What exactly did you do on the HBX project and what did you learn?
It was an incredible experience because there was this germ of an idea that online education was becoming more and more important. The question was, what does that mean for Harvard Business School? Should we play in that directly? Should we partner with someone? What shoudl we do? Very quickly, before I got involved, there was a faculty team working on how we should approach it. There were a few principles on how to go about it. One was core to HBS. We want this to be a real learning experience with active learners. We very much didn’t want this to be an experience where 100,000 people sign up and 5,000 people finish. We wanted an experience where people were all in, engaged with the materials and felt like they got something real at the end of it. We also wanted it to be case based, and we thought it would be really hard to take what is this really rich, dynamic discussion orchestrated by a brilliant faculty member with this smart group of people in the room and replicate this online.
I was in a sort of product management role for Disruptive Strategy, which is taking Clay Christensen’s core ideas and putting them into modules and putting them out there so executive teams could take the course and examine their businesses. This was everything from putting together the syllabus to the right cases to sitting down with people like Eric Schmidt (of Google) for some of the cases we did. And then all the way through to working with the technology team on the product requirements and at the end of it working with potential customers to sales. It was this wonderful soup-to-nuts experience for me. It was hard to leave. It was so satisfying.
So you get back to Bain and this job comes open a few years later. Do you apply or because HBS already knows you, they come to you?
They used a search firm, Korn Ferry, and I heard from them. They reached out. I think they put a bunch of feelers out. I was flattered and really intrigued, and there wasn’t a question in my mind whether I would put my hat in the ring or not. When I went back to Bain I was all in and I loved that job. I was definitely not looking to leave, but at the same time I discovered through that work with Kim Clark and with HBX that longer term I wanted to be in higher education.
So I was thrilled to be reached out to. Everyone was committed to making this process as fair as possible for the good of the school. That is part of the reason they hired Korn Ferry. I’m really glad they did that, and I am very glad they decided to hire me. I feel very lucky. They did a real diligent process on purpose and there were times in that process when it was just harrowing. I would have loved for this to fast forward and see how this movie ends. There were interviews with the folks at Korn Ferry and then there was the search committee here. I spent a day on campus and met all of the team ahead of time and they had input into the process as well.
What’s it like to be back on the Harvard Business School campus?
it’s good. it’s just a dream to be back. I loved this school as a student. It was a dream to get into this school as a student so to be back in a role where I get to help shape the future of the class and the future of the alumni is great.
Do you remember what your application essays were about?.
At that time, we had a lot of essays (four written essays were then required, including two that asked for three setbacks faced by a candidate and three accomplishments). There were two that had three parts. So it was a sneaky way of having six essays. For the essay on what I want to be when I grow up, I wrote about wanting to be a partner at Bain. I had worked for Bain for three years, mostly in Dallas but for six months in Stockholm. That was the world I knew and I loved it. I loved the challenge and what I was learning. But I came to HBS—and people talk about it being a transformational experience—and I think it was for me on a bunch of different dimensions. While I was always interested in education, the most likely outcome for me was that in the second half of my career I would go back and teach or work on the board of trustees.
But I was two months into the MBA program and they told us we had access to these career coaches. There were 60 coaches and you could meet with them as often as you liked. So I met with this woman, Michelle, and she asked me what I was interested in. I told her I love consulting but I have this interest in education and maybe technology. She said, ‘How interesting. Tell me about the education part.’ We had this great conversation and that led me down this path of what else might be available in higher education. I became the admissions rep for my section at HBS, helping the admissions office when prospective students come on campus. I would have a coffee with a potential applicant who would be interested in what’s it like to be a student here.
My favorite thing was to bring them to class. They would come downstairs and we would pick them up and I would say, ‘Okay, we’re going to a strategy class where the case is on whatever it was that day,’ and then we do the class and ask them what they thought about the experience. Nine times out of ten, they were just floored by the case method because it was so different from what they had as an undergrad. And of course as an admissions rep that made me remember when I was on the other side as a prospectuve student and came to visit class. For me, it was an amazing experience and solidified my desire to be at this school. So to now be really on the other side of that, I just pinch myself to be able to get to do this.
Why do you think you were chosen for the job?
I think you’d have to ask (Dean) Nitin (Nohria) and you would have to ask Jana Kierstead (executive director of the MBA program). I am fortunate to walk into an office with a team that is incedibly experienced and high performing. So there are people here who have done admissions for decades and have MBAs from the school or other great business schools and really understand the process in and out. I think part of what I can bring to the table is 1) I am a recent graduate so I know very intimately what the program is and how it can change people’s lives. I understand acutely what it is like to be on the other side of this and how much anxiety there could be in the process. As much as a human touch I can bring to this is important. And then I think my background in strategy and analysis would be helpful in terms of our mission to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. In admissions, we understand our mission to be finding those great leaders, bringing them here and making sure that these talented young people know what they can get out of a Harvard MBA. There’s some strategy on where we go and where we don’t go and getting the message out. And there are definitely some analytics involved. All of that, I could bring to bear.
Did you get any advice from the departing managing director of admissions, Dee Leopold?
Dee is this incredibly steady hand and has done a remarkable job here. So I feel like I have big shoes to fill. But the benefit I have is that she’s running the 2+2 program. That is her baby. So we talk. I have a one-on-one with Dee every week. So I have this great fortune of not having to cram for her sage advice. I can get it over time so I do.
Having been a relatively recent applicant who got in, you obviously experienced the pressure and jitters that goes with applying to HBS. How does that inform your view of how you would like admissions to play out?
First and foremost, I do remember my class visit. When I visited, I felt this incredible desire to be a member in that classroom. When we have visitors here in our classrooms, they get to watch and observe but they can’t participate. I felt this unbelievable desire to just jump into the conversation. So I very much as an applicant felt the desire to get into the school and put my best foot forward. And I appreciated things Dee was doing like letting us know exactly when the dates were going to be and what was happening at Dillon House as I was stewing over whether I would be invited to interview or not.
Anything I can do to continue that level of transparency and relieving any anxiety where we can I want to do. And then the other thing that the team is always thinking about is that it’s a lot of work to put together a business school application. There’s the body of what you put in, but all the introspection and reflection that goes into it. So I think we are always looking at the application to say what information do we need to make the best decisions we can and is there anything we don’t need. If we don’t need it, let’s not ask for it. And that has been the motivation behind cutting back the number of required essays. There are no big changes on the horizon, but I think that is something we are always keeping an eye out for: How to best evaluate a candidate and how to relieve as much anxiety as we can from the process.
How do you think your first admitted class will be different from your own HBS class?
It’s probably too soon to tell. We haven’t seen the whole applicant pool yet. We had our round one deadline so we are in the thick of reading, and the round one applicants are great, by the way. I think the ways it will be similar is that it will be very diverse and diverse in every aspect—people from all over the world, people with all kinds of backgrounds and perspectives and aspirations. That was certainly true when I was here and that was part of what was so special about my experience here. It was all about the other people in the room.