On Veterans Day, we take a moment to honor the courageous individuals who have served in the armed forces. Today, we hear from Rex Willis (MBA 2024), an active-duty officer in the US Navy and an MBA student at HBS. Join us as we explore this unique journey and celebrate the valuable contributions of veterans.

This post was prepared in collaboration with the Armed Forces Alumni Association (AFAA).

Growing up, like many other children, I aspired to pursue careers in professions such as medicine, law, and engineering. However, when I joined Junior ROTC in high school, I experienced an unexpected shift in my career interests. In the program, I resonated the most with the emphasis on discipline, professionalism, and teamwork that the program sought to instill in its cadets. Moreover, it challenged me to become better by entrusting me with leadership roles and the ability to make important decisions that affected the unit. I knew I wanted a career that embodied these characteristics, which ultimately led to me attending the United States Naval Academy and commissioning as a Naval Officer.

After graduation, I entered the Surface Warfare community because I wanted to make an immediate impact in defending our country. And I was able to do just that by driving a billion-dollar warship in contested waters and communicating with our allies to protect the nation’s interests. Even though I appreciated the responsibility, I found the opportunity to lead, motivating sailors, far more rewarding. Although physical assets such as ships and planes are vital, I quickly recognized that humans are the most important asset that the military has. Because of that, I dedicated a tremendous amount of time to their professional and personal development and empowered them to become leaders in their own rights. I relied heavily on servant leadership by putting my team first, realizing success would naturally follow once their needs were met.

My desire to serve others originated from my mother’s passion for helping others who are unable to help themselves. She started a non-profit, Favor House, to serve underprivileged families, particularly youth, in low-income communities. I intend on carrying that torch forward by providing underserved communities, especially those of color, with opportunities to actualize their dreams via scholarship and mentorship programs.

Attending Harvard Business School as an active-duty service member has been an immensely enriching experience, blending my military background with a dynamic academic environment. The school's emphasis on leadership and diverse perspectives has allowed me to leverage my military skills while gaining invaluable insights from classmates with varied professional backgrounds. The collaborative and inclusive nature of the HBS community has been instrumental in expanding my worldview and honing my ability to serve with impact. Harvard Business School has not only equipped me with a robust business education but has also served as an incubator for personal and professional growth, reaffirming the belief that diverse experiences are a cornerstone of effective leadership.

Upon graduation, I will continue serving my country onboard a ship. I look forward to applying the lessons that I learned at HBS to be a more effective leader and make a lasting impact on the Navy.