I made the decision to apply to Harvard Business School because I wanted to learn how to use business as a tool to create prosperity for the millions of people striving to eke out a living on my beloved continent of Africa. And so far, HBS has not disappointed.
Sixteen years ago I escaped Nigeria. I intentionally use the word escape because Nigeria, to me, was like a prison – an emotional, psychological, physical, and intellectual prison. Consider this, I always felt like I was one mistake away from a whooping from my teachers; as I got older and more aware, I increasingly felt less safe when I went out at night; and I failed the entrance exam to university twice because I had little to no desire to gain admission to a university where a four-year degree could easily take six years due to teacher strikes.
Growing up in those circumstances limited what I thought I could achieve in this world. Then I met Harvard Business School. Today I want to talk about how the institution has changed my life in three tangible ways.
1. Confidence – While at HBS, I went through hundreds of case studies where I had to put myself in the situation of a manager, executive, or CEO. I debated issues with section mates who became truly amazing friends (something I will discuss later). Sometimes we agreed; other times we disagreed; but one thing was clear: we were building what I call our “confidence muscle”.
Over our two years at HBS we put ourselves in the position of decision-maker so many times that today, I am confident that many of my classmates and I, if given the opportunity, will successfully run companies and, perhaps someday, countries. This does not mean we would not make mistakes, but it means that we have developed the confidence to not shy away from positions where we know that many people’s lives depend on our decision. And as I learn about people who have changed our world, few have done it from positions of fear or anxiety. Confidence and courage are necessary.
2. Voice – Over the past year, I have spoken to hundreds of people about the research I am conducting with HBS Professor Clayton Christensen on how disruptive innovation is the causal mechanism behind growth and prosperity of nations. Without HBS, I would not have been able to develop the voice to speak at an event alongside fellow HBS alumnus and Global CEO of Boston Consulting Group, Richard Lesser. On August 13th, a group of Harvard students and I went to Uganda and Rwanda where I spoke with the presidents of both countries about our research and the implications for their countries and the continent as a whole.
In addition to confidence, HBS has given me a voice and a platform to convey our message of disruptive innovation and prosperity. HBS, I have learned, does not leave you hanging. And as I gain exposure in this space, the school continues to support me by providing loan repayment support so that I can do the work that aligns me more and more closely with its mission – to develop leaders who make a difference in the world.
3. Friendships – In May 2016 we had our first year reunion. I was a bit anxious because I had not followed up with my section mates the way I had planned to. But somehow, as I began to see both section mates and classmates on campus, I realized we share an unshakable bond that time apart had not weakened, but strengthened. It was during that reunion that I knew I had made friends for life; it was during that reunion I knew that I could call on any of these folks for help and they would help me; it was during that reunion that I understood the depth of the friendships I made at HBS. And truly, it was a beautiful thing to experience.
I had my misconceptions about HBS before I applied. In fact, I almost didn’t apply. Today, I am forever grateful for the class visit I made to Professor Anita Elberse’s Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries class. What I experienced on that visit compelled me to apply to HBS and my life has never been the same. As I continue my journey through this multiple-round problem solving exercise called life, I know that I have found perhaps the greatest support in HBS.