01 Jun 2017

Six Receive 2017 HBS Alumni Achievement Award

Meet the recipients of the School's highest honor


Recipients of this year’s Alumni Achievement Award reflect the broad influence of HBS alumni as a whole, representing as they do the fields of media, finance, technology, entrepreneurship, research, and academia. They also share a trait we can probably all relate to—more than a few had no idea they would end up where they did.


Extreme Talent

“The Atlantic was founded in 1857, and it had a fantastic 19th century. But the 20th century was not as kind to it.”

David Bradley’s (MBA 1977) gift is spotting “extreme talent.” “It doesn’t mean that you’re extraordinary at everything or even a big thing, but that you’re a really extraordinary—different in kind, not in degree—individual,” he says. “If you can build the enterprise with enough people with extreme talent, so much of the business strategy takes care of itself.” It’s a philosophy that has taken him from the research firm he founded at 26 to the chairmanship of Atlantic Media.

When I grow up: “When I was 13 years old, I read Advise and Consent about the US Senate. I wanted to be the young Republican senator from the state of Maryland.”

In the beginning: “I found business just impossible. Had you known me five or seven years into my business experience, you would’ve said, ‘We had all hoped so much for him. But it’s a shame the way this is working out.’ ”

A 16-hour flight: “You should not leave a 40-year-old man alone with his thoughts at 30,000 feet because all the existential fears set in. I realized, ‘I’m never going to be a US senator.’ Then it struck me. If I can’t be in politics, I can be near it. I’ll go into media.”

Turnaround: “The Atlantic was in economic free fall. In bad years it was losing just over $10 million a year. The internet rescued us.”

Family bonding: “For one week every summer, we’ve been building a tree house. We must have 10,000 pounds of lumber up in the air. It’s really sturdy—but it’s an unpleasing aesthetic experience.”

What I’ve learned: “All of life is a sine curve. At the top of the curve, the learnings are humility and a sense of proportion. Because the thing you know is you’re coming down. At the bottom of the curve, what you know is it will turn again.”

Long-Term Investment

“If you can get people to understand that we’re here to serve and facilitate the work of others, you’ll create a self-perpetuating culture.”

“My parents were the first in their families to attend high school, never mind college,” says Jack Brennan (MBA 1980), former chairman and CEO of the Vanguard Group. Brennan cites the power of education to level the playing field. “Somebody gave my parents a break, and here I am,” he says. “Who’s doing that today for people who don’t speak English, who aren’t white? Education is a deep passion of mine.”

Lessons learned: “My mother was a schoolteacher, so you did not misspeak ‘good’ and ‘well’ in our house, or you were corrected quickly. My father’s greeting was, ‘Is your homework done?’ ”

Real-world experience: “One of my HBS recommendations was written by my supervisor from a job I had on the Mass Turnpike. I worked for four summers as a maintenance truck rider and guardrail fixer.”

TV debut: Romper Room, age four. “I didn’t talk—until one day I took over. I told [the host] Miss Jean to sit down, that I would run the show for her.”

Case method prep: “The exercise of being a decision-maker in a pretend environment 15 times a week teed me up to do it in a real environment.”

Not there yet: “Great companies become mediocre by assuming they have the right to be great. I wouldn’t say we’re a great company. I’d say we’re getting close.”

Race of one: “I time every run I do, because I’m competing with myself and it matters. I refuse to accept that I’m slower than I was when I was 25.”

By the (right) numbers: “People still introduce me by saying, ‘Jack is the former chairman of Vanguard, a $4 trillion enterprise.’ I say, ‘No, it’s a 15,000-people enterprise, serving 25 million people.’ The assets are the outcome, not the goal.”

Home Equity

“I went door-to-door in the beginning, telling people I could help them find a good plumber if they gave me $19. It was a bit of a hard sell.”

A self-described shy and quiet kid, Angie Hicks (MBA 2000) went on to become the namesake of the company she cofounded, Angie’s List. (The naming decision was “made when I was 22, and we had 500 members. It seemed like not a big deal at the time.”) Now CMO of the 1,600-employee company, which provides crowdsourced reviews of local home-service providers, Hicks maintains the enthusiasm she had as a first-time entrepreneur: “If you’re excited about what you’re doing, it’s contagious.”

Starting line: Angie’s List’s first office was “this little 100-square-foot space in Bexley, Ohio. It had a window that faced a cinder-block wall. I had a card table, a computer, and a phone that I brought from home.”

Not me: “If you had asked early on if I considered myself an entrepreneur, I would have said no. I classify entrepreneurs as idea people and risk-takers, and that wasn’t me.”

Location, location: “There was an advantage to being a startup in the Midwest. Everybody was moving to the coast, and we were able to stay outside the fray. Sometimes one of the biggest challenges with starting a business is staying focused.”

Every day: “I make mistakes every day. It’s how you react to them. You have to leave yourself vulnerable enough to realize that you made a mistake and that you can course correct.”

Authenticity: “I was never going to be charismatic. I had to figure out how to be the leader I was going to be. For me, that meant leading by example.”

Open door: “I started doing office hours a couple of years ago. It’s a great way for me to connect with the employees. It could be that you’ve got a grievance. It could be that you’ve got a business idea. It could be that you just wanted to come in and say hello.”

