From Homeless To Harvard Business School

Philip Blackett. Courtesy photo

Philip Blackett. Courtesy photo

For Philip Blackett, who will be graduating from Harvard Business School next year with an MBA, Thanksgiving 2010 could not have been much worse.

After a year and a half, his real estate startup had just tanked. He’d sunk all his savings into the failed venture, so he couldn’t afford a plane ticket home to see family in Memphis. The then-26-year-old sat alone in his Jersey City condo feasting on hot dogs and a cheese Danish pastry from a nearby convenience store.

“I couldn’t even afford the buns,” Blackett, now 31, recalls of the hot dogs.

To make matters much worse, more than 1,000 miles away in Memphis, the most influential person in his life—his grandmother—was in the late rounds of a battle with pancreatic cancer. Instead of spending the holiday with her and other family members, Blackett sat alone in fear his water or electricity was about to be turned off because he was behind on the bills.

“There was nothing I could do to get home,” Blackett remembers. “I was 26 years old and I couldn’t afford a flight home to see my grandmother on what ended up being her last Thanksgiving.”


Months later, and after his grandmother’s passing, Blackett was still failing to make ends meet. He had to skip or delay paying bills for “more important purchases.” You know, like food. Or, the occasional “splurge.”

“When people talk about splurging, you know, spending a ton of money on themselves or ‘treating themselves,’ I was at a point where treating myself was walking a mile and a half to Subway and getting a foot-long buffalo chicken sub,” Blackett says, now able to laugh about it. “And by the time I got back home, I was starting to get hungry again.”

Other ‘splurges’ included a two-mile walk to IHOP.  “I’d go to their all-you-can-eat pancake buffet,” explains Blackett. “I’d try to eat as many pancakes as possible because I knew they wouldn’t let me take home any pancakes, and I knew that was it for the day. And so I’d try to stomach seven or eight pancakes because by the time I got back it would hold me over for a few hours and then I’d get hungry again.”

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.