James F. Rothenberg, '68
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, JAMES ROTHENBERG, '68, earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Harvard College and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Harvard Business School. Capping a 42-year career in Investment Management, he now serves as Chairman of Capital Research. He is a member of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Governors of the Investment Company Institute, and a Trustee of California Institute of Technology and the Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.
"Perhaps not for any profound reason, I chose to major in English as a Harvard undergraduate, and then went on to earn an MBA at Harvard Business School. Many people are surprised about the choice of English as a major since my career has been devoted to investment management. When I arrived at Harvard Business School, I did have considerable work to do to learn the language of business and the intricacies of accounting. But my English background provided a truly useful set of skills in written communication, but more importantly, a comfort level with ambiguities, and interpretations rather than “facts.” The humanities and the arts rarely deal with answers and certainties, but instead with logical arguments, and possible or probable outcomes. Decision-making under uncertainty is similar – judgments made prospectively about the future which inherently cannot be known. In many fields, there are problem sets and answers, but in the humanities, the results are rarely that precise. Instead, they are a measured way of thinking about problems, options, and probabilities. Decision-making may be no less decisive, but perhaps better recognizes the nature of assumptions being made and the range of possible outcomes.
Beyond such practical values, the arts and humanities help us understand and appreciate a variety of languages, not particular tongues, but more a painter’s perspective, a musician’s ear, an historian’s interpretive bent. I only wish I had spent more time as an undergrad looking at those different vantage points. Over time, we all can learn to appreciate such perspectives, but why not get a head start in college. My career is now into its fifth decade, but reading and exploring beyond my business life are increasingly enjoyable and valuable."