““I’m excited by the true camaraderie…among people who look nothing like me and have backgrounds completely different from my own.””

All her life, Kristen Jones has been singing. As an undergraduate at Harvard, she transitioned into arranging music and directing musical theater. “I enjoyed putting the pieces together,” Kristen says. “Directing went beyond just being on the stage.”

After graduation, Kristen applied her performance and direction skills to retail, first at Sears then at DrJays.com where she became the designated “women’s buyer.” “Most of the time,” Kristen says, “merchandisers become expert in one particular product, like handbags or dresses. My job was unusual, in that it was ‘head to toe’ – the complete woman. My choices had to be built around our audience, not the product category.”

While Kristen found retail interesting, she did not feel it was a lasting fit. “It’s hard to describe the feeling,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do more, but wasn’t sure how to put a name to it. To find out what I wanted to do and to find my strengths, an MBA felt like the right move.”

Cases in context

At first, Kristen did not consider HBS among her options because she believed she had already experienced Harvard as an undergraduate. “But when I visited,” she says, “I completely fell in love with the way they ran the classes. I loved the interaction, the conversations that took place. I wasn’t used to classes that large with conversations that intense. In any one case, you go through a range of topics and see multiple lines of thought develop.”

Now that she’s in the program, she brings a perspective informed by her years as a performer and director. “It has taught me a lot about presence, about how you’re perceived by an audience and about the big picture.” As a consequence, Kristen believes, “When I read a case, where others focus on the details, I get wrapped up in the actors, the story.” For an example, Kristen cites a case about an entrepreneur weighing the pros and cons of accepting a venture capital partner. “Most of the class looked at in terms of valuation, of what the deal would mean from an equity perspective. But I saw a guy who loves coding, loves his family – for him, going big and going public just wasn’t the right fit. I thought it was better for him to simply get bought out than to embrace a role that wasn’t right for him.”

Kristen’s ability to see the personal side of business decisions is manifested in her leadership role as president of her section. During her tenure, she has invited section mates to speak during lunch events, to talk about aspects of their backgrounds, careers, and even religious faiths that might be interesting to their section mates. “The case method is great at showing us how people think through business scenarios,” says Kristen. “But it can lack context. We need a space for people to talk about their experiences, a chance for us to get to know each other on a deeper level. The most amazing part of the HBS experience has been the incredible people I have gotten to know. I’m excited by the true camaraderie and family feeling in my section, among people who look nothing like me and have backgrounds completely different from my own.”