Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

George Guarnieri

Harvard Student Agencies, the largest student run business in the world, has certainly felt tremendous impact as a result of the Covid-19 breakout that has shook the world. As a leader in the organization, I can certainly say that this has been a very difficult time for every level of the organization's hierarchy. 

To begin from a purely operational standpoint, we have 13 different agencies operating in distinct industries, targeting completely different customer segments. Of these 13 agencies, we are left with 3 that will be able to remain operational throughout the summer. The others have either seen consumer demand evaporate, face health and safety barriers, or are subject to policy recommendations and regulations in Massachusetts.  

From a financial perspective, the impact of these shutdowns is obvious. Just like many other small businesses across the country, HSA faces the challenge of covering its overhead costs while essentially remaining non-operational in many of its business units. 

From the perspective of HSA's employees, the impacts of the shutdown are amplified by HSA's dual role as both an employment opportunity as well as a learning opportunity for students. HSA managers commit to a summer at HSA when they join, so many students were depending on HSA as their summer opportunity. While many managers will able to work remotely throughout the summer, they will do so in a very limited capacity.

As a leader I've certainly had to make some tough decisions during this period. I think the most challenging aspect has been balancing the interests of the company with the interests of my managers. I had put a tremendous amount of effort into investing in each manager's personal growth, so when decisions regarding which managers are essential must be made, that has been very challenging for me.

Overall, this situation is certainly one that is unprecedented in HSA's history. As a result, as managers, we're witnessing structural changes that are new for everyone, from the general manager to our hourly employees. This means that every day presents new institutional challenges that we must continue to tackle head on. At this point in time, we will continue to move forward and adapt to whatever comes our way as best as we can.

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