01 Mar 2005
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Turkish Delight

Negotiating a career in international relations
by Julia Hanna

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Grenville Byford (MBA ’79) was practical when he decided to pursue his interest in international relations. “Unless your name is Kissinger, you have to specialize in a particular area of the world,” he says. “As a newcomer I needed to have supply and demand working for me — so I picked Turkey, because I thought it would become a more in demand, important part of the world. The other side is supply; as it happens, Turkey is a very understudied place.”

A native Londoner, Byford had never been to Turkey. His analytical approach to selecting it could be seen as a vestigial remnant of the six years he spent as a consultant at Bain & Company after leaving HBS. “Once a Bainie, always a Bainie. And I’m married to one as well,” he laughs, referring to the company’s chairman, Orit Gadiesh (MBA ’77). The pair met at Bain in 1978; they divide their time between Brookline, Massachusetts, and a “base of operations” in Paris that makes it easier for Gadiesh to travel for work.

After leaving Bain in 1984, Byford put his entrepreneurial talents to work, launching two electronics companies and, with HBS classmate Gary Gut, a chain known as John Harvard’s Brew House. When the pair sold the business in 2000 it had grown to twelve restaurants; after that, Byford plunged into his new career as a writer and independent analyst on international relations. He took a seminar at Boston University on narrative nonfiction writing, studied Turkish, traveled, and met as many people as he could, including the yet-to-be-elected prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“He’s a very unusual human being, an important historical figure who is both a sincere practicing Muslim and a devoted democrat who believes in human rights,” says Byford. “If he can transform Turkey into a successful, modern country — and I have a lot of faith in his ability to pull that off — the relationship between the West and the Muslim world will look very different.”

Byford’s interest in politics dates back to his days as an undergraduate. Although he studied chemistry at Oxford University, after picking up Henry Kissinger’s A World Restored, he was hooked. “It’s a work of extraordinary genius about the Congress of Vienna at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. I would still rate it as one of the best two or three history books I’ve ever read,” he says. “I found it absolutely fascinating. After that, I became very interested in diplomacy.”

Byford, whose publication credits include Foreign Affairs and Washington Monthly, is currently kicking around a few book ideas of his own as he continues to build his credentials as a specialist in Turkish affairs. He admits that moving from career to career isn’t the easiest path to follow, but that isn’t much of a deterrent if you’ve sailed solo around Cape Horn and across 40,000 miles of open ocean. (The Revenge, a 34-foot sailboat, is currently in the safekeeping of Byford’s sister at an island off the coast of Scotland.)

“There are clear benefits to having what you might call a conventional career — for example, if I had stayed at Bain,” Byford adds. “You know your place in the world. It’s a very insecure thing to suddenly show up in Turkey and say, ‘I’m going to write about this place.’ It’s similar to being an entrepreneur. Anyone who has started a company will tell you that there is enormous satisfaction and enormous frustration attached to the process.” For Byford, it’s been well worth the effort. “I’ve always believed that we pass this way once,” he says, “and that it’s important to do what you want, not what you feel you ought to do.”

— Julia Hanna

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1979, Section B

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