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Read Three Harvard MBA Essays

An Engineer-Trained Manufacturing Manager

Home Country: USA
Industry: Process Engineering and Operations Supervision

Analysis: In the essay, the author captures the reader’s attention straight away in the first half by opening up to a long series of failures in his life so far. By showing both vulnerability and honesty, he is able to transform this list of fruitless endeavors into a credible “badge of honor,” evidence of his resilience, determination and strength of character. The second half of the essay provides further details about each failure. It quickly becomes apparent that what appeared to be failures in the first half, actually proved to be successes or openings for new opportunities, given enough time and perseverance. The author’s willingness to fail in order to eventually succeed¨ motivates his application to HBS. Not because he believes an MBA will prevent all failures, but because it will empower him to make the right decisions and avoid, in his words¨ “preventable missteps.”

A wise woman once told me that I have had an extraordinary number of failures for someone my age. I’d never thought about it that way before, but she’s got a good point.

At 16 years old, I proudly started my first business, selling performance aftermarket parts for hobby-class radio controlled cars. I designed my own parts, contracted out the manufacturing, and sold the kits online. Within five years, it failed. In college, I declared my major as Mechanical Engineering and signed up for Calculus III. I failed. I landed a three-semester internship at “Tech Company,” but due to a last minute layoff, I was unable to return for my third and final semester. Expecting to work and not having registered for classes, I scrambled to find a new company for my third semester, got an interview against all odds, and failed to get the job. I started a second business, wiser from my teenage years, this time a real estate investment company. It failed. I ran for student body president, gained significant ground as an independent running against fraternity-backed competitors, and failed to get elected.

With graduation looming on the horizon, I applied to several lucrative engineering jobs in the oil industry. I failed to get an interview. I made it through the second round of interviews in a different energy industry. I failed to get an offer. I interviewed with a smaller, local company. Failed again. Finally, “XYZ Company” hired me and I just tried to be a great young engineer. After being transferred to a new manager and finding myself on performance probation within six months, it became clear that I’d failed at that, too.

I repurposed my real estate business to pursue wholesaling -– selling properties under contract to investors for a modest profit. I saw some early success with my marketing strategy as I received several promising leads and successfully got a few properties under contract. Still, after open houses, endless rounds of negotiation, and all the charm I could muster, I failed to close a single deal. Another swing and a miss. Elsewhere in the community, I was asked to organize a dinner and political fundraiser for a popular Mayor with a national profile, but after working the phones hard, I couldn’t get enough commitments. The fundraiser never happened – I’d failed again.

Back at work, I was both concerned about losing my job in the short term and dissatisfied with the prospects of promotion in the long term, so I began to look for opportunities elsewhere. I landed an interview for a Project Manager job at a $2.7 billion technology company. I secured references from Directors and Managers I knew at the company and even met with the CIO. Leaving nothing to chance, I had a suit tailored, practiced interview techniques, and studied my own background in detail. After multiple interviews for multiple openings at the company, I never got a single offer. Failed yet again.

Upon examination of these facts, one might make a convincing argument that failing is my single greatest talent in life, but I see things differently. This string of failures is a hard-earned badge of honor for me –- irrefutable evidence that I possess both the courage to try and the resilience to persist. I view these failures as guiding lights that are illuminating my path to success. Admittedly, I would have preferred a faster path, but now that these failures are mine, I find tremendous utility in them. Though they torture me –- even now I’m embarrassed at the thought of them –- they also teach me and fill me with anticipation of one day making the same decision differently.

And it is because of my failures that I am ready.

In Engineering School, I passed Cal III the very next semester and never retook a class again. I also landed the third internship on schedule with a new company, learning a new industry and making new connections along the way. I never served as student body president, but I did help launch two organizations that support minority men and women in finishing their degrees. And wanting to utilize the public speaking skills I refined on the student body campaign trail, I successfully used techniques perfected in my businesses to market myself through my blog as a paid public speaker. As a result, I have delivered inspiration messages to high school and college students all across the country on topics including life skills, careers in STEM, anti-bullying, and strategies for success.

When my new manager was critical of my performance as an engineer, I changed the way I did things and eventually earned his respect and praise as a result. We never did raise the money for the Mayor, but as a result of the fundraiser attempt, a prominent community activist invited me to manage his campaign for office, and I was also invited to join campaigns for both a Governorship and a U. S. Senate seat, all in the very next year. I became so well studied and experienced in the art of interviewing that when an internal management job opened up, not only did I get the offer, with the recommendation of the manager who’d put me on performance probation before, by the way, but the hiring manager later confided to me that my interview performance is what put me over the top. I now manage over 100 people in a manufacturing environment and have earned the trust and commitment of employees more than 30 years older than
me. On a daily basis, I use the lessons I learned from my failed businesses to be a better manager, negotiator, and communicator.

I am convinced that stepping into the chilly darkness of failure is required to bask in the
warm rays of success. I have learned that no matter how hard I try, I probably won’t strike gold the first time that I dig. Because I can never rely on fate alone, it is my lot in life to work as smart as I can, and then as hard as I can.

I see a bright and exciting future waiting for me out there, and I am ready to go find it. I will expend my best effort and put my best foot forward in pursuit of that future, even if I can’t yet see where the next foot will land.

I realize that I wax philosophical as I make this next point, but I see my own success as a debt to my forefathers. A direct descendant of slaves, I come from no bloodline of affluence or nobility. When I think of my ancestors, it is our powerless past that spurs me on to empower others today. Their despair haunts me. Their hopelessness admonishes me. Their memory whispers to me. As a tribute to their lowliness, I seek to lift up others.

So I have a passion for empowering others in my blood. I love people. I believe in investing into the community. I love challenging young people to see more within themselves and inspiring them to reach higher. I believe that good citizenship involves not just voting, but helping the people that you support, holding the powerful accountable, and listening to those with whom you disagree the most. I love the satisfaction of a job well done, and I love even more the satisfaction of empowering someone to do their job well. I’ve found that my passion is so contagious that people will follow me, even when none of us initially knows exactly how we’ll achieve our goal.

As you consider my application, I want you to know how deeply I want to leave a positive impact on this world. I know that Harvard Business School will not insulate me from failure, but rather will help me avoid preventable missteps by giving me the tools to make good decisions and execute those decisions effectively. I want this opportunity, and I am ready to fail until I find my success.

Word Count: 1358

Comments: The essay took eight drafts over two months. I thought about what personal traits I wanted to share with the ADCOM and identified stories from my past that identified those traits. After two or three drafts, I’d figured out the right narrative and kept refining it, taking as much as a week to finalize each draft. My best advice is to be honest, start early, and have someone who knows what the ADCOMS are looking for to read through a couple of your drafts and give you pointers.