Forty years ago, in September 1966, a young mission analyst named Jay Light left the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California and headed east to Harvard Business School. At JPL, Light used his undergraduate engineering physics training to lead a space-mission analysis team, an experience that convinced him that he needed more management skills. By his own recollection, he was virtually "clueless" about the very special place to which he was heading.
His application to the MBA Program caught the attention of Managerial Economics professor Howard Raiffa, "who pulled my application aside and asked whether I'd like to get a doctorate instead," recalls Light. After discussions during a visit to the campus, Light agreed to enter a new doctoral program in decision and control theory, a joint program between HBS and Harvard's Economics and Applied Mathematics Departments. "The underlying logic of much of decision and control theory was similar to the underlying structure of how we at JPL would design trajectories and track and control a spacecraft," says Light. "So intellectually, though this doctoral program was in a business school, it included some coursework similar to what I had been doing at JPL."
As his doctoral work progressed, Light became "more and more interested in the Business School side of the joint program." He found mentors in Raiffa and finance professor Eli Shapiro, who encouraged Light's growing fascination with markets and investment. In addition, he worked half-time with a Boston-based management consulting firm on the strategy problems of several important corporate clients. He soon decided to focus his full attention on HBS. As the first graduate of the joint doctoral program in the winter of 1969-70, he joined the HBS faculty. [Full Article]