Bill Aulet is fond of saying that you learn more from failure than success.
He should know.
Before he became the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, he ran a startup himself – right into the ground…in just two years. Yes, before he sold startups worth nine figures and raised over a $100 million dollars, Aulet made all the rookie mistakes – and he did so with a family of four and a mortgage to boot.
Aulet ventured out into the fail fast world of startups armed with just a master’s degree in business from MIT that was supplemented with executive experience at IBM. A sure thing, right? Instead of ‘taking the entrepreneurial world by storm,’ he returned a humbled, yet more reflective, man. Aulet’s spell in the wilderness had led him to evaluate where he went wrong – and ask if he could develop a system to better guide aspiring entrepreneurs so he could increase their odds for success. These efforts eventually led to the development of Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup, an acclaimed step-by-step framework for turning an idea into a sustainable enterprise.
“I felt like I learned a tremendous amount,” he told P&Q in 2017. “But it raised the question, could this have been taught in school while I was still at MIT and there was less money being spent. And to me, the answer was yes, I could have learned that stuff if I had the right program. That influenced me to create a program to teach people what I learned in my first startup.”
Now, Aulet is looking forward instead of back. And his advice to future Bill Aulets is as timeless as it is difficult to do. “You have to get out of your comfort zone,” he urges. “Sales people like to work with sales people. MBAs like to work with MBAs. It’s certainly more comfortable. It doesn’t mean it’s the right thing. Research, again, shows that if your team has different skill sets, their odds of being a successful company increase. So, you have to get out of your comfort zone and meet people who are not like you.”
Bernie banks isn’t your traditional associate dean, who climbed the ranks after years of being a classroom sage and research wunderkind. Instead, he paid his dues over a 33-year military career that culminated with being commissioned as a Brigadier General. During that time, Banks also earned six advanced degrees, including an MBA from Kellogg and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.
In 2016, Banks joined the faculty of his alma mater, drawn by the opportunity to become a “change agent” who could build on the school’s lush resources and student-centric culture. The former head of West Point’s leadership program, Bank has arrived in Evanston with a mandate to help students consciously develop their leadership capabilities and adopt Kellogg values in a measurable fashion.
“Excellence is not a single act, but a habit,” Banks told P&Q in 2017, reflecting upon one of his biggest disappointments – barely missing a commission as a pilot at West Point. “You can’t flip it like a light switch. If you think excellence is a thing you can turn on or off, one day when you hit the switch and you’re going to find out that you didn’t pay the bill.”
For Banks, b-school success boils down to far more than high marks, an impressive job offer, or a deep network. Instead, it is a matter of answering the tough questions through daily attention and action. “I would really have students not just think about, ‘Where do I want to work,’ but ‘What kind of person do I want to be, what kind of leader do I want to embody, and how can business school help me to become that person,’ he points out. “They need to do an assessment of the kind of person they want to become, the kind of person they are today, and how business school will help them close the gap between present self and future self. It is so important to start with the future in mind. You cannot conflate the fact that you acquired a certain role with I’ve done the work necessary to become the kind of person I want to be. In order to get the most out of the experience, you need to understand that and then be committed to taking the risks necessary to make that developmental leap.”
In 2001, Harry Kraemer faced his moment of truth. The CEO of Baxter International, a Fortune 500 medical products company, Kraemer had no choice but to respond when several patients died after using Baxter Dialyzers at a Spanish clinic. Alas, Kraemer could’ve cast doubts about whether the water had been properly sterilized. Who would’ve blamed him if he’d just applied a wait-and-see approach?
Actually, Kraemer would’ve had 50,000 employees blame him. That’s because Kraemer is a value-based leader whose employees expected the same courage and accountability from him as they did for themselves. Such values made the decision easy for Kraemer. A self-reflective man, Kraemer had already played out such scenarios in his head, which enabled him to manage the five emotions that can twist any decision: “worry, fear, anxiety, pressure, and stress.” This grace under fire is why he immediately pulled the product off the shelves and wrote off $185 million dollars.
“If you wait until you are in the middle of a crisis and you start to figure out what you’re going to do then, it’s almost a little too late because you have pressure, press and stakeholders,” he told P&Q in a July interview. “One of the big benefits related to self-reflection is that if you are pretty self-reflective, you’re not going to be surprised very often.”
Kraemer is an anomaly: a regaled CEO who has made the transition to master teacher and respected researcher. Walk with Kraemer through the Collaboration Plaza of Kellogg’s Global Hub and you’d swear he is the most popular man on campus, as he is greeted with waves, winks, and well-wishes from students. That may come as a surprise for a man who poses the questions that many avoid answering during their lives. A sampling: ““What are my values? What do I stand for? What is my purpose? No kidding around: What really matters? What kind of leader do I want to be? What kind of example do I want to set?”
To those, Kraemer offers a humble yet shrewd rejoinder: “I don’t have answers, but I have opinions.”
For Kraemer, teaching is a natural extension of leadership, where he places others front-and-center. “If you take the time to think about it,” leadership has nothing to do with titles and organizational charts,” he observes. “Leadership has everything to do with the ability to influence people to do things that they may not ordinarily do. The only way I know how to influence people is that you have to be able to relate to people. I start off with this very simple model: If I can figure out a way to relate to you, maybe I can influence you and then I can lead you.”