I could find any traces of him. I found far more than I could digest: carton upon carton of his correspondence, lecture notes, chapter drafts, dating from his days as a student to his tenure as a dean. He got involved with the Human Relations Group in the 1930s (famous in those early years for the Western Electric research) and remained in the field, specializing in organizational behavior.

I've tried to read some of Grandad's books but never made it very far into the dry, practical prose. But in the nests of correspondence, an intellectual life came alive in all its mundane excitements – thank you post cards from students now far afield; articles passed on by soon-to-be colleagues because they were curious to hear what you thought; conversations about ho to communicate theory so that students can put it in practice. Nothing earth-shattering, to be sure, but a satisfying life all the same, I thought as I browsed.

In addition to teaching a course with Robert McNamara (statistics and data management for air force officers), during WWII Grandad conducted research to help solve some of the “human and organizational challenges of the rapidly expanding Air Force” at a military base near Boston:

“Lombard made almost daily visits to the base over the span of six weeks, early in 1943. He tried to observe as much as possible about the human interactions at the base without disrupting normal routines. He recorded not only what various individuals said, but also what they did; and how what they did affected the work of others around them. This was a different kind of research, which drew upon the lessons of the Western Electric experiments of the 1930s to assess and depict the inherent complexities of a human organization. Lombard quickly perceived a collision of values and a pronounced incompatibility between old and new types of warfare...”*

Grandad, in other words, was an anthropologist! Who knows in what ways his life and studies have impacted the course I've taken. For all the time I knew him, Grandad was a spectral presence carefully mowing the lawn and oiling bike chains while his wife regaled and opined for the two of them. But I'd like to thank him nevertheless.

* Cruikshank, Jeffrey L. 1987. A Delicate Experiment: The Harvard Business School 1908-1945. Boston: HBS Press. P 245.

Photos from the HBS library and the Harvard Gazette.


  1. Fun to read this piece, Louisa. Thanks for sharing. Makes me think of my grandfather, who also had a connection, albeit for a much shorter period than your grandad, to Harvard. He was an electrical engineer and worked on a then top secret project at Harvard during WWII to a promising new technolgy: radar. Amazing to think about that-- and those times.

    This is the first time I have looked at your blog here in Benin, but am enjoying this little glimpse.



  2. Thanks, Dan!

    One of the things that I found interesting about reading some of my grandfather's files was realizing how recent all of these data/institutional management realms are -- they have become so integrated into our understandings today that it's easy to forget what a modern phenomenon they are.