empathyIf you were in my shoes, do you know what I would do? Would you know how I feel. Have you even thought about it?

Extending our hand to someone in need is easy. But extending our heart? That’s different. It’s hard. But it’s critical.

As a manager, nothing you do will be as effective as it could be if you can’t see the world from my eyes. You’ll never understand my assumptions, pressures or my motivations.

As a marketer, you can’t even start your work without understanding what a future customer is thinking about. In today’s age, you can’t just throw stuff in front of them on TV and hope to make a sale.

As an elementary school teacher in the inner city, if you don’t know the issues your student faces at home, you’ll never be able to understand them, find common ground with them, and eventually capture their imagination during class.

As a lawyer, if you represent your own agenda (even if it is for justice) without understand the pressures they feel, you will never be on the same page. As the phrase goes, “if you force them to fight and you lose, you’ll go home devastated but your client may not have a home to go to.”

And as a leader,  you won’t even be remotely as good as you could be if you can’t imagine life through my eyes. Understand what inspires me and how I view the world.

When we extend our hand, it usually means we have the time or resources to help. We give quick advice. We give a small donation. And then we’re on our way.

But when we extend our heart, we do it because we understand what it’s like to be them. We put ourselves in their shoes for just a second. It takes more time and it’s a lot more risky.

It’s a whole lot easier to extend your hand to someone. But it’s a lot harder to extend our hearts. That’s why there are not many TRULY GREAT lawyers, marketers and leaders.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 Careers, Leadership No Comments

Finding good advice

adviceMost advice is mediocre advice. That’s why if you ask more than one person, you’ll often get different responses.

Whether advice for you application essays. Job interviews. Decisions at work. How to find funding. Or how to get attention of that special someone.

Don’t get me wrong. People mean well, especially friends and family. But they still usually don’t give the best advice.

This leads to us to three challenges as we continue to look for ways to do great things in the world.

1. Understand that everyone will give different advice. Many people because they are uninformed on the issues and others who just give you plain bad advice. You have to learn to forget about it before you get stuck thinking too much.

2. Try to figure out the actually useful good advice. Filter through the information. Find people that understand how things work. And people that have been there before.

3. Find people you trust that will help you discern when your mind gets clouded.

All easier said than done. I know from experience. I’m sure you do too.

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 Careers, Leadership No Comments

Ask Jeremy: Response to reader in Brazil about professional development

In a recent question, Manuel, from Brazil asked me about sources of professional development. Specifically, he wanted to know if I recommend any inspirational or personal development books.

See below for the question and below that for my video response.

Subject: Professional Development

Message Body:
Hi Jeremy

My name is Manuel. I wanted to thank you for all the work put into his blog. I just watched one of your last videos where you briefly talked about mission and goals in life. I have been thinking a lot about this for a few years now and Wanted to ask you about your personal and professional development experience. What other sources of development did you use besides having mentors throughout college? Do you have inspirational and personal development books that you recommend?

Thank you so much
Manuel Cardenas
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Structure of my response

Not enough people think about professional development.

“To become a great leader, first you have to learn to lead yourself.  To lead yourself you have to know yourself.”  -Harry Kramer

Three things: Mentors, Tips, Books.

1. Mentors are critical. Not only helps the mentee, but also helps you and the community at large.

2. Tips: A) Put yourself in tough situations. B) Think about leaders / thinkers you admire.

3. Books

A) Thinkers I admire: Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Cory Booker, President Obama

B) Books (highlight top 5): Leadership Lessons from the White House Fellows,  Never Eat Alone, Whos Got Your Back,  Steve Jobs biography, Audacity of Hope, Purple Cow, The Dip, Not without Hope, The Power of One,  Start With Why, The Lean Startup, Strengths Finder 2.0, The Leader who Had No Title, Primal Leadership (or anything by that author), Blink, Outliers, From Values to Action

C) Seth Godin 2012 recommendations


Saturday, December 1st, 2012 Careers, Leadership, Other Blogs No Comments

Ask Jeremy: Can you share any advice on recommendation letters for fellowship program?

In a recent question, a reader asked me about choosing recommenders for a fellowship application. Specifically, she wanted to know who to use and what they should write about.

See below for the question and below that for my video response.

Dear Mr. Wilson,

It was a real pleasure meeting you at the networking event last week. I intend to take you advice in my quest for success. I read your blog and I have to say that I am truly impressed. Not only it is very well known, but it serves a purpose that I take at heart. Education.


