I am what
you may consider an atypical candidate at HBS; I am an art history major in pursuit
of an MBA, dedicated to a career path in the arts.
My fascination with art stems from an experience I had in high school. I attended a weekly seminar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, during which public school students from all over New York City would meet to discuss one or two works of art from the collection in depth. The conversation was moderated by a wonderful museum educator named Rika Burnham, who had a talent for allowing our personal stories to shape the narrative for the works we would delve into.
Art became my portal to everything: history, philosophy, science, far away cultures, and those closer to home. Through the works we studied, framed by our collective perspectives, I was able to explore all facets of the human experience.
Between college and HBS, I had an amazing opportunity to combine my interests in art and finance by working for an asset management firm where I helped to establish a group focused on financial services for the art community. We worked with museums, artist foundations, artists, collectors, and non-profits in the arts.
Our primary focus was managing the investment of their assets. That being said, we also had the opportunity to advise clients on how to best achieve their philanthropic goals. To this end we were able to guide artists on establishing foundations to preserve their artistic legacy, and collectors on their work as cultural philanthropists.
After three years in finance I was ready to come to HBS to build a more holistic skillset. At work, it is easy to fall into a given professional function, or limit your engagement to thinking only about the performance of your own team. The MBA curriculum forces you to think instead like a CEO and consider all components of what makes a business thrive – operations, the underlying financials, the importance of strong leadership – and gives you the skillset to address the unique challenges of each.
It’s striking how my experience in discussion group and in section reminds me of my time at the Metropolitan Museum as a teenager. At HBS, I am constantly learning from my classmates, who are eager to share their experiences across industries and from around the world.
My first year gave me the confidence to approach the art world from a different angle through my two summer experiences. Coming from a business development background, I had never thought about working on the operational side of a business. But my Technology and Operations Management (TOM) Class – taught by the amazing Feng Zhu – inspired me to pursue an internship with a start-up art storage and logistics company.
I applied my newfound knowledge on process flow to help senior staff redraft their procedures for receiving incoming property, among several other key operations. I worked to understand the existing process by shadowing and interviewing warehouse staff, and observed art being handled on the loading dock and throughout the facility. Once we had refined the procedure, making it more efficient and improving accountability, I helped to train the art handlers who would be following it day to day.
I spent the second half of the summer enjoying the sunshine in Los Angeles, where I assisted a major talent agency with the launch of a new art division. While consulting on the build out of a platform connecting visual artists to licensing and branding opportunities I was able to hone my strategy and marketing skills. I called upon lessons from the whole gamut of RC courses – TOM, Leadership & Organizational Behavior, Marketing, Strategy, and Finance – proving the academic experience to be invaluable upon re-entering the working world!
It wasn’t only time spent in the classroom that’s made my first year at HBS so special. I’ve been incredibly lucky at HBS to find a group of friends who share my passion for art by way of the Art Society, one of the student clubs at HBS. Over the course of our RC year we hosted exhibitions of artwork by our classmates, planned a number of events at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston and Museum of Fine Arts, and visited the private art collections of local HBS alumni.
We also took a trip to New York to see the Armory Show and visit artists’ studios, and hosted a community event called Slideluck that featured work by local artists and an en masse potluck dinner. We have many more events lined up for our second year: trips to Miami for Art Basel, to the Berkshires to visit Mass MoCA and the Clark Art Institute – and of course – events with the newly renovated Harvard Art Museum. All of these experiences have allowed me to make connections across the art community as I consider my next steps.
I am looking forward to returning to school for EC year with the confidence of having chosen an industry I am devoted to: the arts. I am excited to continue to mine the resources of classes, faculty, and alumni to build the skills and connections necessary for my career. I may not be on a typical MBA career track, but as Henri Matisse once said, “creativity takes courage!”
Art Society, a Student Club at Harvard Business School
This post was orginally published on the HBS MBA Voices Blog.