When Robert J. Haber, E79, EG80, sees a problem, he leads the search for solutions. As a young chemical engineer, Haber got a close look at the international oil crisis of the late 1970s and early ’80s. Now he strongly advocates for energy sustainability. To help spark discoveries, he and his wife, Marcy, pledged $2 million to establish the Robert and Marcy Haber Endowed Professorship in Energy Sustainability at Tufts University School of Engineering in 2007.
Realizing the need for more financial aid at Tufts, the Habers also endowed a scholarship fund. Robert Haber has served on the School of Engineering’s Board of Advisors since 2002 and is a member of the Tufts Alumni Council. He is also active with the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program.
A chartered financial analyst, Haber was chief investment officer of Fidelity Investments Canada for 12 years. Earlier in his career with Fidelity, he held the positions of analyst, portfolio manager, director of research, and head of equities. He is currently the CEO and CIO of Haber Trilix Advisors in Boston. He is also an owner of the Boston Celtics basketball team and a member of its board of directors.
Blueprint asked him to share his perspective on engineering, energy, and philanthropy.
Q: Why did you endow a professorship focused on energy sustainability?
A: If we can find effective substitutes for oil, especially in transportation, the world will be a better place. My wife and I chose to establish the professorship at Tufts because of my close affiliation with the university and because I imagined that whatever we did, if it worked, would contribute to a disruptive technology. I thought a small, innovative place like Tufts and the School of Engineering, with Dean Linda Abriola’s leadership, would be the place for groundbreaking work.
Q: Why is providing financial aid important to you?
A: The university needs a lot more endowment for scholarships. Schools that compete with Tufts can offer more aid to attract the best students. Sixty thousand dollars is a challenge for most families. You can’t do what I did, which was to work my way through college. Tuition wasn’t that much back then, so I could manage. Not now.
Q: You try to share a meal with each recipient of your endowed scholarship. Why is that important to you?
A: In so much of philanthropy, you don’t know the people it’s affecting on a daily basis. It’s fascinating when you can say, “Here’s the person whose life you changed.” The student who receives the scholarship writes to us, and when that letter comes, everyone in our family feels good about it. A few of the students have kept in touch, and it is interesting to hear that those I met as sophomores or juniors have now gone on to get really interesting jobs around the country.
Q: How do you stay connected to campus?
A: About 10 years ago, I started taking classes at Tufts every summer. It began when a Tufts buddy of mine said, “That’s very Kafkaesque,” and I said, “What does that mean?” I had heard of Kafka but didn’t really know much about him. The next summer I audited a course on existentialism. I’ve been taking classes I never had time for as a chemical engineering student: history, anthropology, sociology, Russian literature.
I also taught a course there four years ago, on the Federal Reserve. I’d like to do that again. I’m still as attached to Tufts as I could be. It’s still giving me lots of great experiences.
Q: What is most gratifying about your work with the Board of Advisors for the School of Engineering?
A: What’s gratifying is watching the School of Engineering become world-class under Linda’s tenure. I feel lucky to have been associated with that meteoric rise. You take any set of numbers you want and it’s unbelievable what’s going on at the school. It’s still in its ascendancy. The quality of the students who are now choosing Tufts Engineering is astounding. It’s been fun to be associated with that.
This interview first appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Blueprint. Read the full issue online here.