As I told you yesterday, I will apply to the (Name) Fellowship Program. I went through the application today. For the letter of recommendation,  I am not sure if I should ask one of my undergraduate teachers, one of my teachers from grad school, or my boss from my last job, what do you think? Also, when it comes to the personal statement, I was wondering if I should focus on my work experience or on my life experience from my home community.

Any advice would be helpful. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.


See below for my video response.


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Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 AskJeremy, Careers 2 Comments

If you only saw what I see

You would know it was obvious. You would change your mind and buy in to the plan today.

It’s what Barack Obama is telling the nation about his vision for change and about the hundreds of hours he’s been spending on policy revisions. He’s been spending the past year trying to show the world before November 6, 2012.

It’s also what entrepreneurs tell funders about the game changing idea that can disrupt an entire industry if they can just garner support.

It’s what CEOs tell their teams a year before the next big product comes out, when nobody understands why he’s changing his plan in the middle of the year.

It’s what great nonprofit leaders tell their constituents. About the millions of lives they are going to impact three years from now.

It’s what a good MBA applicant sees, when she spends hours and hours on her essays, trying to show the school why she’s the perfect fit.

And it’s what a guy tells the girl he sees a future with, even though she might not know how it could possibly work out.

“If you only saw what I see.”

Often times you think that these people are just trying to convince you. But that’s not always true.  They are trying to show you what they see. To stop and look for just one second.

Its hard to show you because what they see is a little bit further out there.   But the great ones will try until they figure out how to get you there.

Think Barack Obama in 2008 when nobody thought he stood a chance.  Steve Jobs who proposed a new design for the MAC computer after being fired from Apple years before. Wendy Kopp who proposed Teach For America in her undergrad thesis all the way back in 1989. Sal Khan who posted YouTube videos of school lessons for years before getting a single bit of recognition for it.

If we only saw what they saw.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 Careers No Comments


In the midst of all the chaos and noise today, the world needs poets.

No, I’m not talking about the Kellogg Section (e.g that was my section) although I loved all my poet classmates. Instead, I’m talking about people who have a way with words. People who can cut through the noise and articulate their vision so that other people can hear.

In times past this was much easier. Without all the noise, people were more focused, they had less distraction, and people could rally around them much easier.

But today’s world makes this more challenging. Today we have more soundbites to filter than ever.  We also have more messages in our Inbox and more people in the world than ever before.

Meanwhile, we also see news channels that spend 95% of their time talking about the bad news.  Websites using enticing headlines fighting for more eyeballs. And social media  putting out more quantity than quality.

In today’s unfocused time, we need people who focus on the positive. People that can capture the imagination of their companies. People that can touch the hearts and minds of their communities. And people who can inspire the spirits of people to create change from the other side of the globe.

In every industry and organization imaginable, we need to have poets.



Friday, October 19th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

The kind of bravery that everyone will notice

The true story of Felix Baumgartner’s act of bravery can be seen everywhere you look online. Just this past weekend he became the first person ever to break the speed of sound with his record-breaking skydive from 23 miles.

Jumping from higher than 23 miles meant he had enough time to reach a speed of 833.9 miles per hour. That translates into 1,342 kilometres per hour.  And that roughly translates into Mach 1.25, which is faster than the speed of sound.

Sounds unbelievable right?  No one has ever traveled at that speed in clothing alone.  And no person has ever jumped from so high before either.

Imagine the emotion.  Imagine the thoughts going through his head. Imagine the fear.   In the Washington Post, he noted, “I thought for a few seconds that I’d lose consciousness.” “I didn’t feel a sonic boom because I was so busy just trying to stabilize myself. ”

In spite of that daunting fear, Felix was audacious enough to try it anyways.  Don’t get me wrong –of course he did the math and understood the risk. But he went against all fear and decided to jump anyways. And in the end, he became the first man to break the sound barrier and three other world records.

I’m not saying you should go out and beat his record tomorrow.  Or come up with a new cliff diving record next week. But I am saying you should think about how to be audacious in your own field. Calculate the risks, do the math, and take big risks and see what happens.

Nothing truly great was ever done by someone that shied away from being brave. Instead being brave is how the Wright Brother got started and how airplanes were created. It’s how game winning shots were made. Billion dollar companies were formed.  Insurmountable campaigns were won. And how the greatest stories of our time conceived.  It’s the kind of bravery that billions of people on our planet have noticed over and over again.

