Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Wale Lawal, Harvard Business School

Wale Lawal

Harvard Business School

“I’m an intellectually curious person who loves to binge learn interesting topics.”

Hometown: Dallas, TX

Fun Fact About Yourself: Won the NCAA Boxing Heavyweight Championship back-to-back (Jr, Sr year)

Undergraduate School and Major:

BS – US Air Force Academy (Materials Science)

PhD – Rice University (Materials Science and NanoEngineering)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: US Air Force, Chief-of-Staff to the 3-Star General and Commander of the US Air Force Academy

What has been your first impression of the Harvard Business School MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far? Tell us your best Harvard Business School story so far. Didn’t matter if I was just curious about HBS, applying to HBS, or being admitted into the HBS program, I have yet to reach out to an alum who didn’t respond. Everyone has been ready, willing, and excited to pay it forward through mentorship or connection with other HBS alum and students.

In regard to the students, I have one distinct memory that sums up the essence of all my experiences. In October 2021, I traveled to Harvard Kennedy School for work, but in the evening time found ways to connect with students at Harvard Business School. By the end of the three-day trip, I ended up going to multiple social gatherings hosted by the Tech Club, African American Student Union, Joint Graduate School Mixer, and military veterans club AFAA. I also joined a small gathering at student housing, ate lunch at Spangler, and participated in a morning workout session at Shad Hall. I was truly overwhelmed by how much they were constantly inviting me to other events, and connecting me with other students…and I was only an applicant at the time. If I had any doubt of HBS beforehand, that trip definitely confirmed my decision. I knew if HBS wanted me it would be an immediate YES.

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? Unlike lectures, I love how the case method classes begin to unfold without a clear direction of learning. Instead, it leaves a lot of opportunity for open-ended discussion, so you have no idea the direction each class will take. Experiencing the case method firsthand during admitted students weekend gave me an adrenaline rush. It was interesting to see how students explore learning through group discussion and instructor-guided questions as opposed to the traditional instructor “knows-it-all” approach. In addition to the in-class experience, prep before the case study was exciting. It felt like I was preparing for battle, and needed to leverage my knowledge, intuition, and previous experiences to produce some form of data backed conclusion. It very much felt like this is how I would approach Board room, C-suite, or managerial decisions at a company.

Aside from your classmates and cases, what was the key part of Harvard Business School’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? The strength of their student clubs is unmatched. Looking at the list of clubs, and engaging with students and alum, I felt like a kid at a candy shop. THEY EVEN HAVE A TEXAS CLUB. For those of you not from Texas, you may never understand, but as a Texan it spoke to my soul to see that there are fellow students with the same level of pride as me.

On top of the student clubs, I love how diverse of an experience you get with the class size at Harvard. You not only get to call around 1,000 other students classmates, you also get section mates that stick with you for an entire year, and you get to work with an even smaller group across sections to conduct case prep. Through my observations, it has become very apparent that Harvard ensures you not only have access to a plethora of diverse backgrounds in your class, but you also have the opportunities to develop deep personal relationships through a variety of avenues like sections, clubs, and a host of other engagements.

What course, club, or activity excites you the most at Harvard Business School? I applied to the joint MS/MBA degree that focuses on building novel technologies for start-ups or big tech companies. I am excited to partake in this program because it consistently exposes us to the start-up ecosystem through seminars, technical courses, and multiple learning-by-doing short courses. One course that we take in this program is called Technology Venture Immersion. This 2-week short course allows you to work in a small team to develop your own start-up concept leveraging human-centered design and lean experimentation techniques. For those not in the MS/MBA program, an equivalent course they can take is called Startup Bootcamp. I know this combination of case method classrooms, Field projects, and learning-by-doing short courses will truly prepare me to launch, join, or invest in startup technologies that are advancing our society in a meaningful and equitable way.

