Madison McIlwain
Home Region

Seattle, WA

Undergrad Education

Dartmouth College

Previous Experience

The Room Podcast; Defy Partners; The Gap, Inc.; Rent The Runway Inc.

HBS Activities

Speakers Team for Retail Luxury Goods Club, Founding partner for the Class of 2025 Fund

“Section C has made me a more empathic leader and friend.”

Coming to HBS is like...

Skiing down a double black diamond. You may have trained your whole life for the run, but somehow it is still more exhilarating, challenging, and rewarding than you thought possible.

What is your most memorable classroom moment?

My Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA) professor wrote the original cases on Enron before the company had been convicted of fraud. As he looked back at the work he did, he reflected on the power of combining data with instinct to trust your own intelligence and pattern matching. Even if you don't feel like the “the smartest person in the room,” you very well may have the right instinct. Developing a “gut” on investment decisions has been one of the most elusive metrics for my career. I've felt varying degrees of insecurity about it—specifically as a young woman in venture capital. My professor's authenticity highlighted the power of self-conviction in my own career and personal life.

What is one thing you brought with you to campus, and one thing you'll be leaving with?

A tea pot.

A deeper sense of my inner compass on ethics, business decisions, and personal values.

How have diverse perspectives in your section contributed to your understanding of business concepts, leadership, and/or problem solving?

The kaleidoscope of experiences within my section has challenged me to ask “Why?” more. In cases where the protagonist is faced with a gray area on a business or ethical dilemma, my section mates have shown me there are a multitude of ways to solve a problem. What appears to be the “right” answer to them is often a refraction of light related to a lived experience different than my own. Their comments combine to create full-color picture. Section C has made me a more empathic leader and friend.

If you could give one piece of advice to prospective students, what would it be?

Keep a journal of your thoughts and actions amidst complex work dynamics. You may want to look back at those vignettes through the lens of the new frameworks you're learning at HBS! At the very least, they could provide good application anecdotes!