“I wanted to be my own boss.”
—George W. Bush on applying to business school
“George spent a lot of time learning from other people … Those who were book-oriented would think he wasn’t a serious student, but he was a serious student of people.”
—Robert McCallum, Bush’s friend at Harvard Business School
Leo Ccorbett was surprised by the apparent shift in priorities when he moved across the Charles River from Harvard College to Harvard Business School. Dinner conversations for his undergraduate class of 1970 revolved around politics and Vietnam. Many of his Harvard classmates talked politics, expecting to reach lofty political positions inside the Beltway, as Washington, D.C., was called. But when he started business school in 1973, he found that students “had become very serious and didn’t want to be distracted by these outside issues.”
The go-go economic boom of the 1960s had dissolved into oil shocks and high inflation. The romanticism that had once characterized what students felt for John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty evaporated in the face of the ongoing Vietnam War. As students worried more about their economic prospects, business and law schools seemed to offer secure futures, and competition for admission became intense. Dinner table conversations shifted away from politics and war and to the far more practical topic of how to secure good jobs.
One of Corbett’s Harvard Business School classmates, George W. Bush, didn’t talk politics much either—but for different reasons. Few American families had deeper political roots. His father George H. W. Bush, was chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time. His grandfather, Prescott Bush, had represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. But the younger Bush admitted, “I wasn’t political then.”
Born into a family of privilege, he had drifted through a series of jobs without finding direction. Unlike many of his classmates, Bush was searching for himself.