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

Warren Batts

Marriage & Family

Your children are your legacy. Give them unconditional love within a framework that teaches them your values but also allows them to be who they are. Spend as much time with them as possible. Time spent when they are young is like money in a piggy bank: don’t expect them to spend time with you when you are old if you did not invest in them when they were young.

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Business

I have joined a company that was wedded to a dying industry and old technology; one that was grossly undercapitalized and yet in a high-fashion industry fraught with miserable ethical practices; one where the CEO nearly sank the company with extraordinarily bad acquisitions and then tried to become larger than life; and one that was highly successful with very large free cash flows, three-piece suits and black-tie Christmas parties, but was unable to devote the focus and resources to remain competitive. All were taken over by better-managed firms.

I learned that a company is simply people with a purpose and the resources to achieve them. Losing sight of the customers — no matter who they are, what competitors are doing, or what the cutting edge of technology is in your industry — is a recipe for disaster. Cash is king and must be conserved. Internal politics cannot be tolerated.

People have to believe what they are working on is important to the company’s success and they will be treated fairly and with respect. The boss is the servant of the organization — not the opposite.

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Wealth

I was born in 1932 and grew up during the Depression. In the beginning, poverty was the level to which I aspired. When I reached it, my next goal was to get out of debt. That took several years. Then my goal was to become financially independent. After reaching independence, more money was not a great motivator for me. My interest became trying to make a difference — making the company I worked for successful, and working for my church and other volunteer organizations.

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Life's Lessons

When all is said and done, the old sayings are true:

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