In the meantime, maybe try to get Red Bull to sponsor your project too. Perhaps one of the best consumer marketing ideas in a very long time.


Monday, October 15th, 2012 Careers, Leadership No Comments

The perfect match

Despite what they say, one thing everyone thinks of is finding the perfect match. Businesses looking for new customers. Working professionals looking to get into the right MBA program. NBA teams looking to draft a new star player. And anyone looking for that special someone.

That’s why businesses are willing to spend a lot of dollars trying to find the best customers. Because those customers will not only spend a lot of money but also be advocates and refer others customers.

It’s why NBA teams will dish out a few extra million to not only to get the best player but also to get the player that fits in well with the team. It could take a team from mediocre to NBA finals contender in just one season.

It’s why MBA prep programs focus so much on finding the right “fit” schools and careers. Plenty of people have failed out of top schools while others have been profoundly successful at lower ranked schools.

It’s why employees look hard to find the perfect mentor at their firms. Advocates who help them get good work and make it to the top of their careers.

And it’s why people say no to dating dozens of other people and wait on the one they think is a REALLY good catch. Someone who may not even live in their city.

I heard it put in this 3 step framework my marketing class back in my days at Kellogg. You want to find someone who

  1. Likes your strengths
  2. Doesn’t mind your weaknesses, and
  3. Isn’t well-served competitively

So someone that like the things you do well. Doesn’t care so much about the things are you aren’t that good at. And doesn’t have anyone else like you around.

No matter what the context … find these people and improve your odds at success.


Friday, September 28th, 2012 Careers No Comments

The look of an MBA student

What does an MBA student from a top 5 program look like? How do they act and what things have they done? How can I be just like them?

I’ve met MBA students from schools all over the US, who come from every profession. I’ve met early career MBAs fresh out of college and older ones who had big jobs before coming.

And I can tell you this: many of them don’t have much in common. They don’t share gender, job title or income level. They didn’t go to the same college, take the same classes or have the same goals.

Ironically, one thing you’ll notice about MBA applicants is that they all seem to be trying to be the same person. Take the same classes, tell the same stories, talk about the same experiences and submit the same applications. All in hopes to be accepted to their dream schools.

You see the disconnect in all of this, right?

This is bad news is that if you’ve got the wrong genes you are NOT going to make it to the NBA or to the NFL (although I have one friend who figured out how–despite his scrawny stature he still made it all the way). But the good news is that if you want to go to the best business school in the world, become a better leader, and change the way business is done–you can.  Because neither your genes nor your job will get your in or keep you out.

Actually, MBAs do have one thing in common. Every MBA made the decision to apply to school and then worked hard to make sure they got in.


Monday, September 17th, 2012 Admissions, Business School, Careers 3 Comments

Last impressions

First impressions are critical. When you interview for a job. Meet new potential clients. A someone out on a date. You never get to make a good first impression again.

A few months ago, I opened up a new account at my bank. The first interaction was great. The employees were helpful and nice. They got me through the process quickly, and even gave me a discount.

At the moment I was happy, but over time the experience has taught me that last interactions might be far more important.

After they finished this job, their service has been worse. They’ve charged me with fees they didn’t explain And last week, it took two hours just to get a few cancelled checks. I was transferred between three departments, all on VOIP lines in South America that were hardly working.

The interaction was terrible. And this is what will stick in my memory. The last interaction. In my experience, it can make or break everything.

Good last impressions are great too. When the Dean of your school sent a personal message over the weekend to help with an important problem. When my realtor left me free cookies on two occasions after closing my condo. When I got a call from someone I was waiting to hear from (sorry readers, no links here!!!)

The good news is that just yesterday, the bank helped me get $120.00 back that was fraudulently taken from my account. And it only took 15 minutes. I was thrilled. Can my bad feelings be changing? Maybe not entirely, but the last impression helped.

In today’s disconnected internet-driven world, last impressions are more important than ever.  So what last impression are you going to leave today?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 Careers No Comments

It’s the small things

For the majority of us, it’s not the big things. Instead, it’s the small things that can make all the difference.Think about it.

Every time you are making progress on a big project at work but take a 10-second break to check email. No big deal right? Well, if you do that 100 times a day (most people do), that adds up not only to be a significant amount of time but also a significant distraction.

