Thursday, November 28, 2013

Harvard Business School: Advice from the Class of 1963

When Artie Buerk was elected Harvard Business School's lifetime secretary of the Class of 1963, the School's dean was convinced the blustery city of Seattle, Wash., was as foreign as Tokyo, Japan.

"I had to prove we had the U.S. Postal Service out there -- and the telephone," Buerk told BostInno, over an unsurprisingly lucid line.

Every quarter, Buerk has been compiling his classmates' whereabouts from his West Coast post, all while helping plan a reunion every five years, where the group's net worth, income and other shared statistics are rattled off to a room. With the Class's 50th reunion on the horizon, however, Buerk didn't want to focus on the same facts, choosing to ask about his peers' marriage, health, spirituality and happiness instead.

Eighty-five people responded, supplying anywhere from one to 11 answers -- answers Buerk would ultimately turn into If I Knew Then, a self-financed book complete with an accompanying website that features advice on careers, finance and life from the Harvard Business School Class of 1963 that alumni from around the world can now contribute to.

From the Class comes former Pennsylvania Senator Henry John Heinz III and William Connell, whose family has donated $ 20 million to the School over the last two decades. Fellow classmates also include the enterprising group behind Partners of '63, a pro bono enterprise established to try and improve public, K-12 education. Although now closed, alumni donated $ 4 million to the Public Education Leadership Program, as well as helped launch online charity platform DonorsChoose, which gives individuals the ability to donate directly to specific public school projects.

The Class's collective success makes the advice from If I Knew Then all the more relevant for today's MBA candidates.

"When we graduated in '63, the U.S. was a manufacturing economy," said Buerk, pointing to the emergence of General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Procter & Gamble. Because of that, globality wasn't a focus of Harvard Business School's. "The dean thinks some guy from Seattle is living in a foreign country," Buerk reiterated.

(If knew then, right?)

Buerk has watched his alma mater morph into a place bullish , however -- one where students are immersed in the "FIELD" overseas and graduates are swapping consulting and financing in for technology careers.

So, to avoid a generational rut, heed the Class of 1963 s advice:

Write Your Goals Down Buerk's ultimate piece of advice is to learn how to "set a goal and put it in writing." That goal should be measurable, time-stamped and specific. Although it sounds simple, having your goal written makes all the difference, according to Buerk.

Take an Entrepreneurial Go at Life As Norman Barnett noted, you should "choose work you enjoy and that serves as many people as possible." The goal isn't amassing wealth, but serving others -- and doing it well. "If you see yourself as an entrepreneur, start your company as soon as you possibly can," per Jim Collins's advice. Yet, if you lack the necessary business plan, go work for a company you admire and soak up all the knowledge it takes to launch your own. And once you do,"Have the discipline to limit work hours." John McCarter isn't kidding. After all

Strive for Work-Life Balance Understand that commitment to your work ambitions has to be balanced with commitment to your family, even if achievements in business may, at times, suffer. In the long run, you can reach your goals without sacrificing your family life.

Remember Marriage Isn't for Everyone And Neither is Giving a Trust Fund to Your Children Dick Resch admitted his "one big mistake" in life has been providing a trust fund for his five children. He added, "Providing additional funds so they could have a lifestyle beyond what they have achieved on their own was a mistake." Charley Ellis would agree. His advice is to be "moderate" in "helping" your children, because if you give them too much, you will be doing them harm.

"Happy Wife, Happy Life" Henry Thomas was very brief and to the point on that one. Or, you can just follow this Anonymous tipster's advice: "For a successful marriage, don't eat crackers in bed."

Debt Sucks Richard Peterson aptly pointed that out, reminding people good timing and luck contribute to the success of one's business just as much as skill. His advice is to "stay humble, patient and persistent," because, over time, "timing and luck tend to even out." Plus, as Scott Spangler pointed out, money cannot buy happiness or respect. But, as someone who has been poor and rich, "It is a lot easier to be rich."

You're Going to Die As Ron Leslie reminds us all: "Humans needs to be doing meaningful work. At any age. Or they die." And he's not alone in his thinking. An anonymous contributor reiterated, "Have fun. You'll be dead a long time."

Leave the World Better Than When You Arrived Featured Images via Harvard University Archives
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