If I Knew Then Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School's Class of 1963

Anonymous

Life's Lessons

Have fun. You’ll be dead a long time.

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Leadership

Leadership, in my opinion, is getting others to do what you think should be done but have it be their idea.

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Careers

Think twice before joining a family firm — but it is not always a wrong choice.

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Happiness & Success

My definition of success is the same as my father’s was: Be publicly useful and privately happy.

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Marriage & Family

Exercise patience. It took me two marriages and 80% of a lifetime to appreciate the value of that word.

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Growing Older

Retire to something — not from something. Stay engaged. Be physically active and intellectually curious.

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Careers

Look for mentors who are in a place you would like to be, doing what you would like to do. Seek their counsel.

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Life's Lessons

Early on, know your strengths and weaknesses. Celebrate your uniqueness. Gravitate toward what satisfies your inner self. Try to understand where you came from and how your early experience helped or hurt you. Beware of heroes. Feel good about yourself.

My obit will probably include a host of awards, high positions, and achievements, — and I’m proud of them. But there is a certain joy that surpasses all understanding. I would like to have found that.

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Wealth

Is financial wealth a yardstick of success? Absolutely not! Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi, Churchill — not much money there.

Money is no longer the sine qua non it once was. I now appreciate that it can be used to make a better life on this planet for many who inhabit it. But I still like money. I still like counting it.

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Life's Lessons

One: No matter how successful you become, there is always someone more successful, so don’t take your own worth too seriously, nor become arrogant in its revelation.

Two: For a successful marriage, don’t eat crackers in bed.

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Marriage & Family

Teach your children by example. Rejoice in their differences. Remember that you are their parent, not their friend.

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Business

With the advent of our society’s love affair with technology, especially in the younger generations, my wish is that those generations understand that communication screen-to-screen is not the same — by a factor of 1,000 — as communication face-to-face. That goes for the classroom, the living room, and the bedroom.

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Turning Points

At age 60, I left the family business to return to school and earn a Ph.D. in philosophy, which I now teach at the college level.

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Happiness & Success

I have been happy. Is that success?

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Marriage & Family

All our children are successful and happy and live near our home. We have family parties each month for ourselves, children, and grandchildren. We really enjoy being together. Families who play together stay together.

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Business

Success in business relies a lot on making sure your colleagues or employees share a good part of any success you may have. The mistake is to believe that you are more important than anyone else in the business.

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Charity & Spirituality

I recognize that my blessings exceed a market ROI for level of talent and effort. Therefore, I have a surfeit with which to share with others less fortunate. In the end, however, I benefit as much or more as do the recipients of my time and treasure.

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Marriage & Family

Put the children first. A loose reign — but not too loose — works with children (and horses). Love them totally and unconditionally. Make a few sacrifices for the common good. Remember that different generations don’t like the same music.

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Growing Older

Exercise daily, watch your diet and do what you most enjoy. Read a lot and keep yourself mentally active. Service to others on boards and as a volunteer is important. Stay socially involved in every way you can. Go fly fishing!

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Turning Points

There are very few really big, tough decisions in life. But when one comes along, you must think it through every which way possible and then go for it. Trust your instincts and never look back on “what ifs.”

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Wealth

Money is not a sustainable driver of happiness or success — period. Family is.

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Happiness & Success

My definition of success is being where you want to be and doing what you want to do. I regret all the many, many times I did not follow my own advice. If you truly listen to your inner voice, I feel that you will end up doing something very meaningful and worthy of your best efforts. You will benefit not only yourself but also those around you.

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Life's Lessons

I have achieved a certain tranquility or serenity which provides me much pleasure at this stage of my life. However, I am not at all sure these same characteristics of life would have been helpful during the peak of my business career.

The lesson learned: There are different characteristics of one’s life as one experiences it. Honor them as they occur.