Likewise, drink a coffee every single day in the morning before work? Or a soda at lunch every day instead of water? A little drink never hurt anyone right? But a year later, what if you add them up side by side against a wall. Over 300 drinks would look at lot bigger now.

On the other hand, when you’re in a race to the finish line in middle of a huge project an extra hour can make all the difference. When you’re struggling through a tough project at work or school, a text message from a your mom saying “you can do it” can light up your mood. And we all know this to be true: even a 15-minute call from that special someone you like can change your entire day for the better.

All of us might be better off if we found a way to keep tabs on these little events.

If we lined up all our emails or coffee against the wall, seeing how many were there might be enough to change your mind.

On the other hand, if you just thought for a second about just how helpful an extra hour or a 15 minute call was, we’d do the same for others.


Sunday, September 2nd, 2012 Careers No Comments

Deadline: Organizer for Emanuel Pleitez for LA

The deadline to work with my friend Emanuel Pleitez for his campaign for Mayor is On Monday. Please remind any students, recent grads or socially-minded professionals you know to consider it.

The application deadline is Monday, September 3, so if you are interested, please be sure to submit your resume to and register: HERE

Fellows would join an amazing team already on the ground of alumni from schools all over the country, including Stanford, Harvard, UT Austin, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, Michigan, USC, Seattle, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, Cal State Long Beach, Princeton, Yale, UPenn, West Chester, Cornell among others.

Let me know if you decide to apply or want to be connected to the campaign.

See recent press on the campaign below

LA Times
Fox News
La Opinion (Spanish)

Saturday, September 1st, 2012 Careers, Diversity, Job Opportunities No Comments

Fifteen more minutes

I am leaving on a trip Sunday morning, and the mere thought of going to the airport got me thinking. It got me thinking about the power of 15 more minutes. Let me explain.

There are two ways most of us generally travel.

The first is what most of us do. You think about your flight time, map out your trip to the airport and then leave on time. Along the way, you do your best to avoid traffic, repeatedly checking your smart phone to make sure you’re on track. But by the time you walk inside, you’re five minutes behind. You consider cutting the security line but you don’t … losing more time than you thought.  By the time you get through security you realize you’ve another five minutes, maybe even ten. So you take throw your computer inside a different part of your bag, get repacked as fast as you can and pick up the pace. Many of us can’t get that food we were craving, some of us are forced to start jogging, hoping … praying the doors haven’t shut. In the end, you barely made your flight.

The second way is to leave for the airport 15 minutes earlier. We don’t rush because it feels so early. You don’t spend time checking your clock and never once did you consider jogging, let alone running.

If you travel the first way, you’re sure to get stressed out. Sure you’ll maximize your time but you’ll also maximize chances of missing your flight, sweating by the time you get to your seat and not having enough space for your carry-on.

If you travel the second way, you don’t stress. There’s no chance of missing your flight. And if you want it, you can grab a bite on the way.

So what’s the lesson you ask? It’s probably different for everyone. But here are three:

  1. First, is the importance of buffer time. Even just a little can change your entire day.
  2. Second, the easiest thing to do is to do what we’re supposed to – in this case leave on time. But sometimes doing a little extra can make the difference.
  3. Finally, the easiest way to deal with chaos and all the stress that comes with it, might just be to avoid it altogether.

So the next time you have a flight … or better yet … any important appointment, meeting, due date or deadline, consider getting started just a little earlier.  In most cases, option #1 will be the most tempting but option #2 will be better.


Friday, August 24th, 2012 Careers 2 Comments

Hurry up and wait …

is a classic thing that happens to most of us. It happens when for part of the time you are working as hard as you can to get something done, but then once you finish, you have to stop and have to wait wondering if hurrying was ever worth it.

Think about it.

Movie crews hurry to finish setting up but then they wait for the director to finish the scene before scrambling for the next scene. Authors hurry to finish their books and blog posts, but then wait for someone to comment on it or give you a book deal.  We hurry and sign the contract, then wait for the lawyers to send their comments and revisions. And government officials — they are even worse than lawyers. You write a memo or brief as fast as you can to give to your superior, just to turn around and wait for hours just to be able to have a meeting with them.

But it’s not just a business concept. It also happens in our personal lives.

We apply to MBA programs or take the Bar exam, expending every bit of energy we have. But then we wait for months to get the result back. Or we call a girl that we like, leave a voicemail and sit around waiting for her to call us back, wasting hours in the meantime.

