Out of what Creighton Taylor describes as a “turbulent childhood,” he emerged as a self-taught jazz pianist and as a person with dual interests in creativity and practical analysis. “When I was young,” Creighton says, “I learned to adapt to a lot of different environments. I think that’s what drew me to business, because as a business person you need to adapt to new environments quite a bit.”
Even as he majored in music in college, he nurtured his interest in numbers. After graduation, he spent three years in a variety of sales and marketing roles within middle market investment firms. “My assignments married the quantitative parts of investing with the creative aspects of sale and marketing: how to do you make various pitches to engineers versus artists versus lawyers?”
Creighton eventually became a Chartered Financial Analyst, “but I’m ambitious. I wanted to learn more about general management and how business works all around the world.” Driven by his curiosity, he decided to pursue an MBA.
International business, “Gangnam style”
For a global perspective, Creighton realized, “HBS is the best: forty percent of the student body is international.” He also wanted to complement his investment background with “qualitative skills, learning different ways of doing things. The case method is good at showing you there’s ninety-three ways to successfully run the foundations of a business.”
All the virtues of HBS’s approach and Creighton’s talents crystallized in his FIELD 2 experience in Accra, Ghana. There, Creighton’s team worked with the country’s largest entertainment company, Multimedia, to develop a mobile app for its media site. “I was both new to the industry and new to the continent,” Creighton says.
The initial idea was to create a “one-stop shop” for Accra news, weather, politics, and traffic. But one-on-one interviews dramatically changed their approach. “People don’t care about weather or traffic,” says Creighton. “The weather is always hot and humid; the traffic is always bad.” But Facebook proved exceptionally popular. “We found that in a list of features, the number one favorite was getting updates on what their friends and family were looking at.”
Based on these insights, Creighton’s team recommended a news application that had a strong social media component to it. For Creighton, the experience opened up other insights as well. A visit to a market proved “enlightening – I had never been to a market where people really vie for your attention, where there’s truly hard bargaining.” On a trip to a rural village a couple of hours outside Accra, Creighton saw what it meant for a small community of fifty to eighty people “to live off the land, raise their own cattle.” The villagers welcomed the HBS team with a ceremony and gifts: necklaces, ceramic pots, and “our own African names.” When it was time to leave and the bus failed to start, Creighton used the down time to give the village a gift of his own. “I taught the children the Macarena, the chicken dance, and how to dance Gangnam style.”
Summarizing the dynamic of HBS, Creighton says of its social life, “It’s the best of both worlds: HBS’s scale has the range that helps you find people who have experience in any area important to you. Yet there’s the intimacy of close friends.”