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Marriage & Family

Family First — it’s the center of my life, and directs and governs everything in it. Growth comes when this center is working; setback creeps in when I lose the Family First focus.

When my troubles invade, I look at myself in the mirror and laugh. This key to life is so simple, but we seem at times to make it so difficult and complicated. Drive from Family First and life will be better, longer.

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Leadership

This question was asked the last day at the Harvard Business School 50 years ago, and I still have no other answer than “Set an example.”

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Leadership

Successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes. The main characteristic is getting the job done. Getting the most out of people is important. Be who you are and stand by your principles.

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Life's Lessons

I know now that being on the treadmill 24/7 gets you a lot of gratification and money. But the other side of life — the time for reflection, thinking, enjoying leisure, helping others — can be just as rewarding.

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Life's Lessons

One is never sure of the future.
Be prepared for everything.
Don’t hurry through your life.

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Business

One of the best things that can happen is to get fired. It forces change and if managed correctly, can result in improvement.

I never would have started a family business unless I’d been fired from Wall Street.

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Turning Points

One turning point in my business life occurred when an adverse situation showed me who was my friend and who was not. I learned that when it came to such a point, I could rely on myself more than I had thought.

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Charity & Spirituality

In the end, I benefit as much or more as do the recipients of my time and treasure.

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Charity & Spirituality

Charity is very important. Faith and spirituality is a personal choice. Although I have become an atheist, I still enjoy my religion’s culture and community. I have had a good life, and believe in making your own “heaven on earth.”

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Charity & Spirituality

Charity with personal involvement is essential. It’s more than just giving money. One needs to be involved on a personal level with other humans who need our support.

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Wealth

Regrettably, financial wealth is a mark of success. My view of that unfortunate societal truth has not changed.

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Happiness & Success

I believe that being totally honest in your business is the key to satisfaction and success. Give an honest product or service for your compensation. Avoid greed. Dishonesty will come back to haunt you every time. 

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Leadership

Successful leaders care about those they lead and show it with their praise, faith in others, and sharing monetary success.

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Life's Lessons

Looking back, I now better appreciate that the events which impacted my life most significantly were ones over which I had little or no control (e.g., born a white male in the USA). My inherited infrastructure impelled more than the product I built on it.

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Growing Older

In my view, a successful retirement is when very little changes. The inner drive of the ’63 MBAs that I know doesn’t just stop on a given date. Trying to achieve, trying to make things better, is truly a lifelong quest.

Growing old is such a natural thing. Grow old gracefully. Many of us are blessed with great genes and the gift of years. Make them count.

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Business

“The harder I work, the luckier I get” was and is my philosophy in business.

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Business

The hubris that comes from success leads one to believe one’s next venture will also succeed, given the same hard work and leadership skills. This is not the case. The circumstances are different, the business is different. Never assume one success automatically leads to another.

When starting a new business, be sure you understand the quality characteristics required by the market. Otherwise, you’ll efficiently produce millions of a product that somehow fails the customer taste test.

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Turning Points

Take the road less traveled. In my case, I accepted the lowest starting salary I was offered. I passed up Wall Street to work as a “gofer” for the founder/CEO of a medium-sized company. He was a great mentor. The proximity to and participation in top-level strategic decision-making was valuable training for my later responsibilities.

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Wealth

I am glad to be financially secure, but I regard money as a means — not an end. I know a lot of people who have more money than I have, but I would not exchange places with them.

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Growing Older

Life is a series of restructuring situations. Planning and dealing with the retirement series is no different, so restructure your life continuously and never really retire.

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Business

When you are trying to create success, make sure the business has the potential to succeed. Is there a market for your product? Are the people willing to work very hard to succeed? Do you really have a fair, clear shot at success?

If the game is “no longer worth the candle,” get out pronto. Hanging around and taking a thousand arrows because you believe in an endeavor is done too much. I did it myself.

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Business

Stay tuned to local sensitivities. Very few are fit for a career anywhere in the world.

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