Home Region

Swoope, VA

Undergrad Education

James Madison University, Political Science/Government, 2011

Previous Experience

U.S. Army

“HBS really respects leadership experience.”

When Erin Kaivan was in the fifth grade, she made three outspoken promises to the world: that she would become an actress, she would reach six feet in height, and that she would go to Harvard.

Of the three predictions, one came close to realization (Erin is 5' 11''), one was forgotten (she became a soldier, not an actress), and one leads to where she is now, at HBS.

"My family has a legacy of military service that goes back at least 150 years," Erin says. "Serving, giving back to community and country, always spoke to me." In her seven years in the Army, Erin became a military intelligence officer, serving two tours in Afghanistan culminating in a captain's rank as a Company Commander with responsibility for nearly 120 men and women in the 101st Airborne Division.

On her first tour, she witnessed something that altered the trajectory of her leadership. "We were on a convoy when we came up behind a 'jingle truck' – a large, overstuffed truck with decorations everywhere. There were boards on the sides to hold more stuff, but still, the truck was overpacked. The men and their sons sat inside the cab. Women and their daughters outside, on top of the pile. I was just blown away by the poverty, by the sheer lack of opportunity women had."

Erin decided "to touch more of the world" and that business would be the way to do it. "It's the great equalizer," she says. "I believe business can be transformative. Not only does it add to the security of a community, but helps individual people lift themselves out of poverty."

A time of transitions

Confident that an MBA would help her shift from the military to a business career, Erin applied to HBS. This was not only the fulfillment of a long-standing ambition, but a practical move for an officer transitioning to civilian leadership. "HBS, more than other business schools, really values general management and respects leadership experience," Erin notes. "It's a way to open doors to new opportunities."

Meanwhile, someone new entered her life. Erin spent most of her first semester pregnant; in December, she gave birth to a daughter, Odette, who lives with Erin and Erin's mother in Cambridge. Erin's husband, Alex, an Army officer, is currently serving in Afghanistan.

"Hands down, the best thing about HBS is the people I'm surrounded with every day," says Erin. "My section is filled with the warmest, most supportive community of people. When I was pregnant and needed help with things that were unfamiliar to me, like finance and accounting, everyone was so generous with their time. Outside the classroom, all 90 of my section mates came to my baby shower. They all wanted me to feel as included as possible – my daughter has 90 new aunts and uncles!"

Erin is still considering her long-term ambitions, but for the summer, she's enthusiastic about joining BCG in Washington, DC. "The beautiful thing about consulting is that it lets you sample many different industries," Erin says. "I'm planning on using the time to find out what I really love. All of my doors are open, and none are closed!"

She concludes with "advice to others: stay thankful! I couldn't get where I am without the most influential people in my life. It's important to demonstrate gratitude, in words and actions, every day."