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

Judy Ley Allen

Life's Lessons

I have learned that the life lessons my parents tried to teach me were right after all, but sometimes I had to try the opposite just to be sure.

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Surround yourself with the smartest, most ethical people you can find. Set clear goals, communicate them clearly, and delegate.

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Marriage & Family

Staying married is a real trick, and worth the care it takes to accomplish this. Each of us is formed by our backgrounds, and blending our views and concerns takes listening and understanding. But oh, is it worth it to live happily with the person of your choice!

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Growing Older

Never lose your curiosity and interest in learning new things. You might retire from a structured business career — but not from enjoying life. Don’t isolate yourself, but keep surrounded by friends and family. Exercise and explore. Great years are still ahead.

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I think we are all hopeful of adequate material success — but in the real world, there are those who are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and accomplish great wealth. This doesn’t always equate to being the smartest or hardest worker. 

Over time, one must be comfortable with one’s financial success and not judge it by the material wealth of another. There are so many other ways to measure a worthwhile and accomplished life.

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Turning Points

The death of President John F. Kennedy changed my career direction. After the Harvard Business School, I was hired to be the assistant to the partner of land planning and economic analysis for the architectural firm of John Carl Warnecke & Associates in San Francisco. As a future land developer with my family, I felt this would be a good experience and add to my knowledge.

But within three weeks of joining the firm, President Kennedy was assassinated. Five days later, I was in Washington, D.C. as the assistant to John Carl Warnecke, the chosen architect for the “final resting place” for the president. It was a fascinating assignment, a real participation in the history of the country, and a chance to witness some of the great operatives in our government at that time.

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Happiness & Success

A happy marriage, great relationships with family members of all ages, wonderful friends, and enjoying giving back to one’s community are, to me, important successes. Being among the financially successful is nice, but being the most financially successful has fallen down on my list of accomplishments. To live a balanced life is a joy.

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Charity & Spirituality

I have been driven to help make our community better in any way I can — the result of parents who always set this example. The lessons of my faith have encouraged this behavior. A healthy balance between family, career, and community involvement is very rewarding.

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