26 May 2016

2016 Alumni Achievement Awards

Reflections and insights from recipients of the School’s highest honor


From a distance, the 2016 recipients of the HBS Alumni Achievement Award give the appearance of unmitigated success, and with good reason. Highly accomplished, they are all builders and leaders of the first order. With that said, life does not always progress along smooth, straight lines, as these outtakes from candid interviews show. The texture of experience is far more complex, multifaceted, human, and interesting. These five exceptional alumni are no exception in that regard, and they are all the better for it.


Mary Callahan Erdoes (MBA 1993)

CEO, JPM Asset Management, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“The sheer terror of a cold call changes you forever—until you realize that life is made up of cold calls in different formats. Once you get comfortable with that, and figure out how to prepare, you can handle anything.”

“It’s important to learn how to balance IQ with EQ, emotional quotient. There is humanity in EQ. There is leadership in EQ. You can’t run a business for a long time if you don’t have both, and EQ is critical to having people want to follow you.”

“A mentor is someone who can see you from a different perspective than you see yourself, who takes an interest in giving you feedback and doesn’t hold back. That is a really hard thing to find in life. When you do, grab it.”

“In the summers, Philip and I take a trip out west in an RV with our three girls and explore all of the great national parks. There’s nothing like it. We explore nature, sleep in cramped quarters, make a mess, and have an amazing time.”

“The work we do at JPMorgan Chase helps people invest for important life events, such as retirement or a child’s education. It supports philanthropic endeavors. And it helps businesses develop products, expand into new markets, and create jobs. If we can be the port in the storm where people come when they need us most—that’s a really great place to work.”

Alan Horn (MBA 1971)

Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios

“The Air Force paid for my pilot’s license in ROTC. I really wanted to be a pilot, but I had an astigmatism and couldn’t fly—a big disappointment, but I still served over four years as captain. I then applied to HBS, which changed my life.”

“When I speak to young people today, I emphasize the serendipity of life. You may be very surprised by what you end up doing. I had no interest, association, or connection to the entertainment industry, nothing—until I met a mentor who took a chance on me.”

“When Norman Lear asked me to take over the creative direction of his television shows, it was a decision met with some resistance. I was perceived as a businessperson. I did not come in with any expression of arrogance or even confidence. It was an emotional, stressful time.”

“Eventually I was accepted. At one point a producer of All in the Family gave me a pencil. He said, ‘This is a Blackwing 602, half the pressure and twice the speed. You are now qualified to give notes on scripts. Use it the rest of your life.’ I did and still do.”

“I have two criteria for our films—heart and humor. We might be OK if we have a very serious drama with a great deal of heart, or a very, very funny comedy without much caring. But it’s when you have both that you capture an audience most completely. That is the most gratifying feeling.”

Jim McNerney (MBA 1975)

Retired Chairman, The Boeing Company

“I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the oldest of five. I don’t know if there’s something to birth order or not, but my siblings would probably say I was very achievement-oriented and purposeful to a fault, although we’re good friends today.”

“I worked at GE and 3M before coming to Boeing in 2005. When I arrived, the company had experienced some ethical challenges. Everyone likes to believe that it’s just a few bad apples, but that’s never the case. We had to own the problem and do a lot of work to figure out our values and culture.”

“Coming to HBS with a liberal arts background from Yale meant I had to ‘tool up’ a bit on the more quantitative subjects. But I enjoyed the environment; the culture was both competitive and cooperative, which is not a bad template for the way life really works.”

“My biggest takeaway from HBS was the problem-solving approach engendered by the case method, which is more about optimizing a workable, sustainable solution than arriving at the ‘right’ answer.”

“Leadership comes down to courage, communication, and the ability to care about other people and treat them well. Plenty of people are smart enough to chart a new course and know a good business strategy from a bad one. We can’t forget that the authenticity and credibility of leaders is more important today than it’s ever been.”

Sunil Mittal (OPM 27, 1999)

Founder and Chairman, Bharti Enterprises

“My first job was starting a small manufacturing unit that made bicycle parts. Then I launched another business for yarn. Once I made a bit of money, it went into the next venture. A third project took me from Ludhiana to Bombay. That opened my eyes to a huge new world.”

“At the time, India had three fat books of import policies, and I knew them backward and forward. In 1982, phones could not be imported, but electronic parts could. I imported the first push-button phone by disassembling phones in Taiwan and putting them back together again in India.”

“When you’re trying to build something, and your dream is outlandish, people scoff at you. You have to steadfastly hold on to your beliefs and move forward.”

“This business reinvents itself every three or four years. We’re now in the thrall of change, transitioning from a traditional telecom to a mobile Internet company. We want to be in businesses that have a very big impact with deep connections to people.”

“Today, Bharti Foundation runs 254 rural schools through its Satya Bharti School Program. In all, our education initiatives reach over 70,000 students, with a special focus on girls; we’re more than halfway to our goal of 100,000 students. In India, there are 320 million children who are 6 to 16 years old; in 10 years, each one of them will be looking for a job and inclusion in society. They need to be educated and skilled. That is a huge task.”

Tom Tierney (MBA 1980)

Chairman and Cofounder, The Bridgespan Group

“I was not a natural-born engineer, and I remember wondering one day during my freshman year if I should drop out of college. It was a beautiful, blue-sky day, and I had my head down, thinking of how I was failing. Then I heard a beautiful melody and looked up to see a young person whistling a tune. He was in a wheelchair. I thought, Tom, shape up. Figure out where you’re going to go and go there.”

“At HBS, realizing there wasn’t enough time to study all of the cases in detail was liberating. I had to be smart about how and what I studied. I loved the case method because it didn’t rely on a formula to solve a problem. It was life, and it was leadership.”

“As an HBS graduate, I was knowledgeable, but I don’t think ‘sophisticated’ would be a word anyone would use to describe me when I joined Bain in 1980. Knowing I needed a suit to join this fancy firm, I bought one in my favorite color—green.”

“At Bain I could carry twice as many projects as my coworkers. The bad news is my get-it-done attitude could limit my investment in the interpersonal side of things. Over time I learned how to be influential in a constructive, positive way.”

“The ‘bridge’ in Bridgespan bridges philanthropists and nonprofit organizations in the social sector. It bridges theory and practice, the business and nonprofit worlds, to increase impact through better strategy and organization.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1993, Section D
Class of MBA 1971, Section G
Class of MBA 1975, Section B
Class of OPM 27
Class of MBA 1980, Section I
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