“The river that forgets its source runs dry.”

As a high school student in Ghana, Emmanuel Mensah knew that he wanted to be a physician. Yet even as he proceeded with his pre-med program at Dartmouth, he knew that he wanted to do more – and that to do more, he would have to learn more. “In Ghana, I saw so many inefficiencies in the health care system,” Emmanuel says. “To really solve problems there, I needed more tools than a traditional physician has. I would have to be able to solve problems from multiple perspectives.”

In the quest for larger “basket of tools,” Emmanuel spent the summer of his junior year at Goldman Sachs in New York where he appreciated the firm’s “skill at managing execution, its ability to lay out clear goals for its clients.” Recognizing the value of a business approach to challenges, Emmanuel applied to HBS just as he was about to enter Harvard Medical School.

Lessons from mother become lessons for entire section

HBS’ initial appeal came from its general management approach, an opportunity, Emmanuel says, “to become exposed to different industries and businesses, to absorb new approaches to problems.” Among so many colleagues with rich and diverse backgrounds, he has found HBS humbling. “If you come here acting like you know everything, you’ll embarrass yourself,” he laughs.

But along with his gifts of experience and intelligence, Emmanuel has brought something else to his classes that his section mates deeply appreciate: a trove of his mother’s proverbs. Regarding humility for example, Emmanuel’s mother used to say, “Even the king of cockroaches can be eaten by the chicken.” The important thing at HBS, Emmanuel believes, is not to insist on one’s own expertise, but to listen to the wide range of insights that emerge through the case study method. “There’s no single answer. Sometimes people throw a ball from a space you never expect.”

Returning to the source

The unexpected is one of the things Emmanuel regularly anticipates from HBS. For FIELD 2, Emmanuel found himself in South Africa helping LexisNexis navigate the transition from traditional print to digital publishing. In FIELD 3, he and his colleagues are exploring the business potential of customizable baseball caps with interchangeable Velcro-backed messages. Recently, in his entrepreneurship class, the professor startled the section with a question many people would not immediately link to start-up success: “How do you make people feel about themselves when they’re around you? For me, going into health care, that’s very important,” says Emmanuel. “That’s the thing about HBS. It goes beyond academics; it’s lessons for the rest of your life.”

For Emmanuel, who is using his summer internship this year to acquire consulting experience with McKinsey in Boston, the long-term ambition is to return to Ghana. “The river that forgets its source,” Emmanuel says, “runs dry.” Back home and along the way there, Emmanuel anticipates numerous challenges, but he will face them using the lessons learnt during his time at HBS.