When the late Washington governor Booth Gardner, a member of the Harvard Business School Class of 1963, reached his senior year at the University of Washington in 1958, Harvard Business School was not even on his radar.
As biographer John C. Hughes wrote in “Booth Who?”, the idea of applying to the Business School only occurred to Gardner after a snowstorm and a planning mishap made him the unofficial escort of former Harvard Business School Associate Dean J. Leslie Rollins when Rollins came to meet Business School prospective students at the University of Washington.
Hughes wrote that Rollins was immediately “impressed” with Gardner and encouraged him to apply.
Gardner ultimately matriculated to the Business School in the fall of 1961. There, he honed skills that—as several of Gardner’s political advisors told The Crimson—would be invaluable in his career in government. The former governor, who passed away this March, ran the state of Washington with a personal and compassionate management style, fighting for his beliefs until the end.
‘THE MOST MODEST MAN’
Gardner was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1936. After attending the University of Washington and the Business School, he began a career in politics that ultimately coalesced in his successful election to the Washington governorship, where he served from 1985 to 1993.
Giving rise to the campaign motto “Booth Who?” when Gardner first ran for the governor in 1983, he was a little-known county executive in an election contest with the Republican incumbent John Spellman.
Gardner claimed to offer business acumen and managerial expertise to the people of Washington.
“Harvard—people can see that as snob appeal,” said political consultant Ron Dotzauer, who served as Gardner’s campaign manager. “But I used the Harvard Business degree to say ‘Who do you want to run your state?’”
Dotzauer ran a campaign ad that compared the two candidates’ resumes side-by-side.
“Booth didn’t have [HBS] emblazoned on his chest,” Dotzauer said. “But that was part of his resume that we ran on.”
Gardner also had worked at the Business School to work as an assistant to the dean in1966 before returning to Washington.
Speaking on the influence of the Business School on Gardner’s administrative style, Congressman Dennis Heck, who had served as Gardner’s as chief of staff, said, “The way he worked was to hire very good people, let them do their job, focus on a limited number of priorities...I’ve always assumed that part of that was Harvard.”
But after his campaign for the 1984 election, Gardner—like many politicians with Harvard degrees—downplayed his association with the University before the public. According to Heck, Gardner’s quietness about his Harvard experience stemmed not from political maneuvering but
rather from a deep-seeded humility.
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