From Homeless To Harvard Business School

THE PATH TO THE HARVARD MBA

And he set himself up for it. After a summer internship on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs, Blackett graduated towards the top of his class and in 2007 took a full-time offer with Goldman Sachs in equity research. His path seemed destined to Harvard Business School. Work on Wall Street for five or so years, apply, and he’d be good-to-go. Then, the Great Recession hit.

Blackett remembers the TVs at work being turned to national news constantly and watching on screen the very world his livelihood was built around falling apart. “Banks were doing the best to adjust to what was going on. And one of the ways they were adjusting was right-sizing their labor force,” Blackett says.

One-by-one, he watched friends and colleagues get laid off or leave the industry—seeing the writing on the wall. “After two years, I got the tap on the shoulder and the ‘thank you for your service, Philip, but we won’t be needing you for a third year,’” he recalls.

‘I REALIZED I DIDN’T WANT TO DO FINANCE ANYMORE’

For a hard working, passionate and emotionally sensitive child, who had pretty much always succeeded in his life, his mother’s biggest concern for him was what would happen the first time he faced his own major failure. She watched Blackett take a bad grade or a basketball loss very hard and very personally.

Blackett was devastated, but he also knew he couldn’t spend much time filling sorry for himself. So he kept commuting from his home in New Jersey to New York City to look for jobs. Blackett remembers going to a finance-specific career fair in New York City and leaving after 10 minutes. “I realized I didn’t want to do finance anymore. And that was a scary realization.”

The pivot led to real estate and entrepreneurship. It was 2009 and in a tough economy, Blackett was inspired by the successes of business people like Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson. “I wanted to steer the ship, make the decisions, and be the CEO and boss,” Blackett says with growing enthusiasm. “I wanted to be the next Zuckerberg and say things like ‘we’re going public next year!’ And it ended the exact opposite.”

‘I’D TELL THEM, YEAH, I’VE GOT IT. BUT THEN I FELL FLAT ON MY FACE’

The reason? First, Blackett had never done real estate before. “It was a one-man shop,” Blackett says of his residential real estate venture. “I didn’t know much about real estate besides what I had learned from ordering books off Amazon and maybe watching flipping real estate shows on Sunday morning television.”

Blackett’s second short-coming? He didn’t own a car. “In real estate, it helps to be able to visit properties,” Blackett says, again, able to laugh at himself and the situation. Instead, he relied on public transportation and it wasn’t enough. He wasn’t quick enough and he couldn’t compete with large and well-established firms. “People would look at me with a slanted eye and say, ‘Philip are you sure you actually want to do this?’ And I’d tell them, yeah, I’ve got it. But then I fell flat on my face. It was a huge failure to me.”

FROM BAD TO WORSE

And that’s how Blackett ended up alone, unable to afford a plane ticket home for Thanksgiving in 2010. After his grandmother passed in January of 2011, Blackett had to ask family to pay for his flight to her funeral. After spending time at home, his family and friends picked up on the fact that Blackett wasn’t his normal self.

“It was a feeling of being a loser or the laughing stock of the family,” he recalls of the time. “I remember having to choose which bills to pay off the money I had left. The only thing that would make me feel like getting up the next day was trying to stay up-beat by falling asleep watching Eddie Murphy’s Delirious.”

And self-help and personal development books, Blackett says. “Numerous” self-help books.