No One Left Behind: MBAs, Working To Evacuate Afghanistan, Aim To Keep America’s Promise To Allies

Greg Fairbank, Harvard Business School, MBA ‘04, NOLB Board member

Fairbank spent 26 years in the Army and still serves in the reserves. The colonel is a brigade commander and has a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from The United States Army War College. He has held Brigade, Battalion and Strategic Commands as well as Service on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 2001, he was beginning his second year at HBS when September 11 changed his plans. He was mobilized for the war effort, and finished his Harvard MBA in 2004. He is president and CEO of Saratoga Data Systems, and was one of the earliest donors to No One Left Behind as one of his soldiers co-founded it. He joined the board about a year and a half ago.

Why is the mission of No One Left Behind important to you?

Greg Fairbank has held Brigade, Battalion and Strategic Commands as well as Service on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  (Courtesy photo)

I’m an intelligence officer, and this is gonna sound almost selfish: I realized that if we don’t help these people, they won’t help us in the future. If we want to continue to be successful around the world, we need to fulfill our obligations to these folks. We made commitments and we need to uphold them.

Phil actually asked me to join the board largely because of my business background. We had a very, very strong veteran presence on the board, but we really needed to professionalize the board from a business sense. It’s been key because as much as it’s been an operation over the course of almost a year since the evacuation of Kabul, it has been like running a business, and we’ve become a reasonably well funded business. We are custodians of people’s trust, both in terms of their funds and the mission.

To provide a bit of context, prior to the departure from HKIA (Hamid Karzai International Airport), getting people out was cheap, but chaotic. The U.S. government was doing most of the lifts out. Since that time, the cost both in terms of dollars, and in terms of involvement of getting every single individual out, has gone through the roof. It’s a crazy business challenge. What’s very key is we see ourselves as the leader in the space and sticking around for 15 years, because we see a long tail of support that we want to offer these people. It doesn’t end when the last person gets out of Afghanistan. It ends when we get them and their families thoroughly settled.

When you say it’s a business challenge, what do you mean?

A number of things. I sat in on some briefings last year where we were directly dealing with people proposing funding evacuation efforts for us. As a military officer, I was looking at it from both an operational perspective and from a business perspective–from a cost benefit and risk analysis. We are, essentially, running a business here. We could throw all of our money into evacuations right now, but I don’t think any of my colleagues would say that’s the right thing to do. We realize we probably made the most money last year (with the publicity of the mass evacuation of Afghanistan), because the focus was on us. We need to make that last for the 15 years that we see ourselves being in business.

This was such an incredibly hot topic a year ago, for a few months at least, and then it moved out of the news cycle. Afghanistan and certainly Iraq are in the rearview mirror. We all predicted this, but the problem persists. The commitment we made to these people persists. Just because it’s out of the news cycle, doesn’t mean real lives aren’t at stake.

NEXT PAGE: Jeff Phaneuf, Stanford GSB, MBA ‘24, NOLB director of advocacy

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