On January 21, 1966, the day she interviewed for the job, she started work as a part-time clerk typist at Stanford Graduate School of Business. On July 1, she became a permanent full-time employee. Fifty years later, Barbara Firpo has held eleven different positions, been promoted nine times, and seen the business school grow through three relocations, the most recent in 2011 when the Knight Management Center complex opened.
While she has not seen any other colleagues earn their 50-year service pin during her tenure, two other staffers are close on her heels with 47 years; and 16 others have clocked in over 25 years at Stanford GSB.
On the occasion of her July 1 work anniversary, we asked her to share some of her observations from the past half century.
What do you remember about your work when you first started at Stanford GSB?
It was really fun! All faculty were in Redwood Hall, and I was in the Main Quad, Building 126, on the corner on the Serra St. side. The library and classrooms were there, but all the bosses were across campus. When we would see our boss, Ilse von Witzleben (who, by the way, just turned 100 on June 25), ride across the Quad, we’d joke, “Uh-oh, here comes Ilse. We’d better get busy!”
I typed up the case studies. We would type on dittos, on Multilith Masters and stencils. Every time we made a typo we had to use correction fluid for the stencils and a special eraser for the mats. Then the dittos would be put on a ditto machine. We had one person running the mimeograph machine; he would show us how to run it, then we collated and stapled everything by hand. Everything was manual.
What has surprised you most about the changes you’ve seen in the past 50 years?
The growth. Now that we’re here at Knight Management Center, we don’t interact with people as much as we did in the old building. When we were in one or two buildings, you would run into people all the time. Now I never see faculty unless I walk around the faculty building. It’s just so different.
Is there anything that’s stayed the same in the last 50 years?
I think innovation and the innovation mindset has always been the driver for the Graduate School of Business. That’s stayed the same. We’re always trying to advance, stay state-of-the-art, and then exceed even that.
What advice would you give to employees, both new and long-timers, about managing their Stanford GSB careers while navigating change?
Do the best you can, and always strive for excellence. You have to earn respect and credibility with people. Once you do that, you just keep striving for that.
And take advantage of rotations. We did that in the old days. You can get a good grasp for what other people are working on. People have a tendency to think they’re the only ones who are swamped — until you go work with other people in other departments. Rotations give you an appreciation for other people’s work, and I think that’s important. It’s nice to see people doing this again, because people really appreciate different positions, and you can understand better what others are doing. You find they’re not just twiddling their thumbs, and you’re not the only one pressured and overloaded. It’s good learning for everyone.
What’s next for you?
I’ll probably retire someday. But I don’t know what I would do; I haven’t figured that out yet. Whatever it is, it will involve being around people and helping them.
by Helen Chang