Wise advice from old MBAs at Harvard

When the Harvard Business School Class of 1963 had their 50th reunion a few years back, they put together a book of advice and reflections based on a class survey.

After fifty years in the world of work, what advice did they have to pass on?  And is it meaningful to us, here in 2021? Read on and let me know your response…

Pick the right work

“In hindsight, I realize the lack of real opportunity in my early career was not due to any mistakes I made or to company politics. It was because the opportunities in a declining industry are so constrained, especially compared to an industry that is growing rapidly. With declining growth, companies and their executives become defensive. They do not take risks, and they focus on preserving the status quo.”

“Steps to find fulfilling work: Take the initiative to investigate the places you think are of interest. Ask good questions.”

The constant of American business is change – it’s not a new thing

“Keep reinventing yourself through self-education, because industries change quickly.”

“Heed your life’s calling — that inner urge to give your gifts away.” This requires being clear about your gifts, values, and passions, and using them as a compass to find your career path. It is an “inside-out” process.

“Success in business relies a lot on making sure your colleagues or employees share a good part of any success you may have. The mistake is to believe that you are more important than anyone else in the business.”

Watch outs

“Debt sucks.”

“One of the best things that can happen is to get fired. It forces change and if managed correctly, can result in improvement.”

“It’s a mistake to stick too long — for whatever seem good or necessary reasons — in trying to make an effort successful when there are clear signs it isn’t really viable.”

“Mistakes I’ve made:




Lack of an ethical compass“

“My one big mistake in life has been providing a trust fund for my five children. I’m very comfortable paying for an education for as long as they want to study in a reputable university. However, providing additional funds so they could have a lifestyle beyond what they have achieved on their own was a mistake.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

“In November 1957, I was unable to continue school because of the Asian flu.”

(The 1957-1958 pandemic killed 1 – 4mm people worldwide)

“A big turning point was, of course, attending the Harvard Business School. Next was being hired by McKinsey as their “experiment” (first female consultant).”

“I would have been a better leader if I had been less cocky in my early career and more confident in my middle career.” 

Life advice

“Have fun. You’ll be dead a long time.”

“I would worry less about trying to please other people.”

“I would advise anyone with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism to be wary about using this recreational drug. While treated as almost a social requirement in some settings, it is nothing less than toxic for anyone with this weakness. Having been sober for almost 20 years, I can attest to the freedom and joy that overcoming this illness can provide.”

“You will have the most enjoyment working with people who are smart, of high integrity, and committed to achieving something substantial.”

“My obituary will probably include a host of awards, high positions, and achievements, — and I’m proud of them. But there is a certain joy that surpasses all understanding. I would like to have found that.”

“Be kind. Soon we’ll all be dead.”

There’s much much more on the dedicated site.

But I hope this brief walk through wise advice from old MBAs gives you something important to think about on the beach this hazy August.