Visiting an altar to capitalism that aspires to be more
(No. 13) The names above the doors say a lot about how we teach business these days, by Ty Montague and Stephen P. Williams
From the Department of Contradictions
In recent photographs in The New York Times (gift to you — no paywall), the new campus of Columbia Business Schoollooked futuristic and beautiful. I was intrigued. Plus, the school was adding a couple of courses in sustainability to their lineup and I’m a sucker for world change. So I hopped on a pedal assist Citibike in Chelsea and rode 5.5 miles uptown to have a look. It was cold, so I stopped at 78th and Broadway to buy a $5 pair of knit gloves from a street vendor. How on earth did someone produce a pair of knit gloves and get them through a series of various middle-people and finally deliver them to this decrepit, cold woman with a runny nose so she could sell them to me at such a low price? Did they cost $.50 to produce? How many people took a profit from these gloves along the way? Before she told me the price, I expected to pay $10, so in effect, I saved $5 that could have enriched the supply chain. And they were so effective in keeping my hands warm on the bike in 35 degree temperatures that I’d value them at $30. Maybe I’ll sell them on eBay. I’d like to see those gloves studied at this new business school.
A few years ago I earned an MBA from Bard MBA in Sustainability, one of the first business schools in the world to focus everything through a lense of sustainability. Those were two of the most interesting years of my life. Yet my first year classes took place in a decrepit shared working space in downtown Manhattan, and my second year classes also took place in a co-working space, albeit one that was well-designed. (Now the school has very nice accommodations in DUMBO.)Given that my MBA went really well in a low budget environment, I was very curious as to why the new Columbia Business School had spent $600 million on their campus in far west Harlem, a Bitcoin’s throw from the Hudson River.
Part of the answer is because they could. Building #1 is named after Henry Kravis, a billionaire leveraged buy-out guy, and Building #2is named after David Geffen who rode out the pandemic isolated in the Caribbean on his 453’ 9” long yacht. They were both very generous in funding the buildings that will forever bear their names, barring a cosmic disgrace. And God knows that some part of me is jealous of all that money.
However, I am puzzled by the genesis of these buildings. According to The Times article:
“The design of the complex just blocks north of Columbia’s main Morningside Heights campus coincided with business schools around the country coming to terms with a rising chorus of criticism that companies are too predatory, exploitative and monopolistic, and that business education had to change.”
The big time celebrity architects who designed the spaces, and the poobahs at Columbia, purport that the interweaving staircases and public seating and hallways that encourage intermingling of various types of people will encourage a new way of thinking in line with the demands of Gen Z people who want to change the world.Yay! Change capitalism through luxury building design!
Wanting to test this theory of inclusion, I parked my bike and went inside the Henry Kravis structure, but the guard turned me away. I felt the sting, but also the allure of exclusivity. Outside, I peeked through the large glass windows (one of which reflected The Cotton Club nightclub across the street) into a luxurious atrium with very fine bleacher seating where business school students carrying colorful water bottles discussed, I assume, both arbitrage and green banks. It was the kind of luxury space I’ve seen in high end shopping malls and at Hudson Yards. The broad, empty plaza between the buildings had the air of a military parade ground. In the near distance, other new Columbia buildings rose like out-of-place sculptures on cleared land that until recently had been the worn out landscape of old school West Harlem. The buildings themselves were not nearly as arresting or pleasing as they looked in the photos in The New York Times. In fact, they were a real letdown.
I wish Columbia the best in its quest to rethink the way capitalism is taught. But I saw nothing of renewal here.
— Stephen P. Williams
Yes, brought to you by Columbia University
Yes, ride-share bikes (25 percent are out of service at any given time, another 50% are clunky and possibly dangerous, and the final 25% offer a beautiful ways to get around the city ) brought to you by Citibank and Lyft.
The acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge, a very plush waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn.
I am aware that one can not actually throw a Bitcoin.
David, I know that you consider your building to be #1. Sorry.
The yacht has a gym, basketball court, wine cellar and movie theater among its 82 rooms.
And still get very, very rich.
Are you looking for a podcast?
Speaking of capitalism, this episode of the Ezra Klein Show exposes the fraud. (Gift listen -- no paywall)
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After reading this, I can't think of anything else to say but: we are all doomed.
This is why aliens don’t come around anymore.