Making It Real

“Today it’s hard to imagine being the only woman in a room of 350 people, but that’s what many of us experienced.”

The founding CEO of AltaVista, Ilene Lang (MBA 1973) was a pioneering IT executive at companies including Symbolics and Lotus Development, all while raising three children. In 2003, that experience made her a perfect candidate to lead Catalyst, a nonprofit that advances women in business leadership roles. “When being mentored and paying it forward is part of your company culture, you have the foundation for inclusion, where individuals are valued not just for how they’re alike but for how they’re different,” says Lang, now a Catalyst Honorary Director since retiring as president and CEO.

But why? “In Hebrew school, I was told that because I was a girl I could not be a leader. I think I became a feminist when I was about 12.”

The 4 percent: “In 1971, I had hair down to my waist. I walked across the Charles from all the marches we were doing at the time and came to HBS, where we were 33 women in a class of 800.”

Flex-time pioneer: “At Symbolics, the programmers worked all night and slept under their desks. I had two little children at the time, and they gave me a computer so I could work from home. I learned the benefit of meeting people where they are.”

Let’s get real: “One day I said to the office manager, ‘You know, we have to get more women in here. If I had a heart attack in the ladies’ room it would be three weeks before anyone found me.’”

Everything changes as it moves: “I’m often asked about work-life balance, but the word ‘balance’ doesn’t click with me. Balance implies stasis—that there’s no volatility and everything is under control. We all know that’s not the case.”

Data-driven: “When I came to Catalyst the first speech I gave was connected to the release of a report we did on the IT industry. I could make real connections between my personal experiences in the field and the research that went with it. It was a huge ‘aha’ moment.”

Head of the Class

“Research is the engine that drives HBS. It keeps faculty at the forefront of practice and therefore sustains our mission.”

“At no point in my life could I have guessed what I’d be doing next,” says John H. McArthur (MBA 1959, DBA 1963), who was Dean of the School from 1980 through 1995. In his career, McArthur also served as a trustee in bankruptcy of Penn Central Transportation, senior advisor to the president of the World Bank, and chair of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and Partners HealthCare, in addition to holding numerous consulting posts in business, government, and education. Throughout, as a member of the faculty since 1962, the Vancouver native has maintained close ties with HBS.

Career path: “I have somehow always felt that where I found myself was where I wanted to be at the time. If it wasn’t, then I either got out or stirred things up.”

Alter ego: McArthur was part of the inspiration for Eric Mardian, the leather-jacketed, hyper-smart tough guy of the 1980s sitcom Head of the Class, created by a high school classmate.

His motivation: His wife, Natty. “But for her, I would almost certainly still be working at a sawmill somewhere in northern British Columbia.”

Being Dean: Is not that different from running a nursery school. “Successful nursery schools are the ones where there is a lot going on to engage the minds and energies of all those kids. There may be a din, there’s almost certainly a mess, but good things are happening.”

Get lost: “Daniel Boone was once asked if he’d ever been lost. ‘No,’ he said after a few moments. ‘I was a mite confused once for three days, though.’ Sometimes, confusion—even being shaken to one’s roots—can be a good thing.”

Reasonable expectations: “In baseball, the best hitters average .330 or .370. You don’t have to bat a thousand to stand out, to be good at something.”

Managed Risk

“Opportunities are going to present themselves when you least expect them. What you have to be willing to do is take the risk.”

In 1983, Adebayo “Bayo” Ogunlesi (JD/MBA 1979) was working as a corporate lawyer when First Boston asked the Nigerian native to provide consulting advice on an energy project in his home country. That experience led to a career switch to investment banking that would culminate 23 years later in Ogunlesi’s appointment to executive vice chairman and chief client officer at Credit Suisse. Now chairman and managing partner at Global Infrastructure Partners, Ogunlesi and his team manage investments of over $40 billion in projects that include Gatwick Airport and the Port of Melbourne. “You should always be inquisitive and progressing in your career,” he says, describing this latest chapter as “a tremendous amount of fun.”

Why HBS? “I dropped math in boarding school as soon as possible. I figured if I went to business school I might overcome my fear of numbers.”

Best job ever: Clerking for Justice Thurgood Marshall. “He was an incredible storyteller and a great man. Once, when I was arguing with him, he looked at me and said, ‘You know, Bayo, Lyndon Johnson signed my commission to be a Supreme Court justice, who signed yours?’ That put everything in the right perspective.”

Banking vs. law: “The beauty of investment banking is you can get tremendous amounts of responsibility early in your career. That very much appealed to me. Whereas a law firm requires a longer period of apprenticeship before you’re turned loose on the world—and rightfully so.”

In our time: “I’m afraid we’re losing our ability to talk to each other. People don’t seem to know how to disagree without being disagreeable.”

Sweaty palms test: “You know you’re still learning in a job if you start to sweat or twitch or get nervous as you get closer to the office.”

Those millennials: “This is a generation that has its head in the right place. They’re much more tolerant and open—they don’t see the same sort of barriers or gradations when it comes to communication, thanks in part to technology.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1977, Section F
Class of MBA 1980, Section D
Class of MBA 2000, Section K
follow @Angie_Hicks
Class of MBA 1973, Section F
Class of MBA 1959, Section C
Class of MBA 1979, Section E

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