A Letter to the HBS MBA Class of 2015

December 23, 2012 · Print This Article

The admissions department at Harvard Business School asked me to write a reflection on my first semester in the MBA program for the Class of 2015 pre-matriculation blog. Here’s what I sent in. I hope it gives an insight into what I’ve experienced the last four months. In summary, I’m loving every moment. Come visit me in the Spring semester if you’d like to see HBS for yourself!

A Letter to the HBS MBA Class of 2015
A Review of the First Semester of Harvard Business School
By Ryan Allis, Class of 2014, Section F

December 17, 2012

Dear Future Friend,

Congratulations on getting into the HBS MBA Class of 2015!

As I left Aldrich Hall at HBS after finishing my last final of the first semester, I smiled, knowing that I would return home to San Francisco for the Holidays changed forever.

I considered a question as I walked through the Spangler tunnel on my way to the taxi stand, “What is it exactly that Harvard Business School does?”

Does it teach you finance? Does it teach you marketing? Does it teach you storytelling? Does it teach you operations?

Sure. But that’s not what HBS does.

What Harvard Business School does is:

  1. Teach you a deeply analytical thinking process critical to making high quality decisions and becoming a transformational leader;
  2. Enable you to build a team or find a team of superstars to go after any big world challenge that you wish; and
  3. Give you constant psychological reinforcement and mentors that enable you to refine and then actually execute on your dreams to make a difference.

Below I’ll share more about how HBS accomplishes each of the above based on my experience to date.

1. HBS Refines Your Thinking Process & Decision Making Ability

HBS teaches you a process for critical, analytical, and deep thinking that leads to a much better ability to make the key decisions that enable you to make a bigger impact in the world.

HBS teaches you to see one problem from ninety angles–equal to the number of classmates in your first year section with whom you’ll take each class and form meaningful lifelong bonds.

In your first semester, you’ll realize that there is rarely only one objective truth. You’ll see that rather there are various perspectives that many smart and reasonable people can hold. These smart classmates argue logically, often compellingly, enabling your mental models for the world to rapidly improve.

In your first semester you’ll realize that reality is seen through your own lens–which is a definitionally subjective lens. As you hear the various perspectives of your classmates your understanding of “what is truth” and your approach to seeing reality as clearly as possible will improve.

And in your first semester you’ll read 150 cases (that’s 2500 pages!) on topics ranging from building a business in the electroencephalography headset market to launching a water start-up in Tanzania.

2. HBS Changes The People You’re Surrounded By

As you might expect, HBS changes the caliber of the people in your life.

I have found that we are greatly influenced by the twenty closest people in our lives. If you are around amazing, inspiring, high-integrity and highly competent people then you are pushed, move upward, and grow. Your sphere of opportunities, perspectives on the world, and ability to contribute back to humanity all expand.

HBS allows you to not only get into the rooms in which the world’s decisions get made but also find a network of superstars to bring into the room with you. Nuclear physics PhD from MIT? Check. Solar panel builder? Check. Database scalability engineer? Check. Battalion Commander? Check. Tech CEO? Check. Financial modeler extraordinaire? Check. Synthetic biology hacker? Check. Diverse thinkers from dozens of countries? Check.

You’ll be able to build lifelong ties with people who are highly competent and want to make a big difference in the world–greatly expanding the frontier of opportunities available to you and your ability to find leverage points to influence the world.

After just one semester here I’ve formed close relationships with at least ten close authentic, caring, and extremely competent people with whom I know I will become lifelong friends, forever influencing the future direction of my life.

Coming in, I expected most people at HBS would be focused on the pursuit of business for the maximization of short-term profits and only a few would care deeply about using business to make a difference in the world.

Instead, I’ve found the large majority of students at HBS think about and care about our world and the progress of humanity and see business as a tool to make a scalable sustainable difference.

It seems that HBS takes applicants who have shown they have the raw material for global leadership and provides the thinking framework and global network necessary for greatly scaling their positive impact on the world.