And in the end, many of us spend as much of our time waiting as we do working.

I propose that the best way to fill up that waiting time is to work on something else. Build in time for new projects. Set up time to revise old ones. And work on things you care about.  Not only does it help to pass the time, but it means you are continuing to work on your craft and getting better at things you care about.

And more importantly, for some of us, it helps you take your mind off of the stakes of what you’re waiting for.


Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 Careers 2 Comments

The importance of timing

Sometimes, there is nothing more important than good timing. When you’re applying to graduate school. Trying to find a new job. Hoping to get a promotion at your company. Or even looking to meet that special someone. No matter what the activity is, sometimes, timing can make all the difference.

When timing is bad, there might to be far more school applications than ever before, a boss that doesn’t want to put in a good word for you, or a gatekeeper at work that won’t help you get in front of the person you need.

On the other hand, when timing is good, everything you need can work in your favor. That gatekeeper will get you in front of the senior person at work. There’s an extra seat in the class because less people might have applied. Or your boss is having a good year and wants to see you succeed as much as he wants to do well himself.

I have a personal example from just this weekend. Small but a perfect illustration.

I was in an airport in another country. I was about to make my way back to the US and was mistakenly given a middle seat even though I was assigned an isle. But by the time I noticed, there was little I could do given the organization of the airport at the time.

But we just so happened to make our way toward the gate a few hours early to make sure our flight was still on time. Nobody was at the gate and the plane before ours was a bit delayed. We were about to make our way back to the cafeteria to wait out our flight there, since there weren’t enough open seats for all of us at the gate.

All of a sudden, a gate attendant speaks over the intercom, “Everyone that needs a seat change, come by the gate so we can get your seats finalized.”

The timing could not have been any better. At that moment, I was about two steps from the gate. So I walked over and got in line, just before watching about 40 other people do the same. I told them about my mishap, and not only do they stick me in a window seat but it just so happened to be next to one of the guys I had went on the trip with.  And they told me, there were only 2 window seats left, and that I was lucky to get one of them.

It reinfored the idea, that sometimes timing can make all the difference.



Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 Careers No Comments

Build things in

Have you ever thought you would do something a week or two from now, but it turned out that you didn’t have the time? Or maybe you were too tired so didn’t feel like it? But in retrospect you would have been much better off had you gone through with your original idea?

It can happens to every single person I know.

Works get busier than expected, so the dinner you had planned next week, never got finalized. Your feeling down after a few bad incidents at work, so you opt not to go to the event because – and you don’t have to since you never bought the tickets.  And in some cases, you have so many things on your mind that you just forget the outing that you hoped to remember to do the following week.

In retrospect, sometimes you be much better off if you just scheduled the trip in advance. Bought the ticket. Committed to someone else that you’d be there. Not rely on the hope that you buy them later. Because when things get busy or when you get down, not only do you start to forget about events, but sometimes you just skip them because you don’t feel up to it.

I propose the idea that sometimes (not always but sometimes) it’s better to build things in. To buy a flight in advance. Commit to someone you’ll be there. And mark it in your calendar now.

Because if you don’t build it in now, chances are you won’t do it later.


Sunday, July 29th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

Now what?

What do I do now? That’s the question people a lot of people are asking themselves.  MBAs that just finished business school. Law students that just finished the bar exam. Friends and colleagues that finished their big project that kept them captive at work.

Often times, we encounter big taks and we have to go face to face with really hard work. And the harder the work the busier we all become.  And I suspect that the trend never really ends. But  every time there comes a point where it all comes to an end. Life has to go on. And we have to figure out what to do next.

In most cases that’s easy with a little advanced planning. That’s why most people plan trips after a big exam. Family vacations after your big project at work. Places you’ve always wanted to go if you decide to finally quit the job you’ve always wanted to quit.

But what happens when the work is harder than you thought? When time slips away? Then you find yourself asking, “now what.”

Advice from someone smart that has been there: “Enjoy your freedom. It’s not going to last.”

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Thursday, July 26th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

MBA Internship Success

Thousands of MBAs finished their first year of business school just last week and went off into the workforce to start their summer internships. Some of them went into consulting. Others into banking and finance. And another group went to marketing, operations, general  management and a variety of other positions. But no matter which industry people went into, most of them do have two things in common. Not only do they want to do enjoy the experience but they also all want to  get an offer at the end of the summer.

