His classmates were filing into section at Harvard Business School, but President George W. Bush sat calmly in the back of the room, spitting chewing tobacco into the bottom of a cup.
It was the fall of 1973, and the school’s newest crop of would-be financial elites had arrived. In a room full of visibly uncomfortable overachievers, Mike Kurz immediately noticed the future president’s unorthodox behavior.
“I thought, ‘Here’s a guy volunteering to get kicked out,’” Kurz says.
Unlike the 27-year-old Bush, Kurz was fresh out of college. He was all too aware of the Business School’s reputation for weeding out the unprepared. The school was only starting to embrace the diversity movement of the ’70s, and Kurz remembers thinking that the few women and minorities would not get asked to leave. But the guy chewing tobacco in the back would.
Kurz was relieved to see someone who looked as unprepared as he felt. “There’s one,” he told a friend. The friend responded, “No, that’s George Bush.”
While many students struggled through two years at HBS, George W. Bush exuded confidence—his sectionmates in the Class of 1975 remember his tobacco-chewing habit, his “sloppy” style of dressing and his smooth charm. “Not too many people are that confident,” Kurz says of his one-time classmate.
This air of assurance inspired great admiration among many of his classmates, if derision among a few. Though his father was head of the Republican National Committee, Bush was not regarded as a budding politico.
But even then the man who many remember as a “class clown” or a “nice guy” displayed the characteristics that have become his trademarks: the charisma that helped him skyrocket into the government’s highest office and a sureness of vision that some decry as dangerously stubborn.