Facilities Projects Manager Barbara Firpo Celebrates 50 Years at Stanford GSB

Of the nine deans who have led Stanford Graduate School of Business, Barbara Firpo has worked with all but two of them.

July 01, 2016



Barbara Firpo with Dean Garth Saloner at the January 21, 2016 celebration of her 50 years of service.

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.


Barbara Firpo (far left) takes a coffee break in the old South Building soon after its 1969 completion with then-Dean Arjay Miller (far right); her boss Ilse von Witzleben to his right.

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

At the reception for Barbara Firpo on January 21, 2016, celebrating her 50 years of service at Stanford GSB.

Remarks by Dean Garth Saloner

Barbara Firpo has a long record of outstanding service to Stanford Graduate School of Business, and has worked under seven of our nine deans. She started working here on January 21, 1966 when the Business School was located in the Quad in Building 120. During Barbara’s tenure, Stanford GSB completed construction and moved into the South Building in 1969, expanded into the Littlefield Management Center in 1988 and the Knight Building in 1999, and finally relocated to the Knight Management Center when construction was completed in 2011.

Barbara was promoted nine times and held 11 different positions during her tenure here at Stanford GSB. She started as a receptionist clerk typist and was quickly promoted to a senior clerk supervising two other clerks. She continued to move up over the years and served as assistant to various faculty until 1983. In 1984 she became an Administrative Assistant supporting the Sloan Program and the Dean’s Office. She supported the Sloan program through 1987. Barbara’s responsibilities continued to grow and in 1998 she was promoted again. She became a Faculty Services Officer responsible for video services, building services, classroom and course support, the mailroom, and faculty support. She saw the transition of tracking classroom usage and schedules using paper and pencil to the implementation of a computerized system (FileMaker Pro). As the school grew, so did the need to use our spaces more efficiently and Barbara shifted her focus to renovation projects, space management and moves.

In reviewing Barbara’s personnel file, there’s a quote from her say, “I have a great love for the school and take pride in the facilities. I strive to make the environment a place that faculty, staff and students want to be and spend time.” This statement personifies Barbara. Over the years, Barbara demonstrated tremendous efforts to ensure that the day-to-day details of facilities and support for teaching and research function smoothly. Many turn to Barbara because she has a reputation of “getting it done” and has the nickname of the “expediter.”

Barbara’s desire to take on challenges and her love of facilities has enabled her to focus her energies on managing numerous remodels of our space to accommodate our continually changing programmatic needs. Barbara was here to respond to the 1989 Loma Prieta 7.1 earthquake, and she knows our buildings inside and out. She’s won the Michael Spence Award in 2001 and again in 2011. Here’s a quote from the 2011 nomination: “Everyone knows that when we have a problem, Barb will take charge and save us…she personifies responsibility and dedication of integrity to self, to team, to department and to school.”

Barbara is truly dedicated to Stanford GSB; please join me in congratulating her on 50 years of service.

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