3. HBS Helps You Use Your Life to Make a Bigger Difference in the World

Whether or not you already have your life dreams mapped out, HBS provides an ideal environment to take time to introspectively reflect on and clarify the purpose of your life. HBS provides the landscape for wide-ranging exploration and reflection and the support to go in any direction you wish.

After taking the time to determine how you wish to use your one life to make a difference, you can use your HBS network to build the team or find the team whose organizational mission aligns with your personal mission.

I’ve found that HBS helps students come out the other side of their time here with a better framework for how the world works, a clarified life purpose, a deeper compassion for humanity coming from enhanced exposure to cultural complexity, and the support network to fly higher than one could alone.

So you want to create a sustainable world? Awesome. HBS will show you how to create or join a clean tech team. Want to create a world in which every human has access to basic needs like food, water, and shelter? Awesome. HBS will show you how to build or join a team creating the institutions and businesses that create sustainable growth in frontier markets.

Need mentors for a synthetic biology software startup. Just go talk to a one of the many Entrepreneurs-in-Residence at the HBS Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and they’ll connect you up with the right people. Want to join a team using EEG headsets to use thoughts to control computer software? No problem. On campus is the Harvard Innovation Lab with dozens of start-up teams. You are also just two miles away from the MIT Media Lab building the next generation of human computer interfaces and two miles from Kendall Square–the R&D and start-up epicenter of the East Coast.

The Psychological Value of Being Around People Who Think You’re Awesome

At Harvard everyone just assumes that you’re going to go do something special in the world. Of course, when everyone is telling you you’re going to do big things you believe you can do big things. A self-fulfilling prophecy emerges. And most people go off and end up doing pretty impactful things during and after school.

While this self-fulfilling prophecy of achievement is often found at some of the most prestigious schools and employers, at many places this sense of “you can actually go do anything you set your mind to and by the way here’s how” is incredibly rare. If you crave the combination of an inspiring environment with access to the people who can help you do anything you set your mind to, you’ll love your time at HBS.

Come Say Hello in San Francisco or Cambridge

Over this Holiday break I’ll be in San Francisco and Accra, Ghana for an HBS consulting project as part of the HBS FIELD 3 class–working for the Ghanaian news company MyJoyOnline.com. In the Summer of 2013 I’ll be back in San Francisco working on a new start-up called Connect.com. Come say hi over the summer if you come to California or say hi on campus next year.

I can’t wait for you to join us!

Get excited. An awesome new world awaits.

To building a better world together,
Ryan Allis

About the Author: Before starting at Harvard Business School, Ryan Allis was a tech entrepreneur and the CEO of iContact from 2003-2012. Now, he balances being in school with leading a new San Francisco-based start-up called Connect.com.


5 Responses to “A Letter to the HBS MBA Class of 2015”

  1. What’s So Special About Harvard Business School? | Stacy Blackman Consulting - MBA Admissions on January 2nd, 2013 8:50 am

    [...] a bit, according to an open letter published last week by Ryan Allis ’14 as he reflected on his first semester for the Harvard [...]

  2. What’s So Special About Harvard Business School? | The GMAT Club on January 11th, 2013 4:51 pm

    [...] a bit, according to an open letter published recently by Ryan Allis ’14 as he reflected on his first semester for the Harvard [...]

  3. What’s So Special About Harvard Business School? on January 20th, 2013 10:33 am

    [...] a bit, according to an open letter published recently by Ryan Allis ’14 as he reflected on his first semester for the Harvard [...]

  4. Brian Gloede on January 25th, 2013 1:57 pm

    A great letter. While I’m not the target audience, exactly, it does put a fine point on the value of an MBA. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Cy Khormaee on June 28th, 2013 4:43 pm

    Point 2 was especially important to me. Having an amazing group of of supporters (peers and mentors alike) provides the sense of security that enables great leaps of faith.

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