That’s an insult in some corners. The term comes with certain associations. Privileged preps. Self-absorbed showoffs. Cutthroats and corporate climbers. Master of the universe swagger with can’t-be-questioned credentials. The establishment elites who’ve seen it all from the comfort of a penthouse.
Forget the secret handshakes and mysterious symbols. Harvard People aren’t much different than anyone else. They grew up on farms and served in the military like their parents. They are never-quit overachievers and first generation strivers who earned everything they got. That’s especially true at Harvard Business School. These Harvard People may someday become our power brokers and influencers. That’s a sign of hope because today they are chasing purpose over stature, channeling their ambitions towards creating what’s needed and fixing what’s broken.
A CLASS OF CATALYSTS
That’s the real differentiator. Harvard MBAs may think deeper and work harder, but what really separates them is something more fundamental: They aren’t afraid to act. That’s why Leah Azeze describes her classmates as “catalysts.” By that, she means her Class of 2023 peers are busy working for change. That takes conviction, something the class has in spades according to Jack Heaphy.
“Every student and alumni I’ve met from HBS has a life mission they’re chasing after, held with a deep and unwavering conviction. They’re not afraid to break norms or convention to accomplish what they’ve set their minds on. These are world changers with a laser focus and equipped with an arsenal of world class resources through HBS.”
Commitment is one quality that unites the Class of 2023. However, Liz Plooster has observed something else: a sense of service. “I am constantly humbled by how others-focused everyone is,” she tells P&Q. “For example, when I posted on our HBS Slack channel asking for help with an administrative challenge, within a few hours I had received responses from over 12 other incoming students, all of whom were sharing advice and offering to help me.”
HARD TO DEFINE
At the same time, Kareem Stanley has noticed something often overlooked about HBS graduates and students. They are, he says, very thorough. “I’ve spoken with MDs at private equity firms, presidents of renewable energy companies, founders of their own asset management firms, and more. The common thread is that these folks are extremely thorough — our calls are efficient, insightful, engaging and always push me to be at my best.”
Tim Purdie, a 2020 grad now working at the Boston Consulting Group, loved how HBS “surrounded” him with people he may have never met in his career. That may be why Amy Xu asserts that it is so difficult to find one characteristic that truly defines her class — or Harvard People in general.
“I encounter people with vastly different personalities, backgrounds, and aspirations daily. What is fascinating is that I also don’t sense pressure to conform to a single quality – people know themselves well and are steadfast in their own pursuit. It is quite inspiring to hang out with such a crowd as it gives me courage to be myself and stay true to my goals.”
AN ECONOMIST AND FILMMAKER…SIDE-BY-SIDE
Not surprisingly, the Class of 2023 hails from all corners. Before landing in Boston, Michael Dantas served as the Under Undersecretary for Micro and Small Enterprises, Entrepreneurship and Artisanry in the Brazilian Ministry of Economy. Here, he countered the COVID pandemic by shepherding a $5 billion dollar SME credit program that reached over 300,000 companies — with one entrepreneur joking that “Credit is the vaccine for SMEs.” That was just one of Dantas’ contributions in the public sector.
“I also led, end-to-end, the creation of the Business Environment Bill, which just became a law and will bring an estimated impact of 3% of Brazil’s GDP in the long term. It will allow for entrepreneurs to open companies in one day, reduce by 4x the time companies need to obtain electricity and create dual class stocks in Brazil to help startups get into the stock market. I was also involved in more than 40 other improvements to take Brazil, for the first time, to the top 100 in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking.”
Contrary to public perception, Harvard MBA students aren’t just financiers and managers. Oscar Hernandez actually earned his undergrad degree at Harvard…in Ancient Architecture. He moved onto a career as a freelance film and commercial producer, even landing a million dollar deal to make a movie in Nigeria. Still, Hernandez’s work hasn’t just been a commercial success. Working with Spike Lee, AT&T, and the Tribeca Film Festival, Hernandez produced a film that was a New York Times Critics’ Pick.
“I believe an MBA will equip me with hard business skills that will allow me to take on a more macro-level role in my industry,” he explains. “After graduation I hope to work as an innovator and strategist in the development, financing, production, and distribution of storytelling & entertainment, either at an existing company or by launching my own venture. I also hope to build bridges between content creators and other industries that could use the skills of storytellers in new or underused ways.”
“I LOOK FORWARD TO LEARNING FROM THEM ALL”
Sibylle George operates in both tech and social sectors. By day, she is a marketing manager for Disperse, a firm that applies artificial intelligence and computer vision to make construction projects more productive. At the same time, she is a co-founder of a non-profit, Impact Lebanon, which rose to the challenge when a blast in her native Beirut killed 218 people.
