“I spend most days either reading academic articles or writing them myself. Going to seminars and critiquing each others' work is also a big part of what I and other students do.”
I was born in the greater Baltimore area and spent my entire childhood in the same house. We lived in a fairly rural area— lots of farms…10 miles to the grocery store— so my parents sent me to a school in Baltimore called St. Paul’s. I went to college at Stanford and then did a master’s at the MIT Media Lab.
I grew up as an engineer and was always fairly suspicious about business/manager types. But in a startup, everyone needs to do a little bit of everything, including project management, talking to customers, keeping track of budgets, etc. I soon realized how little I knew, and that I might benefit from an MBA.
Then I joined a six-person speech recognition software startup in Cambridge, MA. I was there for four years and then started an MBA at HBS, but quit after the first year to move back to Silicon Valley and join another startup (this was 1999). I came back and finished my MBA in 2005.
My Research Interests
My research explores how institutional factors, including the enforcement of intellectual property rights, influence innovation and entrepreneurship. I have established several implications of employee non-compete agreements, which discourage individuals from changing jobs or joining small companies and may contribute to a regional “brain drain” of talent.
At the first startup, I was asked to sign a non-compete agreement, in which I (naively) pledged not to work for a competitor for two years. At the time I didn’t give it a second thought, but it ended up substantially limiting my career mobility. When I moved to the CA startup, I discovered to my amazement that the state doesn’t recognize non-competes and that workers enjoyed much more flexibility. I wondered whether there was more to this…whether patterns of labor mobility might be influenced by the use of non-competes. That’s what I came to the HBS to study.
The TOM Program
I was lucky to start working with Professor Lee Fleming early on who helped me to understand that this program was not just about writing case studies, but rather about being able to establish findings scientifically and using large-sample datasets. I spend most days either reading academic articles or writing them myself. Going to seminars and critiquing each others’ work is also a big part of what I and other students do.
The HBS Difference
As compared with students I knew at other schools, the support for HBS doctoral students is unbelievable. Not just in terms of financial support, but also the Doctoral Programs office keeping track (literally!) of every student and what we need to stay focused.
I’m joining the MIT Sloan School of Management as an assistant professor.
Advice for prospective students
For those who have spent time in the business world, take a day and write down everything you can think of about your experience—especially things that puzzled you. Great research questions come from puzzles in the world or “anomalies” that can’t be easily explained through the lens of academic theory. Even if you’re coming straight from college, stay connected to what’s happening in industry—it’s easy to get caught up exclusively in the academic literature—so that the things you choose to work on maintain relevance and impact on the world outside. You’re going to end up spending hundreds if not thousands of hours working on your research topic(s), so make sure it’s something you find interesting and compelling!