What impact did HBS have on your life and the life of others?
One of the things that I always wanted in my life was something that would open up as many doors for me as it has for my mom. I noticed that having a Harvard MBA, especially as a woman, gave her the credibility, skill set, and community to be successful in her career. It allowed her to take risks that she might not have felt as comfortable with otherwise, like following her passion to open a toy store or pursuing a more flexible work schedule while raising my brother and me. Maybe it can’t all be attributed to Harvard Business School, but it didn’t hurt! So I knew at an early age that I wanted to go to business school. My decision was solidified when I participated in a program called LEAD that allows high school students to spend a month on a business school campus and have a simulated business school experience. I loved it and knew business school would be something I would definitely pursue. As an undergrad at the University of Virginia, I made the conscious decision to be a history major. I decided, for me, having a strong liberal arts degree was important because it would teach me how to think more strategically, digest an abundance of information, and be a more effective communicator. My history classes involved the study of leadership—for good or bad—and its impact, which in retrospect was not that different from business cases. Post-undergrad, I decided to work at Citigroup Private Bank to bolster my quantitative skills before applying to business school.
During my first year at HBS, I was my section’s representative to the Student Association, which I enjoyed. The next year I became COO of SA, which involved running SA Ventures, HBS’s only student-run business with a little over $500,000 in revenue. When I’m a part of something, I’m the type of person who rolls up her sleeves and gets involved. I had a staff of six people and had to execute ideas quickly and be very entrepreneurial—it was a great hands-on experience for learning how to run a business. When my partner left about a month into our term, it was a shock—but it taught me that I could do the job on my own and also remain an active member and leader in other organizations. I had quite a few opportunities to test and apply what I learned in the classroom to real-life situations. There were some skills that I didn’t consider my strong suit, but I had to just get in there and do it anyway. My friends supported me, and it ultimately all worked out. My biggest takeaways from that experience were to focus on your strengths, don’t hesitate to leverage your community, and believe that you can do it.
Travel has always been my passion, and even while I was business school I was active in the Travel and Hospitality Club and worked at Starwood Hotels between my first and second year. Upon graduation, I’ve continued to remain focused in the hospitality industry. I worked with a hotel real estate company that owned and operated hotels, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, and with a startup that focused on traveling with kids. I also love health and fitness and spent the last year working for Lululemon Athletica. Currently, I’m working on a start-up that focuses on both of those interests by filling the need to have a healthier lifestyle when you’re traveling.
For me, success has meant following my two passions for health and travel and, for now, taking a more entrepreneurial path that is all about trying, perhaps failing, trying again, and, hopefully, having it all click at the right time. That’s from a professional perspective—but I agree with my mom that success is holistic, involving friends, family, and community. At the end of the day, success is really about being happy with the decisions you make and feeling as though you made a difference. My mom also reminds people that your career is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not defined by one or two roles, but by a collection of experiences. Aside from that, I would remind young women to keep those strong support networks. The African American women from my class are still extremely tight—they supported me during business school and they continue to support me today. It’s really helpful to be with people who have shared the same experience, because that’s a group where I can be safe. I always tell prospective MBA students that it’s not a two-year experience; it’s a lifelong connection. Even eight years out, I’ve reaped the rewards of the HBS community, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it for the rest of my life!