“In the hours that followed the August 4 Beirut explosion, we set up a disaster relief fund with an initial objective of ~$70,000,” she tells P&Q. “Donations began pouring in, as the news of this crisis traveled far beyond Lebanon’s borders. This led us to raise $9.2 million for Beirut. As a marketing director of Impact Lebanon, I had the opportunity to work with over 70 inspiring minds, who have been working as volunteers and dedicating time outside of their work to bring this fundraiser to fruition. Each of the volunteers has played a critical role in this initiative True teamwork!”
A California native, Daniel Park describes himself as an “immigrant Army officer” — the kind of guy “who watched the cliché military commercials and joined the Army right after high school.” Now, he has found a new passion: minority-owned small businesses. Thus far, he has been impressed by his gifted and gritty classmates.
“HBS is an incredibly competitive school, with go-getters from all walks of life and all different diverse backgrounds. The world resolute encapsulates this goal-oriented, purposeful and unwavering determination that brought many of the students here and will propel them toward success afterward. I look forward to learning from them all.”
“BANKER BY DAY, MUSICIAN BY NIGHT”
Jack Heaphy brings an entirely different perspective. A “Banker by day, musician by night,” Heaphy has worked deals for Societe Generale and performed at Carnegie Hall. However, the Liberty University grad is also looking forward to deepening his Christian faith in business school. “My faith is the most important part of my life,” he asserts. “I’ve leaned upon it during my lowest and highest moments and have seen first-hand the power of Jesus transform peoples’ lives. My faith will continue to be my anchor over the next two years at HBS, and the Christian Fellowship Club will be an important community for me to rely on.”
Liz Plooster joins the Class of 2023 after spending eight years at General Mills, PwC, and Best Buy. At the latter, she spearheaded the design and pilot of the firm’s COVID testing program. Kristina Brown came to New York with no experience in luxury. Six years later, she was a marketing lead at Chanel, where she founded the company’s Black Employee Resource Group. In Uganda, Leah Azeze managed a U.S. government program promoting entrepreneurship that could potentially produce economic opportunity for 350,000 young people. By the same token, Eduardo Cordova helped to lay the groundwork to open up the Central Reserve Bank of Peru to private asset managers.
“I spent significant time building support for our proposals among the various stakeholders in all levels of the Central Bank, from the legal and accounting teams to the back office and IT,” he explains. “Now, because of this project, the Bank is starting to receive knowledge from more experienced and better-resourced institutions in several fields, such as investment and risk management and accounting. It is a program that requires the Central Bank to constantly challenge assumptions and adapt to the new mindsets of the external asset managers.”
Peru may have been kind to Cordova, but Amy Xu’s feelings may be a bit more ambivalent about her time there. “When I volunteered in the Andean mountains of Peru, the only way to reach some villages during rainy season was by horse. One ride, I likely saved my life by jumping off a running horse, when it saw a herd of wild horses and suddenly chased after them at full gallop. Adding salt to injury, I later had to spend hours finding the horse since I had borrowed him.”
THE NEW YORK YANKEES OF BUSINESS SCHOOLS
Great story…and Kareem Stanley has plenty more. “I won a spelling bee in the first grade and competed regionally in spelling competitions, played basketball around the country on an AAU team, trained at an acting/modeling agency in NYC, and ended up not pursuing any of those things. Clearly, my fun fact is that I have the most understanding parents in the world.”
And what does Stanley think of Harvard Business School so far? “HBS is a well-oiled machine. There’s a structured process for everything, but it’s flexible enough to account for feedback and continually improve. It makes complete sense, but you don’t really gather it until you get here — it’s an example of what happens when you seamlessly mesh the best business practices together.”
Michael Dantas observes that leadership is part of the school’s DNA. That’s by design. After all, HBS is grounded in a general management philosophy — and has even been called the “West Point of Capitalism.” Five of the ten wealthiest MBAs in the world are HBS alumni, carrying a collective worth of $144 billion dollars. And their alumni include insiders like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Blackstone Chairman Stephen Schwarzman, and Citi President Jane Fraser. That’s because HBS understands the power of imagination and provides the resources to test ideas and the community to support their creators. More than that, Harvard possesses the cache to attract the exceptional at every possible level.
“In my mind I’ve always equated HBS to a company like Apple or sports team like the New York Yankees,” writes Jack Heaphy. “Those brands that are in a class of their own, and are instantly recognizable for doing things the right way, with excellence, and never taking shortcuts. HBS demands and produces excellence, which is why its brand is recognizable and impeccable.”
Page 2: In-depth profiles of 11 members of the Class of 2023.
Page 3: In-depth profiles of 11 members of the Class of 2023.