Columbia Business School Leaves its Mark
What does a Greek god have to do with business? The history behind the School’s trademark Hermes icon.
A few hours after he was born, the Greek god Hermes sneaked out of his cradle, invented the lyre using the shell of a tortoise, and secretly hid 50 of his older brother’s sacred cattle. He discovered how to light a fire, ritually sacrificed two of the cows, and crept back home before the day was over. When his enraged brother — none other than Apollo — heard Hermes play the lyre, he was so enchanted that he accepted the instrument from Hermes in exchange for the animals. And thus began trade and commerce.
1950s: Hermes Mark is Adopted
When the Hermes symbol was first adopted in the 1950s, Columbia Business School was under the leadership of Dean Courtney Brown and shifting its status from the trade school on campus to a graduate school. He selected the Hermes mark and registered the symbol with the US Patent and Trademark Office as the School’s official trademark. The Hermes mark was adopted as the School’s emblem because of the Greek god’s association with trade, commerce, and travel. According to Greek mythology, Hermes carried the caduceus staff, of which the School’s Hermes symbol is an abstracted version.
1960s: A Symbol Becomes an Icon
In the 1960s, the Hermes icon became firmly established as the emblem of the School. In 1961, the custom of presenting graduates with a lapel pin bearing the Hermes icon was instituted — a tradition that continues to this day. That same year the Hermes icon first appeared on the cover of the Business Cycle, the School yearbook, and in July of 1968 the inaugural issue of the Hermes Exchange, the School’s first alumni magazine, went to press. Brown also led the effort to establish the School’s first real home, and Uris Hall was dedicated in 1964. It housed a plaque displaying the Hermes mark with these words: “The sign of the Greek god Hermes was adopted because of the god’s association with trade, commerce, and travel. The Hermes symbol was incorporated into the trademarks of many mercantile guilds during the Renaissance, and it now serves as a fitting emblem of the Business School.”
1990s: Redesign Reflects New York Connection
The School didn’t significantly modify its visual identity again until the early 1990s, when Meyer Feldberg ’65, dean from 1989 to 2004, led a redesign initiative. An oval circle was introduced to the logo, fixing the size, shape, and style of the Hermes icon and reflecting the School’s connection to the global business center that is New York City.
2000s: A New Era
In the early 2000s, the School was again in the midst of a transformative period, even as business education itself evolved. The curriculum evolved to prepare MBA students for a lifetime career of leadership in the rapidly changing global business environment. Groundbreaking faculty research was made more accessible to business practitioners. To these ends, a modern interpretation of the Hermes icon was paired with a stronger and cleaner typeface to reflect the School’s identity in the early 21st century.
Today: 100 Years at the Very Center of Business
The logo adopted in the 2000s still represents the School today, but a new tagline — At the Very Center of Business — was added in 2013 to reflect the School’s cutting-edge education that combines expert knowledge with real-world experience in the heart of the global business world: New York City. The curriculum has consistently been updated to reflect the changing demands of business in the 21st century, and new offerings — like the Columbia Startup Lab and the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise — underline the School’s modern focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.
In introducing a Centennial visual identity in 2015 to celebrate Columbia Business School’s 100th anniversary, the School acknowledged its rich tradition of innovative business research and education while looking forward to continued success. Now more than ever, the School continues to influence industry and policy from its position as an Ivy League institution at the very center of business. Hermes himself would be proud.*
*Portions excerpted and adapted from a feature article that originally appeared in the summer 2007 issue of Hermes, the School’s alumni magazine (now Columbia Business). Read the full article.