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

Chapter 2

Marriage & Family

If you knew then what you know now, what advice would you have given yourself about getting married and raising a family?

These statistics probably don’t need reciting again, but for every two marriages performed in the U.S. in recent years, there was one divorce. Clearly, marriage is not a game for the risk-averse and yet most of us give it a try. Or two. Or three.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans tie the knot at least one time, despite the odds. While that’s down a bit from the 85 percent marriage rate when Harvard Business School's Class of 1963 graduated, their success at picking a mate is truly enviable. In a 2013 study, more than 70 percent of the 1963 grads were still with their first spouse — a fortunate break from the patterns of the population at large.

Because the members of the Class of 1963 have a bit of a golden touch at getting and staying married, it won't surprise you that many of them say no decision in their lives was more important or more worth getting right.

While you might argue that these classmates don’t have the golden touch at getting and staying married, they are unified in their feeling that no decision in their lives was more important, or more worth getting right.

Still, their family lives weren't always perfect, and it’s heartbreaking to read the recollections of the grads who put their marriages and family life at peril through a litany of bad habits — alcoholism and workaholism, primarily. As a class, they would implore you to choose your life partner with the utmost care, and then put that partnership above everything else.

Dick Resch

My one big mistake in life has been providing a trust fund for my five children. I’m very comfortable paying for an education for as long as they want to study in a reputable university. However, providing additional funds so they could have a lifestyle beyond what they have achieved on their own was a mistake.

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Charley Ellis

Make family life your first priority. Marry someone you admire and are always learning from, who admires and learns from you. Help each other grow and share values, plans, experience, laughs, and time together.

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John T. “Jack” Corrodi Jr.

Don’t rush into getting married. At age 35, I knew better where I was headed and whom I wanted to be with.

We were shocked at not being able to get pregnant. Never mind. Adoption of newborns turned out to be delightful. (We did it 16 times.)

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Warren Batts

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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Donald P. Nielsen

Marriage is an 80–20 partnership, on both sides. If you each understand that, you always go out of your way to please your spouse. When both partners do that, you have a happy marriage.

The greatest gift you can give your children is to love one another.

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Paul Rosenbaum

The two most important decisions one makes in life are where you go to school and whom you choose to marry. All else follows from these choices. 

While there are several obvious traits to be sought in a spouse — mutual love, attractiveness, and intelligence — one overlooked but important quality is kindness. Marriage brings both shared happiness and challenges. Kindness allows both parties to understand and empathize with each other as they mutually solve the issues that enter their lives.

Another important element is religion. The couple-to-be should discuss in advance of marriage what religion they will observe and what religious practices they will maintain when they marry, and especially when they have children.

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Gerald (Jerry) Wolin

When raising children, make sure they grow up to be independent. Too many of us want to make life easy on our kids and save them from anguish. That is not always the best course of action.

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Ron Leslie
  • Have fun. Doing things well is fun.
  • Have a good relationship with each child, set boundaries, ensure each knows being loved.
  • When in doubt, use the three most important words with your spouse: “You’re right, dear.”
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Wilko Börner

Even though I am satisfied with — and worked hard for — my professional career, family demands on my time always had priority. This may have restricted my business success, but I have no regrets.

I have seen many people proudly create products, organizations, buildings, and fortunes. Most of these works have not outlasted the people who created them. I am fairly confident my family will continue as a healthy and confident structure for much longer.

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Ralph Linsalata

  • Tell your spouse and children that you love them every day, no matter how you feel.
  • Do not bring your problems home with you.
  • Realize the joy that comes from helping your spouse and children excel in their fields of interest and enjoy themselves.
  • Develop within your family a sense of obligation to help others.
  • Spending quality time with your family — not just time — is critical.
  • Choose a spouse who will understand and support you, and one for whom you will do the same. Life is much better if you can help each other grow and expand your knowledge, experiences, friends, and capabilities.

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George Mosher

Recognize that choosing your life’s partner is one of the two most important decisions you will ever make. Give your choice the attention it deserves. Think through what’s truly important to you. Choose someone you will enjoy working with to achieve your common goals. Of course, being in love is very important — but it is not enough.

Once you are married, it’s important to continue to work together. Recognize that the other person has his or her own goals and ways of doing things. Make it clear what is important to you, make sure you understand what is important to her, and then reach decisions that incorporate both sets of goals.

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Bob Griffin

I believe the most significant barrier to a healthy, happy family is the combination of self-will, a sense of authority rather than partnership and respect, and a reluctance to express forgiveness. The qualities of respectful communication, trust, patience, and an abundance of flexibility will lead to a family life of happiness and mutual love, even through the tough times.