Sure, it might still be early, but there’s a lot of things you can do now to make sure you get your offers. But don’t take it from me, take it from this great article I found on  See the MBA advice they gave.  I did this morning and it looks pretty solid to me.

CLICK HERE for the BusinessWeek article. See below for the first few lines.



Avoiding MBA Internship Blunders

By now everyone living in the world of MBAs knows that the summer internship is really a two-month interview to determine if the candidate fits in well at the company and merits a full-time job offer.

“If a student completes the internship without (a) acquiring new skills, (b) developing a list of new contacts and professional relationships and mentors, it was time wasted,” writes Vicki Lynn, senior vice president for client talent strategy and employer branding at Universum USA. “The internship is an opportunity to grow and develop professionally, add to skill sets, and acquire mentors and references—for the next opportunity.

But like any opportunity, an internship can also be a potential minefield. Mistakes that can sabotage any hope of a future with the employer are shockingly easy to make. Here are seven of the biggest blunders MBA interns make and how to avoid them:

Mistake No. 1: Partying Too Hard

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the BusinessWeek article.

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Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

Our MBAs 25 Years From Now

As recent grads from business school, we all can’t help but wonder how the next few years will be. And how they will be different than if we hadn’t chosen to come to business school, or to Kellogg. Will we be happy? Will we make enough money over the next two decades? And will it be more now that we went to business school? And will we be married, will we stay in touch, and will we be glad we went through the journey? While those questions are undeniably hard to answer, one recent survey did get some good information from one class of MBAs 25 years ago.

In short, members of the Harvard Business School class of 1968 were asked 85 questions about their professional and personal lives years after graduation. Alums were asked if their lives have been easier or harder than expected, whether they were happy and how they thought about business school and life in general.

I’ll note that I can’t speak for the survey in any capacity. Not the methodology, result, legitimacy, accuracy of the reposting online, validity or anything else about the survey.  Rather, the reposting and analysis was created and posted on a website called, Poets and Quants.  And I simply reposted here as I know a number of my readers will find it interesting.

Below is the result of the survey and an analysis. The results were originally posted here  at this link:


Can an MBA from a top school make a big difference in your life?

Just about all the applicants to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and other top business schools in the world believe that’s the case. Otherwise, they wouldn’t quit their jobs and attend a prestigious school in a two-year MBA program that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the research largely conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council shows that the vast majority of MBAs have no regrets. GMAC’s 2012 survey showed that 95% of MBAs and business school alumni rated the value of their degree as outstanding, excellent, or good. Nine out of 10 alumni say their graduate management education prepared them for their chosen careers.

Aside from such vague macro data, however, there’s generally little information that reveals what really happens to those who earn an MBA from a top school years after they’ve entered the workforce—until now. Poets&Quants obtained the results of a survey of Harvard Business School’s Class of 1986 that was done for its 25th reunion last year.

Members of the class were asked 85 questions that yielded revealing answers about their professional and personal lives at mid-life. Alums were asked if their lives have been easier or harder than expected, whether they believe America is a better place to live and work now, and if they ever had to hire a defense attorney. They were asked how they met their life’s partners, whether they divorced or stayed married, how much money they make, and what their personal net worth is.


Because the answers were only intended for the class and not the public, the results are extraordinarily candid and frank. Some 271 members of the class responded to the survey, representing 35% of the total class and 42% of the alums for which Harvard had current street or e-mail addresses.

This is a class that has endured three recessions, including the recent economic collapse that has been the most severe downturn since the Great Depression. It is also a class that has seen vast changes in the world of work, from the sizable impact of international competition to the growing use of technology in every aspect of life. The class has seen dramatic upheavals in societal and cultural norms, from marriage and divorce to the decline of Corporate Elite and the rise of the entrepreneur.

In the year the class graduated, Ronald Reagan was President and Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history. A gallon of gas cost 89 cents and the average income in the U.S. was $22,400. A Tandy 600 portable computer cost $1,594 (Apple had only introduced the first Macintosh computer a year earlier). Computers ”were so heavy we all needed help getting them into our dorm rooms and since we were the first class in the history of HBS to have computers, the spreadsheets were incredibly buggy,” recalls Pamela Meyer, one of the ’86 women who made up 24% of the class.


