“You can always take charge, take responsibility, whatever your role.”

“I believe I was eight years when I was playing Monopoly with my grandmother, and she said I was made for business,” Niklas James suggests when asked when he first heard his vocational call. He followed up with undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics – in the Norwegian and London Schools of Economics, respectively – and a consulting role with Bain & Co. in Oslo. “I was one of the first employees in the Norway office,” says Niklas, “fourth in line, just after the two founders and the receptionist.”

HBS had long been a part of Niklas’ ambition. He had attended summer school at Harvard while in college, and says that “many of my choices were driven by a desire to go into a top MBA program.”

Balancing ambition and responsibility

HBS, Niklas believes, “instills a high level of ambition. People come here not sure what they want to do – it’s a place to discover and learn, where you’re encouraged to reach for something that has a meaningful impact. You come to realize that you can do more with your life and career than you had thought possible.”

“But at the same time,” says Niklas, “there’s a side that teaches leadership. Before I came to HBS, I thought of leadership not as something you are, but something you do. What I’ve learned here is that you can always take charge, take responsibility, whatever your role.”

Reflecting on the FIELD experience, Niklas is impressed by the care built into its design. “FIELD 1 is all about leadership intelligence: in business, it’s not just what you know, but how you act. In FIELD 2, you learn how to work in a globalized economy.” He expresses his greatest enthusiasm for FIELD 3, entrepreneurship. “Every team gets $3,000 to develop a business with a goal of generating revenue by the end of the semester.”

Although he tries not to boast, Niklas is clearly proud of his team’s FIELD 3 project, and aspects of his Monopoly charm come to the fore. “We’re building an international distribution business that looks for exclusive goods we can take out of their home markets and into the United States. Word’s out that we have the potential to make serious money…”