Faculty’s Advice for MBA Graduates
Harvard Business School Faculty Members Offer Words of Wisdom for the Class of 2022
As HBS students prepare for Commencement, we asked faculty what advice they have for the soon-to-be graduates heading out to make a difference in the world.
11 May 2022  

As Harvard Business School students prepare for Commencement on Thursday, May 26, 2022, we asked HBS faculty what advice they have for the soon-to-be graduates heading out to make a difference in the world.

Senior Lecturer Jill Avery

Think about what is important to you and to those whom you care about. Use that input to develop a personal value proposition that drives you to craft a life filled with purpose and meaning. Be intentional about living your value proposition: Build competencies, grasp opportunities, and envelop yourself in relationships that empower you to deliver true value to your world and to the people who matter to you.

Google’s mantra, “Don’t be evil,” sets too low a bar for your value proposition. Be good, be kind, be generous, be a role model, be someone upon whom others depend, be a voice for those who are silenced. Use your life to inspire the next generation, to raise up those beneath you, to make a difference. Leave your legacy in the lives of the people who have been touched and moved by you. That will become your personal brand.

Associate Professor Aiyesha Dey

As you enter the next stage of your career, take the time to reflect on one of the more unique aspects of HBS that you have experienced—its community. No other business school (and I have been at several!) can boast of such strong-knit cohorts, support networks, shared experiences and values, and deep lifetime friendships. Not only has this helped you create many meaningful memories, but it has also undoubtedly carried you through times of crises. The pandemic has made us even more aware of the huge need for connections and closeness in the world. As future leaders, I urge you to take this experience at HBS and build exceptional communities of individuals who want to be and do their best, who feel immensely valued, and who rejoice in each other’s successes.

Senior Lecturer John Jong-Hyun Kim

Be open to unexpected encounters or forks in the road in your journey ahead—they may just lead you to a better destination. It’s easy to become single-mindedly focused on reaching a certain goal and overlook amazing opportunities that just happen to cross our path. Stay open-minded and curious. Like the advice I received when I was learning to drive, “Keep your eyes on the road but also look around you.”

Professor Deepak Malhotra

As has often been observed, you don’t get what you want, you get what you measure. This is certainly true when it comes to the pursuit of success, where what’s easiest to measure is wealth and achievement. Much harder to measure—but infinitely more valuable—are things like happiness, meaning, and a sense of having created value in the world. Unfortunately, and for reasons that are not hard to list, too many of our graduates are seen as highly “successful” by others, but don’t themselves feel so happy or fulfilled. The good news is you can do something about it.

Have the courage to reject what everyone else accepts. Chart your own path. If what you’re doing or chasing doesn’t make you happy, quit. It often takes more courage to quit than to persevere. Introspect. Experiment. Talk to different people about who you are and what you’re seeking. And be patient. Be willing to “waste” a few extra months or even years to find what you really want to do with your life. Those months and years seem very big now, but 20 or 30 years from now, they will look very small—and they will likely be the greatest investments you ever made. Don’t settle for less than happiness. And along the way, try to help as many people as you can.

Senior Lecturer Kym Lew Nelson

As my negotiation class has heard me say, this advice is true not only in negotiations but most importantly true in life:

  1. “If you don’t know where you are going, how do you know if you ever get there?” Know where you want to go, be purposeful and flexible. Take the paths that lead you to your goal.
  2. Be true to thyself. Know what is important you and how that relates to work, your family and friends, your neighborhood, organizations you work with, your life!
  3. Always be inquisitive. “If you don’t ask, you don’t know.” The only “dumb” question is the one NOT asked. Then turn your learnings into ACTION!
  4. Be the role model you want to have (or have had). Reach behind, be a great mentor, set true examples for your family, your coworkers, those coming behind you.
  5. Your reputation is yours to keep, grow, or lose! Value it!
  6. Differences create value—understand, embrace, and utilize differences. These differences will help create a bigger and better pie that everyone can share and enjoy together!

Professor Sophus Reinert

Enormous struggles awaited earlier generations of Harvard MBAs upon graduation. They faced the Great Depression, the Second World War, the fights for civil rights and against colonialism, the Cold War. But the struggle that lies ahead of you is perhaps greater and more momentous. Those generations carried with them certainties that helped them succeed, not least the certainty that business was a worthwhile endeavor, one that was improving lives (not only their own) and making the world a better place. Your struggle will be the struggle to find your own way without these certainties.

Imagine the future as an overgrown, unexplored forest. If you are able to find your way in these woods, others will follow you. And together your route will become a clear path that others can find and travel down. Making new paths is not easy, but it is now necessary. Most people do not have the resources or support to do so, but you have all proven that you have what it takes to beat a new path, to be a leader. I cannot tell you where the new path lies, or where precisely it goes, or how it turns and meanders. But I can give one last piece of advice. If the going is easy, you are headed the wrong way…

Assistant Professor Siko Sikochi

Congratulations on coming to the end of your current journey here at HBS. During your time here, you gained an added measure of competency in many areas. As I reflect on some of the things that I contributed to your learning, one item comes to mind. In our Financial Reporting and Control module on driving corporate performance, we studied the concept of variance analyses to explore ways to enhance operational efficiency by dissecting how actual performance deviated from planned performance. But please allow me to share some guidance I have received in my own work as a leader in a local outside organization: Sometimes what seems like the most efficient solution in the work that we do is not always the preferred solution, especially if it does not allow people to grow.

Thus, I extend a challenge to you that as you go out to pursue your careers: Strive not only to run effective organizations and solve problems but also to create environments that build up people to be the best they can be. Numbers, charts, and frameworks are not there to dictate but only to guide in your decision-making process. So even if it may seem less efficient to schedule meetings with colleagues or subordinates, always seek to determine whether such meetings (in all their varied forms) or other forms of meaningful interactions can have the potential to foster a culture of belonging and a sense of trust. These actions can allow people to grow and do their best work, and we all generally like to be where we can flourish.


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