The result of the reunion survey is a fascinating profile of a class, a rich mosaic with both substantive and frivolous facts. Some of the more telling tidbits:

  • Even Harvard alums are not immune from downsizings and firings. Some 47% of the class said they had been involuntarily dismissed from a job, while 13% said they have been fired twice and 4% reported having lost a job three times in their 25 years since graduation.
  • Sex isn’t a very high priority for the Class of 1986–at least not that they are 53 to 55 years of age. Just 3% of the alums say they want more sex. The highest priorities? Time (31%), health (18%), and peace of mind (13%).
  • More members of the class have hired personal trainers (43%) than therapists (41%) or cosmetic surgeons (7%).
  • Slightly more than one in four alums have gained 11 to 20 pounds since they wore their cap and gown. Some 15% put on 21 to 30 pounds, while 5% tip the scales with weight gains of 31 to 50 pounds.
  • A third of the class (33%) admitted to having slept with someone whose last name they didn’t know (37% for men, 17% for women).
  • One in four own 25 or more pairs of shoes (58% of the women and 15% of the men).
  • One in five (20%) have skydived, while one in three (32%) completed a marathon.
  • About 21% met their spouses at their undergraduate schools, while 14% found their spouses at Harvard Business School (12% in the same Class of 1986 and 4% in the same HBS section). Another 12% met at work.
  • The Class of 1986 apparently wasn’t into the bar scene. Only 3% of the class met their spouses at bars. Some 6% said they met at a party, and 4% met randomly on a plane or in a taxi.
  • Some 14% of the class is divorced, with another 1% separated. About 5% divorced and remarried.
  • Some 18% dated someone they met online, but only 3% of the class married the person they met on the Internet or by some “other commercial means.”

The survey addressed most of the obvious questions any applicant would want to know, including what contribution did a Harvard degree make toward a successful life, how much money does an HBS graduate make 25 years after graduation, and how much personal wealth can a Harvard MBA accumulate in a quarter of a century. The answers are all here as well and they are eye-opening.


For a group that has lived through three recessions, including the worst since the Great Depression, the Class of 1986 is doing pretty well, thank you. The median annual income of a ‘86er last year was $350,000. Slightly more than one in four class members reported annual income of $1 million or more, while 8% of the class said they earned more than $5 million last year.

The median personal net worth for the class was a heady $6 million. But that number only tells a small part of the story. Some 19% of the class reported net worth between $20 million and $100 million. About 4% of the class said their personal net worth exceeded $100 million.

As for other material toys:

  • Nearly one in eight (77%) owned a second car.
  • Four in ten (42%) owned a vacation home.
  • One in four (25%) owned a boat.
  • One in ten (10%) owned a full or fractional share of a private airplane.

What about the hard luck cases? About 8% said their personal net worth was below $1 million, with 3% in the under $400,000 bracket. Some 5% said they were making $100,000 or less last year. Asked if the post-2008 recession caused them to “consciously economize or otherwise had a tangible impact on your lifestyle,” only 18% of the class said “yes, meaningfully.” Some 41% answered “yes, somewhat,” while the 40% said “no.”


Very few members of the class are traveling on the rocky ground, to paraphrase a recent Bruce Springsteen song. About 36% of the class founded a company that eventually employed 25 or more people, and an extraordinary 14% have been climbed into the C-suite at a Fortune 1000 company with the title of chief executive, chief financial officer, or another C-position.

How did their lives, 25 years later, match up with their expectations of what would happen? When asked how similar or different has life been from what you expected, only 17% said it was pretty much what they expected. Some 24% said it was “different,” 12% said “extremely different,” and nearly one in ten (9%) checked the box with the statement “What the hell just happened the last 25 years?” The largest single group of the class, 38%, said life has been “reasonably similar with a couple of curve balls.”


When asked if life had been harder or easier than expected, only one in ten (10%) of the class said their professional lives have been easier, while 16% thought their personal lives have been easier. A surprising number of Harvard alums believe their lives have been more difficult than they ever imagined. Some 38% said their personal life was harder than expected, while 30% said their professional careers have been harder. (Some 46% said their personal life has so far turned out as expected, along with 59% for their professional life.)

As for the bottom line answer to was the Harvard MBA worth the sacrifice, the class was understandably in agreement that the degree was an important ingredient in its success. Only 1% of the class–three of 271 respondents–believed their Harvard MBA was “not a particularly productive use of my time or money.” Nearly half (48%) described it as “one of the best decisions of my life.” Another 34% said it was a “very important contributor to my career.” Only 13% admitted that going to Harvard for an MBA was “a responsible move professionally but not a big impact on my overall life.” On a less serious note, 3% of the class agreed to the statement “when I meet people who went to Stanford, I am secretly envious.”

