He went to Kansas University for an undergraduate degree in business, graduating in 2003. He went to work for Cerner Corp., an information technology provider to the health care industry. He quickly raced through four promotions that moved him from offices in Kansas City to Chicago to Denver and finally to Boston as a “business development program manager.”
When he applied to Harvard’s MBA program, he wrote in one of his application essays that “I established a belief…that the path to success is only realized by accepting the responsibility to lead, by utilizing an unyielding initiative to achieve, and by daring to take on any challenge that arises with reckless abandon.”
ASSIGNED TO HARVARD’S SECTION C, HE THRIVED IN AND OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
Bihlmaier enrolled in Harvard’s MBA program in the fall of 2010 and was assigned to section C. He was a joiner, becoming a member of his section’s leadership team in charge of alumni relations and a member of several school clubs, including those on health care, entrepreneurship and sales. He had fallen in love with Nancy Ho, a woman he met before business school, and married her after his first semester at Harvard, on Jan. 8 of 2011.
“He cared deeply about his wife and family and that was apparent both publicly and privately,” says Andrew Rosenthal, a classmate and friend who also was in Section C with him. “When his wife visited class, he always found a way to introduce her and bring her into the discussion. You could have a conversation with him and he would follow up with an email. He’d say something like, “based on our conversation yesterday, here are some thoughts I had or here is an article you might be interested in.’ He was just so deeply caring.”
Bihlmaier did his summer internship last year with the Office of the National Coordination for Health IT in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Well before graduation, he landed a job with Optum, an information, and technology-enabled health services company, in charge of client partnerships and business development in the Northeast region.
A FRIEND RECALLS A LUNCH AND LEFT THINKING ‘HE WAS LIVING OUT THE DREAM’
McIntosh, president of Nate’s Section C, had lunch with Bihlmaier in April just as classes were ending. “He had just started his job in the past week,” recalled McIntosh. “He was excited to be a father, and he was extremely passionate about health care. He was living out the dream.”
Most of the conversation over lunch in Harvard’s Spangler Hall involved Bihlmaier’s role as alumni chair of Section C. “We talked about interviewing classmates and putting together blogs so everyone could stay in touch through the summer months,” says McIntosh. “He was organizing events and making sure people were getting together. He was all about having people united. He lived that every day.”
At today’s Class Day ceremonies, fellow students and faculty wore red pins with Bihlmaier’s initials and black arm bands. Speaker Sheryl Sandberg, an HBS alumna and chief operating officer of Facebook, acknowledged the tragedy. “I join all of you in grieving for your classmate Nate,” she said. “I know there are no words that make something like this better.”
And when MBA Program Chair Youngme Moon addressed the gathered students, she told them that “this is a week in which so many of us have been inspired by a student we will never forget.”
A scholarship will be established in Bihlmaier’s name, and in a poignant moment, his family will accept his MBA diploma on Thursday.
“Graduation is going to be bittersweet,” said McIntosh, who is returning to his pre-MBA employer General Mills. “It will be a time of mourning and a time of celebration. Nate won’t be there physically, but we will be carrying him with us spiritually and emotionally. It is going to be a challenge.”