28 May 2015

Harvard Business School MBA Class of 2015 Celebrates Class Day


BOSTON—Know yourself and continue to educate and improve yourself throughout your life. Those were the keys to long-term success that entrepreneur extraordinaire Scott Cook (MBA 1976), cofounder and now chairman of the executive committee of Intuit Inc. (think financial software products such as Quicken, QuickBooks, TurboTax, and Mint) gave to the 908 members of the MBA Class of 2015 at Class Day ceremonies held yesterday on sun-drenched Baker Lawn on the School’s campus in Boston. The festivities also included remarks by HBS Student Association co-presidents Linda Li and Nonso Maduka, an address by classmate Adeola Ogunwole, and the presentation of awards to six faculty members.

“It will be up to us as we reenter the world to show that the degree that we will earn tomorrow is much more than a piece of paper from a prestigious institution,” said Maduka. “It represents the growth, depth of learning, deep connections, and global perspective that we have established during our time here. We have spent the past two years challenging each other to be better every day; now it is up to us to put these lessons into action and make a positive impact in the communities that we will soon enter.”

Added Li, “Thankfully, we’ll have one another to keep ourselves accountable. Because we’re family now. Because the bonds that we’ve formed here will hold strong through distance and time and through the inevitable highs and lows. Because we have learned so much from each other already, and because we will only have more to learn as life goes on.”

Chosen as the Class Day student speaker through an audition process judged by her peers, Ogunwole confessed that she had originally been reluctant to apply to Harvard Business School. “As a woman of color and southerner and lesbian,” she said, “I had no concept of being a boardroom leader since there were so few role models who seemed to embody all of who I am.” But when a mentor (and HBS alum) challenged her to complete an application, she consented – and was accepted.

Much to her own surprise, what Ogunwole thought would be an “unconquerable divide” gave way before a learning model – the case method -- and campus culture that put a premium on varied perspectives and different opinions. From the day-to-day classroom experience to office hours with professors, from impromptu between-class conversations with other students to small group dinners, she said, HBS proved to be a place that enables people to feel comfortable “sharing their stories and struggles.”

Thus, Ogunwole’s two years at HBS had a transformational impact on her life. With her original misgivings very much behind her, she said she came to realize that “This is exactly where I needed to be. This experience, this push out of my comfort zone academically, this challenge of building a community with all these different people was a necessary discomfort to push me toward an incredibly rich life that I had not imagined.” Going forward, she concluded, “We must all continue the pursuit of understanding the unfamiliar.”

Cook’s words of wisdom and advice were based on his more than three decades of experience in leadership positions at Intuit, which he cofounded in 1983 after stints as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble and as a consultant at Bain & Company. Starting literally from scratch, Intuit today is a $4.5 billion company with over 8,000 employees and serving more than 50 million customers around the world.

Yet about nine years into his role as the company’s first CEO (a position he held for eleven years), Cook said that he realized that he didn’t have the skills he needed to keep the company growing. And so he paved the way for someone else to take his place and began to think very hard about the importance of continuous self-improvement and lifelong learning for himself and everyone else in the company.

In his speech, Cook shared three of his techniques:

Be proactive in seeking feedback on everything you do. Don’t wait for someone else to do it once a year. Admittedly, this is not an easy process, he explained, since “the natural instinct is to be defensive, but that stops the learning process.” The lessons that result are invaluable. For example, he said, about ten years ago, he gave a six-hour Powerpoint presentation to Intuit employees. When he later asked a number of them how they liked it, they replied that they had gained a lot more from another and much briefer presentation that included an experiential learning exercise. Cook said he took that lesson to heart in his future approach to management. Frequent feedback opportunities are now part of Intuit’s corporate culture.

Find a career coach – a boss, a coworker, a mentor, a professional -- someone who you know will tell you the truth. Years ago, for instance, Cook said he was bothered by the fact that he was the only person in the organization who didn’t have a performance review. He sought out a company coach and asked for a 360-degree review. By his own admission, the results were poor. “I had some bad habits that bothered people,” he said. “I went to colleagues and said, ‘This is what I’ve heard. I’m going to fix it. Please help me.’” As a result, Cook said he was able to improve his management methods and handle future challenges in a much more effective way.

Savor surprises -- something he learned from former HBS Dean Kim Clark. Intuit’s personal finance product, Quicken, served as a case in point. “Our research kept telling us that half our customers were using it in their businesses rather than at home. After several years, we finally visited with some of them and found—to our surprise--that they really were using the product to run the books of their small operations. Now, everyone will tell you that the only way to keep books in a business is with debits and credits. We had assumed that ourselves. But most people don’t know a debit from a credit and don’t want to learn. So we created QuickBooks, the first accounting software with no accounting in it. That business is now 50 percent of our business – all because we savored a surprise that I had resisted for years.”

Cook concluded by recalling the comments that one of his professors, Ben Shapiro, had made in his final lecture to members of the Class of 1976: “You are among the luckiest people on the planet by virtue of where you are graduating,” Shapiro observed. “You will have choices and options beyond most people’s dreams, and so you can choose what your life adds up to. You can choose the purpose of your work by the company you join. You can choose the values that you stand for by the organization that you join.” “I have never forgotten those words,” Cook said.

The faculty members recognized at Class Day for their excellence in teaching (by vote of the graduating class) were, in the first-year required curriculum, Professor Malcolm Baker in Finance and Assistant Professor Meg Rithmire in Business, Government and the International Economy. In the second-year elective curriculum, Professor Francesca Gino was honored for her course on Negotiation and Professor Tom Nicholas for his offering on The Coming of Managerial Capitalism.

In addition, Senior Lecturers Stephen Kaufman and Kristin Williams Mugford received special recognition for their pioneering efforts in leading the School’s first Bridges program, a capstone effort that aims to help graduating students make the transition from HBS to the next stage of their lives.


Jim Aisner

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.