When you think of Harvard Business School, what is the first word that comes to mind? Why? Family – It doesn’t matter if we know each other or not, there is this undeniable bond that we all feel as Harvard Business School students and alum. This feeling creates a conviction inside of us to do whatever we can to help those who are apart of the Harvard Business School community or help those interested in joining the family. You feel a sense of family in every aspect of HBS from your classroom section to your student club. Even for those with a spouse and kids like myself, our families feel just as much a part of if not more bonded to the greater HBS family. Every time I speak to a Harvard alum, they talk about how much they miss those two years at HBS, and I have come to realize what they miss most is being so close to their HBS family, which is a one-of-kind feeling.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I think back to my time as the Director of the Advanced Explosives Test Range for the Air Force Research Laboratory. I was a young 26-year-old Captain who entered the position with a host of challenges and opportunities. I was tasked with designing a state-of-the-art test range 2.0, improving a highly toxic work environment of 35 employees, improving the operational efficiency of the test range which was 6 months behind schedule, and negotiating with my supervisor who planned to lay off a third of the test range workforce. Despite the mountain of challenges, my military training taught me to hit the ground running. I knew that before I could make any operational or tactical changes, I first had to institute changes at the strategic level. I first spent time doing the necessary tasks such as interviews, surveys, and organization research to craft a clear vision and set strategic priorities. After establishing my priorities, I refocused my efforts on executing at the operational and tactical levels.

Ultimately, by sharing a clear vision, working with HR, and empowering my operations, I was able to put into practice a set of policy-driven, and data-driven actions that turned the test range around. In the end, those actions allowed me to craft a $150M strategic plan that is currently being funded over a 10-year period, tripling worker satisfaction according to internal surveys. It also enabled us to hire an admin to assist with scheduling and expand our test frequency by over 50%, which increased our annual revenue from $3M to $5M. Reflecting on this experience, it taught me the importance of fostering a healthy culture, listening to your people, receiving advice from experts, and creating a common goal to bring unity to a team.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? After being in the military for 8 years. I knew my academic pursuit of an MBA would help me develop the business acumen and skills necessary to build organizations that can have significance in this world. I believe my MBA experience will help me become what Bill Boulding calls a triple threat leader who has the IQ (Intellect)…EQ (Emotional Intelligence)…and DQ (Decency) to build and lead organizations that are passionate about solving the complex problems of the now and anticipate the problems of the future.

In the short term, after graduation I want to lead a technology venture as an entrepreneur or join a tech company as an intrapreneur focused on advancing education technology. I believe technology can (1) offer solutions that increase access to high-quality education for all, and (2) enable more customized learning experiences that enhance student learning and improve life outcomes. I strongly feel that advancing education through technology and other avenues is an impactful way to decrease the socioeconomic gaps that exist in our country and will be a vital revolution that has to happen in society for us to make progress on critical issues like climate change.

Long term, I aspire to advance our education system by leveraging all four pillars of our society (i.e., public, private, non-profit, and government). I hope to become an impact investor, sit on large nonprofit and for-profit boards, and eventually engage with executive, congressional, and international committees to improve the overall quality and effectiveness of education in America and across the globe.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? Money Makers by Dr. Chris Howard is a must-read. It succinctly provides a detailed history of several career fields MBAs join after business school such as Investment Banking, Private Equity, Consulting, and Venture Capital. This is by far the best book I’ve read to help individuals understand what opportunities are business school students seeking after graduation and why.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Harvard Business School’s MBA program? You should view yourself like the composer creating a musical composition of an upcoming symphony, which is your application submission. A full orchestra has a range of instruments that collectively come together to produce a beautiful harmonic sound. This is the same feeling the Admissions officers should feel after reviewing your application. It should NOT feel like you’re playing the guitar over and over again (i.e. repeating the same information throughout your application). Instead, each part of your application should be considered an instrument that brings a different sound to the application and helps to improve the overall quality of the performance aka application. An example might be to help illustrate your community leadership by over emphasizing any recognition or awards you receive from the non-profit you might chair as opposed to over emphasizing and repeating competitive awards from your job that you already listed in your resume. There are always more things you want to say then you can put down, so I always stress to applicants that they should reflect deeply, and think about how you can orchestrate a wonderful performance by leveraging each aspect of the application (resume, essays, school based application, recommendation letters, etc..) to play a different instrument of the same musical composition that is you.



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