Makena Timmins Harris, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College: Starting business school can be intimidating, even for someone like Makena Timmins Harris. A U.S. Army Captain stationed in Alaska, she had spent the past eight years in the service, where leadership was earned by merit and learned from trial-and-error. In fact, Timmins Harris set the bar in artillery. She became the first woman to command a M777A2 unit – absorbing lessons that many take a lifetime to understand.
“Taking command of 80+ U.S. soldiers, who shoot over 100-pound bombs many miles out of a cannon, was an incredibly humbling experience,” she explains. “I quickly learned that the success of the battery was not how well I performed as an artillery (wo)man, but how well I set conditions for my subordinates to perform their individual jobs to the best of their abilities. This was the best professional development I have had so far in my career, and it gave me a new perspective on what leadership is all about. Although I failed a few times in the beginning, I learned that sometimes being the leader means taking a step back and empowering those below you to accomplish their given tasks.”
Eventually, Timmins Harris decided to tackle a career in management consulting. At Tuck, she found a team-driven, learn-by-doing community that mirrored the best of her military experience. By the same token, she understands the oath she took in the U.S. Army also applies to the duties she owes to her classmates and society at large.
“My defining moment was taking the Oath of Office when I commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army,” she notes. “When I took that oath for the first time, I immediately realized the importance of my position. There is a line in the Oath of Office that reads, “I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.” This really resonated with me because I believe this sense of duty applies not only to my duties as a military officer but also to my duty to be a productive and contributing member of society. To me, this part of the oath means that I should always do my best every day, because my “team” depends on me, whether that team is on the battlefield or in the classroom.”
Halle Morse, Columbia Business School: “There’s no business like show business.” Halle Morse certainly subscribes to this maxim. A music theater major, Morse beat the odds to break into the entertainment. Ever seen Mamma Mia! in New York? Chances are, you might have seen Halle. She played Lisa, one of Sophe’s bridesmaids, over a thousand times on Broadway.
In theater, you’re called a “triple threat” if you can sing, dance, and act.” Guess that’d make Morse a quintuple threat since she can produce and direct too. Notably, her production of 3/Fifths was hailed as a “Must-See-Show” by the New York Times. Most recently, she was the assistant director for Jagged Little Pill, the Alanis Morrissette musical at Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, whose productions have collected three Tony Awards in the past six years.
Now, Morse dreams of someday running her own theater company, providing the strategic and financial foundations to turn her venture into another smash hit. At Columbia Business School, she has found a community whose “fierceness” reflects the mindset that enabled Morse to thrive in New York.
“The students I have met so far possess an insatiable appetite for growth and intellect,” she observes. “While currently scholars first, they are perfectly suited to take on the concrete jungle of NYC as well as the world stage. Witty, thoughtful and dynamic, they are also humble, hungry and focused on their future success. They are, after all, Columbia Lions — roar!”
That’s the lesson that Daphne Pham took to heart before entering Harvard Business School. After cutting her teeth in investment banking and e-Commerce, Pham chose the path less tread, becoming Uber’s first employee in her native Vietnam. Basically, she was launching a startup. In theory, the Uber name should make positioning and scaling easier. In reality, the potential disruptor fueled fear in the marketplace, resulting in “difficult regulatory battles, frequent press attacks, and hostile incumbents” according to Pham.
That’s just the start. The nation itself didn’t lend itself to a plug-and-play model, thanks to low car ownership and a payment system that skewed heavily to cash over credit. Undaunted, Pham pitched the “US-centric playbook” in favor of a local approach. In Vietnam, Uber adopted a cash payment system, all while creating a program where drivers could borrow money to purchase vehicles. Ultimately, Uber sold its Vietnam operation…but not before Pham built and managed a team with 150 employees and contractors.
Now, Pham can reflect on these lessons as she prepares to open her own startup or join an early stage venture after graduation. Either way, she won’t settle for anything less than growing an operation that’s built to last.
“In the world of entrepreneurship, the value of an MBA is often underrated,” she admits. “If I want to start something, isn’t it better to just start it rather than to go to school? But after spending a few years at one of the most prominent startups, I became more aware of my shortcomings as a leader. I am not interested in building a 10-employee company, but an organization with lasting impact. To achieve that goal, I need to understand what makes great leaders and great organizations. I hope that the HBS experience will be transformational, helping me gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to run a successful business, grow tremendously as a person, and build a strong lifelong network.”
Marjani Nairne, MIT, Sloan School of Management: Sometimes, it isn’t easy to figure out what you want to do. Just ask Marjani Nairne, who admits that she “bounced around a lot” after college, even taking the GMAT, LSAT, and GRE in the process. In 2016, she landed in the promised land – Google – where she moved from ad sales to human resources in Latin America. The roles weren’t glamorous, but they positioned her for making a far bigger impact.
In Nairne’s case, that was the “20% Project.” In a nutshell, Google allows employees to pursue a particular passion with 20% of their time. For Nairne, this meant service. She joined the Google Station team, a group devoted to setting up free wi-fi networks in emerging markets. Here, her team launched a network in Mexico City, along with monetizing a product to sustain it.
“It was incredible seeing the direct impact my work had on people,” she says. “Seeing press releases and news articles exclaiming how meaningful and impactful this product is for millions across Mexico gave me an unparalleled sense of pride and accomplishment.”
More than that, it showed her a path, one that led the MIT Sloan School of Management. Here, she plans to make an impact as a consultant in emerging markets. “The ability to provide substantial, data-driven insights is absolutely critical,” she notes. “I want to make sure that my skills in this realm are rock solid so that my ideas and recommendations are respected and eventually implemented. There’s no better place to develop these skills than at Sloan.”