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

Ralph Linsalata

Leadership

Outstanding leaders:

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Business

It is easier to make the correct decision when you have extra cash. If your company is short of cash, it is easy to make the wrong decision, although sometimes cash shortage is a fact of the job.

A strong team around you is critical. Loyalty of your direct reports is important, especially if you have earned it.

Never use the pronoun “I” except when taking responsibility for a problem or mistake. When success occurs, it should always be “we” or “they.”

Communication with all employees is critical. Strategies must be explained repeatedly — as many as 20 times — before most people really understand them.

The right culture is also critical. It takes a long time and an exceptional amount of effort to change a bad culture. Most companies fail because they do not have the right culture. 

All competitive advantages last for a very short time. You have to be paranoid to stay as the leader of a successful company.

Great companies invest in their people. They encourage people to achieve the seemingly impossible, knowing they are allowed to fail so long as they make intelligent decisions and do not put the company at significant risk without the consent of their management.

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Marriage & Family

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Life's Lessons

Put your family first and, when things go wrong at work, put the problems aside and enjoy time with your loved ones. Family vacations are the best times you will ever have.

If you find an industry and position that you like and are good at, stay in it until you have achieved significant success, even if it means you have to join a less-than-first-tier firm.

You will have the most enjoyment working with people who are smart, of high integrity, and committed to achieving something substantial.

Never stop learning, and be willing to take a risk in your career.

Success is highly dependent on many variables — not just you. Do not fool yourself that you can do anything and turn around any product, project, or company without the right people and resources. 

Constant and honest introspection and visualization of what you want for your future are important.

Almost everyone has good intentions and excellence within them, if they’re put in the right position and given the opportunity to learn and develop.

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Careers

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Happiness & Success

Happiness and success are defined by the importance of:

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Turning Points

What did I learn from the turning points in my life? Look for great colleagues, role models, and teachers. Be certain to understand the opportunities relative to the risks, and how the risks can be avoided. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and act accordingly. Play to your strengths while you work, but work on your weaknesses.

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Wealth

In our society, it is difficult to not consider wealth as a yardstick of success. However, never consider wealth as your number one-measure of success. Achieving outstanding knowledge and performance should be your primary goal. If you achieve this, the wealth will come either financially or through respect and recognition by others.

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