Kurt White
Kurt White
Home Region

Tahlequah, OK

Undergrad Education

United States Military Academy

Previous Experience

US Army

HBS Activities

HBS Armed Forces Alumni Association, president of Armed Forces Association at HLS

“Other institutions can’t replicate the quality of people and thought here.”

With a degree in civil engineering, Kurt White had imagined a post-Army life in which he “designed skyscrapers and stadiums – large civil projects.” But after two tours in Iraq, “I found it amazingly rewarding to lead soldiers every day. I loved what I did as a platoon leader and company commander.” If he continued to advance in the military, however, “I’d never work with soldiers face-to-face again.”

As he considered options that would allow him “to lead people I could mentor and train,” a business career looked appealing. Then one night he got a call from a good friend who had led a fellow platoon in Iraq. “He was in his second year of law school and he said, ‘I know how you think. You would love law school.’ Law would help me understand the rules of the game. Business school would help make the switch from the military to a career in which I had no previous experience.”

Styles of effective leadership

Attracted by Harvard’s “brand cachet,” Kurt visited a class on campus. “The classroom experience is so much richer that what you could learn on your own,” he says. “I was impressed, and have been increasingly impressed, by the level of students. Other institutions can’t replicate the quality of people and thought here.”

Two years in, the experience has already proved transformative. “In the military, I operated in an environment where I was expected to make the calls all the time,” Kurt says. “That seemed to be the only feasible way for responsible leadership to work. But being at Harvard, I’ve learned to be much more collaborative. It was a challenge at first, but I’ve come to appreciate the value of gathering input from other intelligent people. You can achieve better outcomes when you’re willing to be collaborative.”

Another surprise: “The outpouring of support for veterans was not what I expected. Veterans are incredibly well treated at both schools. Even people who are opposed to the politics behind the [Iraq] war are incredibly supportive.”

Books, comic and .com

In his first summer break, Kurt made two major moves. One was to marry his fianceé, Christina, whom he had met while he was a cadet at West Point and she a cadet at the Air Force Academy. The other was to trade three years of Inactive Ready Reserve for eighteen months in the National Guard.

Last summer, Kurt assumed a business role as a consultant for a family-owned retail comic books and collectibles business in Canada. “They were losing money and looking for someone to help them save the business. I had to recommend that they shut down. It wasn’t the outcome they were looking for, but I saved them a lot of wasted time and heartbreak.”

For his next internship, Kurt will take an operations role in Amazon.com’s largest distribution center, in Kentucky. “I’m really excited to have a team again,” he says. Under his leadership, they will assume responsibility for a portion of the facility. “We’re going to analyze it and make it more efficient. Can we do better than the way they’re currently running things?” Kurt hopes that the operations role will serve as a transition to his postgraduate ambitions to be “a general manager and ultimately a leader of a company.”