Ned Lamont SOM ’80 may be making his final attempts to pioneer a new vision for the Democratic Party this week, but nearly three decades ago, an energetic and popular, if apolitical, Lamont was part of an effort to pioneer a new vision for American business schools — as a student at the Yale School of Management.
The aspiring U.S. senator, who is challenging fellow Yale alumnus Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, took a risk by enrolling in the Yale School of Management’s third graduating class at a time when the school was relatively unestablished and academically unorthodox. But by most accounts, the risk has paid off. In interviews with nearly two dozen of his classmates, there was consensus that Lamont was widely admired and non-confrontational, standing out for his work ethic and what his classmates called an independent, entrepreneurial spirit. At the same time, his peers and professors said Lamont seemed apolitical, rarely hinting at any political affiliation or ambition and surprising them when he decided to run for office.
Arthur Swersey, the School of Management professor who taught Lamont’s study group, said he was always fond of Lamont since his personality lent itself to productive work in the school’s still-forming community.
“The school was young, and people were extremely enthusiastic about the place,” Swersey said. “It was very tight-knit. Ned was one of the people who was extremely active among his peers.”
In 1976, fewer than two years before Lamont enrolled, some of America’s leading business minds had come together to establish the School of Management. They hoped to create an innovative pedagogy that would focus on non-profit organizations and the public sector’s relationship with business rather than the number crunching and corporate case studies that other top business schools taught at the time. Just as Lamont entered the Senate race to shatter the status quo, he and his Yale peers were building a school and culture virtually from scratch.
Classmate Bruce Foster SOM ’80 said students had a sense that they were “on the cutting edge of a new type of approach to management education.” Daniel Ruchman SOM ’80 said students — whose choice of Yale over more established business schools proved they were risk takers — were encouraged to chart their own courses.
“We were doing precedent-setting things,” Ruchman said. “There was a sense of entrepreneurialism. Ideas would come up that had an impact because the school was still new — and it was self-consciously new.”
Outside Yale, the business world of the late 1970s was witnessing the advent of a competitive Japanese industry and a revolution in quality product manufacturing. Meanwhile, Lamont — a Harvard graduate — was living with several other School of Management students in a Woodbridge, Conn., apartment and, unbeknownst to him at the time, acquiring skills that he would later apply to running his campaign.
“My SOM experience greatly helped me for this Senate run,” Lamont said in an e-mail. “I often draw on my entrepreneurial experience and training on the campaign trail in order to look at issues in new and innovative ways.”
Several classes Lamont took during his time at Yale might have influenced his approach to running his campaign this year, Ruchman said, including those on political analysis, individual and group behavior, finance and general management. In the political analysis class, for example, one assignment was to write a note to a campaign staffer in the role of a political campaign manager.
“He easily could have gone to Harvard or another business school that was more traditional or more focused on actual business, but the fact that he chose Yale, which was much more innovative and focused on public policy and business, might be some indication that he had an interest in both areas,” classmate Richard Perlmutter SOM ’80 said.
Victor Vroom, who taught Lamont in “Individual and Group Behavior” during the late 1970s, said Lamont has told him that his experience at Yale has contributed significantly to the way his life has evolved.
“A major emphasis in the [study team] was reflecting on who they were, what their goals and their values were and what was important to them,” Vroom said. “Instead of looking outside, the case was them. They wrote papers about themselves, reflecting on who they were as individuals, what their values were and what they wanted to do in this world.”
According to classmate Laurie Goodman SOM ’80, the joke about the School of Management was that it was a “whole numbers business school,” since it attracted those who were interested in working for non-profit organizations and who needed to learn the necessary financial and management skills to build their enterprises.
Lamont’s campaign propelled him from negligible support several months ago to winning the August Democratic primary. But with one week to go before the general election, he remains 17 points behind Lieberman, who has the support of nearly half of the state’s Democrats and many Republicans, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll.
His classmates said that from what they can tell from his television appearances, he still resembles the man they remember from business school.
“He was in my study group, and he was an excellent group member: extremely cooperative, energetic, the go-to-guy, the kind of person who helped,” Elizabeth Eismeier SOM ’80 said. “He had a great sense of humor and really helped us get through tough terms.”
Though hardworking, Lamont had a thirst for physical activity and discussion, approaching students outside the classroom when they brought up an idea he found exciting.
Todd Turrentine SOM ’80, one of Lamont’s roommates and now the fund-raising director for his campaign, said there was “always a lot of lively conversation around him”— and a lot of Rolling Stones music.
He used to play tennis with Perlmutter and never hesitated to share a cigarette with Ramakrishna Putcha SOM ’80. J. Hanson Guest SOM ’80 said Lamont was a “mild person,” and not always “the life of the party.”
“I never would have expected [him to run], I just wouldn’t have,” said Guest.
Lamont said he understood why those who knew him at the time would find him apolitical.
“While I have always been very politically engaged in terms of being interested in public affairs and in the importance of the public sphere, I did not become truly politically active until after my career at Yale,” he said.
Though Yale may not have been a major stepping stone in shaping Lamont’s political identity, he and his classmates felt as if they were “building a legacy for the future” of the School of Management, Vroom said.