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Joan O. Rothberg

Staying married (49 years): Be tolerant; don’t try to change him or her; do something each day to make your spouse happy.

Raising children: Try to build character — honesty, morality, and kindness. Set the example for them to follow.

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John H. Schwarz

Take your time finding the right marriage partner. Find your own identity before imposing yourself on someone else. Understand that commitment to your work ambitions has to be balanced with commitment to your family, even if achievements in business may at times suffer. In the long run, you can reach your goals without sacrificing your family life.

Teach your children both through mentoring and by example. Build their self-esteem, but teach them how to succeed with humility. Demonstrate team play at home so the family learns the art of working together. Be firm and consistent, but also understanding and flexible. Don’t expect your children to be you or to satisfy your dreams. Let them be themselves.

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Mathew Frauwirth

Do not try to determine your children’s future for them. Support them in their choices. We did, and have been blessed with two college professors and a dean.

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Gary MacDougal

I envy my friends who have not had to experience divorce. Though many get it right the first time, research shows the odds are not good if you get married before age 30. I believe most of us change a great deal in our 20s, and know ourselves and others better later. 

I am blessed with great children and, early on, listened to a wise man in my company who told me: “Spend as much time as you possibly can with your kids now, because you can’t come back and do it later.”

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Norman Barnett

Marry when you and your prospective spouse know who you are and what work you will do. Make sure you each are willing to support the other in having the life you each want.

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George I. Roen

As for marriage, give space and insist on your own. Before the ceremony, look for brains, even temper (that I lack), a can-do attitude, and accomplishments. Check out the prospective in-laws carefully. And at the end, seek true beauty (philosophy and appearance). Forget infatuation.

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Eugene C. Bell

Most of us would do well to delay getting married until we are established on a career path. Then we should delay having children until we are sure we’re prepared for the challenges of raising a family. While we’re meeting our responsibilities as parents, we must remember to maintain a strong, loving relationship with our spouse.

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Dave Puterbaugh

Respect the interests and desires of each family member. Establish traditions and special geographic places for your family — this becomes more important as families typically move around a lot. Remember that you can’t make up later for missing key times in your family’s life.

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Andy Petery

No one is born a parent. Although our media and bookshops are filled with endless self-help guides and courses, parenting is one of those things in life you must learn by doing. Striving to be a good husband and father have been my greatest challenges. 

I do not regret one bit that we set many “reach goals” for our children — both academically and in sports. In my view, it is necessary to stretch for something that is well beyond your grasp. If you never push yourself to your limits, how do you even know what your limits are? And if you do not force yourself beyond those limits, how do you grow?

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

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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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Bill Agee

Everyone knows that we allocate time to whatever we value most. Don’t kid yourself into accepting the “quality time is good enough” myth. The gift of actual time — and a lot of it — is essential to nurturing healthy family relationships.

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Robert K. Bowman

Find someone who has both some mutual interests and some differing interests. Respect each other, no matter how much you may disagree. Do things together. 

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Judy Ley Allen

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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Paul G. Hines

This is not easy. It takes commitment, time set aside for family fun and relationships, and an ability to rise from the ashes when things don’t work out the first time around.

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Lawrence D. Ackman

Encourage family togetherness, frequent communications, joyous occasions.

If things get tough in a marriage, don’t give up the first (or second) time there is a problem. Too many marriages are terminated after hitting the first rough spot.

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John A. Moeller

Finding that special person whose values, goals, interests, and tenacity match yours, then getting and staying married, is the greatest pleasure and satisfaction anyone can possibly have. It isn’t always easy, but the companionship and partnership produce continuing teamwork, rewards, and pleasure.

Raising children becomes a never-ending source of pride, requiring work, time, patience, and expense. As children mature and themselves become spouses and parents, they provide an ever-changing perspective on wisdom and happiness.

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Rich Opsahl

Before the wedding, make a deal about what type of life you expect to lead. Be willing to argue about things openly and even often. 

Hang out with your kids a lot, even if it means missing work opportunities. Give your kids the best schooling you can. Exercise together.

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Scott Spangler

I would say that marriage and parenthood are the essential human experience. While career was important, family life was, in the end, the most satisfying part of my life. I think a happy marriage and family are one of the most important predictors of success in business.

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Mark Hoffman

Don’t forget: while you’re still busy elsewhere, marriage and family will inevitably be the most important elements of determining success or happiness for most people.

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John A. Fabian

I am convinced there is a lot of luck involved in these “family matters.” Having said that, the one thing that surely makes one more “lucky” is to give family matters as much time, effort, and attention as possible. 

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