What did the class find to be the most valuable part of getting an MBA from Harvard? Some 28% of the alums said the top answer was the “ongoing professional credential” of the degree, while 22% said it was “placement in job after school” and 21% said it was mainly the “education.” About 13% believed the degree’s primary benefit was the “personal self-confidence” it bestowed. One in ten (10%) identified “classmates for social reasons” and 6% said the “network of alumni professionally.” Some 3% said it was “something to drop into cocktail party conversations.”

How much did the degree actually change their lives? Just 8% of the class believes their lives are not at all different by having a Harvard MBA. Some 46%, however, said their lives were “somewhat different,” while 40% said their lives were “materially different” as a result of the degree. Another 5% agreed with the statement “I don’t want to think of my life without HBS.”


One of the most interesting questions asked of class members was what would they have done if Harvard had turned them down for admission. Eight of ten members of the class (82%) said they would have gotten an MBA from another school. The largest percentage of ’86ers, 27%, said they still would have gone to business school but were uncertain which school they would have attended. However, about 19% said they would have gone to Stanford, 9% to Wharton, 6% each to Chicago Booth and Dartmouth Tuck, 5% to Nothwestern’s Kellogg School, and 4% to MIT Sloan. About 4% of the class said they would have continued to apply to Harvard until accepted.

Politically, the Class of 1986 is the complete opposite of the old adage “Those who are not liberals when young have no heart.  Those who are not conservatives later in life have no head.” The class reported a strong preference for Reagan in 1984 and then Obama in 2008, even compared to popular vote totals. Some 63.5% of the class backed Reagan versus a national popular vote of 58.8%, while some 64.3% backed Obama, versus a popular vote of 52.9%.

Most of the class thinks it was lucky to graduate from Harvard when it did. More than half the class believes that America is not a better place to live or work than it was when they graduated in 1986. Some 21% of the class thought the country was “significantly worse,” while 37% said it was “slightly worse.” One of four of the class, however, had a very different view. About 18% said America was “slightly better” than it was and 7% said it was “significantly better.”


Five common themes emerged when class members were asked what advice they would give others. The most common was expressed in such quotes as “follow your passion, “the money will work itself out,” “pursue what is most fun to you,” “do what you love” and “enjoy the ride.”

Oddly, though, the second most common theme appeared to be in conflict with the first. “Focus on making money earlier,” advised one ’86er. “Ignore that pursue your passion stuff,” said another. “Make more money,” added one ’86er. “Get promises in writing,” advised another.

A third theme evolved over the importance of picking a spouse. “Be more careful in choosing a spouse,” warned one’ 86er. “If he seems like a jerk, he’s a jerk.” Said others: “Marry someone else…a screwed up marriage screws up everything else.” And finally one obviously burned class member put it simply: “Get divorced now!”

Many members of the class wished they had taken more risks. “Trust your gut….take some career risks…be more ambitious…think big…there is never a good time” were among the comments.

And finally, many alums emphasized the value and importance of family. “Spend time with your children,” advised one. “There is nothing more rewarding than investing in your children,” said another. “Time will fly by and your children’s lives will never be repeated.”

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Saturday, June 16th, 2012 Business School, Careers 2 Comments

MBA Graduation Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I’ll join 600 of my Kellogg classmates at Ryan Field to officially finish off my MBA degree.  More than simply one defining moment, tomorrow will be the cumulative result of many engagements in opportunities and challenges, many of which we never imagined before coming to campus.

This achievement was especially gratifying, as much for the sense of being getting through classes like finance, marketing and operations as it was for thinking about things like teamwork, leadership and decision-making under pressure.

It was also immensely satisfying because I’ve also had to balance Kellogg with also graduating from law school.  One of the 600 students to graduate this year, only 27 will have had to make that balance. At times it was tough. We often felt busier than many of our peers. But we all passed the “test” with flying colors.

We look forward to walking across the stage tomorrow. To getting our official degrees a few days after. And being part of the Kellogg family for a long time to come.

Stay tuned for more updates and pictures over the next few days.

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Thursday, June 14th, 2012 Business School, Careers 4 Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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