Little more than a year ago, Guillaume Delepine got the opportunity of a lifetime: an invite to Harvard University to earn not one degree but two, a Harvard Business School MBA and a master’s of public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Even Delephine, a senior associate in the strategy practice at KPMG who did his undergrad studies at Princeton University, considered it “the ultimate door-opener of all.”
After a year at the Kennedy School, he was to begin his MBA studies yesterday at HBS. Instead, Delephine dropped out. That’s right. He decided not to go back to Harvard at all but instead to remain in a summer job at a startup in Redwood City, Calif., that makes drones.
Delephine hooked up with the company when he and a friend hatched an idea to pair drones with shot detection systems, which triangulate gunshot sounds to give police officers a waypoint on a map whenever there’s a shooting. If it can be done, it would allow a drone to get to the site of a shooting first so that an officer could react more intelligently to whatever scene was unfolding.
HBS REJECTED MORE THAN 8,100 OTHER CANDIDATES IN THE SAME CLASS HE WOULD HAVE JOINED THIS WEEK
Harvard Business School rejected more than 8,100 other candidates in the same class that Delephine would have entered this week. The vast majority of those applicants were as deserving of the chance to go to Harvard as this young man who puts his SAT score of 2720 (just 80 points shy of a perfect score of 2400 on the old test) and his high school GPA of 4.66 from Bellarmine College Preparatory on his LinkedIn profile.
Delephine couches his decision not to return to Harvard’s campus in altruistic terms: He’ll be heading up public safety at Skydio. Here’s how he describes his decision:
“As I neared the end of the summer, I had a decision to make: go back to Harvard and set myself up for another job, or stay at Skydio and make sure that our drones have the impact I know they can,” he wrote in a LinkedIn essay yesterday entitled Why I left Harvard Business School. “In the end, the decision was easier than it sounds: if you told me I could save one person’s life by leaving Harvard, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Skydio 2 will save hundreds.
“So now I’m a Harvard dropout, at least for now. My parents are horrified; but every day, I get to work with the smartest people on the planet, to build a life-saving product, for a first responder community I’m overwhelmed with respect for. Academically, sure, I’m off-track, but this is the most direction my life has ever had.”
A SHORT-TERM DECISION TO TAKE A JOB VS. A LONG-TERM INVESTMENT IN YOURSELF?
I don’t know Delephine, and on some level, I admire at least the way he explains his decision. But I’m not so sure that this is a smart move. Sure, Skydio may be a sexy little venture-backed company created by ex-Google engineers. And this is no diss to what the company is doing or how it will even benefit society by creating drones that will among other things help first responders go into life-threatening situations with instant air support.
But this young professional is taking a short-term decision. By staying at Harvard, he wasn’t merely setting himself up for another job as he seems to think. He was preparing himself to have a lifetime of impact. This has nothing to do about getting a lucrative post-MBA offer well into the six-figures. This has everything to do about having one of the most valuable learning experiences on the face of the planet.
It was Nelson Mandela who noted that “education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” It’s about learning from some of the most intelligent classmates and faculty you may ever have the opportunity to meet. It’s a chance at profound self-development, an opportunity to deeply engage with others on a host of challenges. It is a rare privilege to prepare one for a satisfying and fulfilled professional life. The education that Delephine has turned his back on is the path to enrich one’s life and gain lessons that extend far beyond any individual job, including the one for which he so eagerly signed up.
A JOB OR A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE?
Frankly, Delephine would be in a better position to help a startup in two years when he has mastered the fundamentals and built a network of exceptionally smart people from diverse academic and professional backgrounds to tap. An MBA from Harvard would equip him with intellectual tools that would put Delephine in a more powerful position to make a meaningful contribution.
That’s why I agree with this young man’s parents. I’m as equally horrified that this young man would pick an immediate job in Silicon Valley over one of the most life-changing experiences in the world.
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