Class Day Essay Finalists – Kent Bennett

Be bold.

“Be bold when facing down an aggressive male turkey.”

The pamphlet’s advice rang in my head as I eyed the great beast.

Months earlier, when local efforts to revitalize the wild turkey population had brought sightings of a feathery resident to campus, I had been confident that the school would take the same swift corrective action they reserve for a misplaced Autumn leaf or slightly bent blade of grass.and they soon did.

Okay, sure, maybe other schools would have chosen to address the problem directly, but here at HBS students are provided with facts and given the opportunity – nay, the privilege – to supply our own solutions. It’s part of our charm.

So instead of removing the ornery and (as I assumed) typhoid transporting bird, the school distributed a pamphlet, entitled “Living with Wild Turkeys,” apparently advocating an appeasement approach. But knowledge is power, and from this pamphlet I gathered some powerful and disturbing information.

Did you know that Ben Franklin actually recommended the turkey over the eagle as the US national bird? Franklin wrote of the turkey “He is.though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards.”

Yeah Ben, but that’s because he would also not hesitate to attack any passing man, woman, child or even shiny surface reflecting his own image. Courageous maybe, but turkeys, it turns out, are kind of jerks.

Even more frightening was the pamphlet’s revelation of the cruel logic behind the Turkey’s aggression. Turkeys, I learned, organize themselves according to a strict social pecking order.a turkey org chart of sorts.

The birds use visual cues from creatures they encounter to figure out just how everyone stacks up – humans included! They actually watch how we dress, walk, and talk, and only then decide if we’re in charge, or if it’s time to start pecking.

What’s worse, once they pass judgment, Turkey’s have been known to file the assessment away forever.

Let’s say you run across a turkey on your way home from the graduation ceremony and you fail to make a good impression. If you encounter that same turkey in 2013 at your fifth year reunion, it’s quite possible he will remember you and without hesitation peck at you in front of your new spouse, or child – or even worse, a section mate you’re trying to impress with your new spouse or child.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression with a Turkey.

So, fearing a lifetime of low status within the avian community, I had anxiously studied the pamphlet in anticipation of an encounter.

And now here he was, sitting on a bench in front of Burden hall without a care in the world like a tenured professor. This was my one and only chance to show this bird who was in charge armed solely with the vague advice offered by the pamphlet for impressing a turkey: “Be bold.”

I improvised. Turning up my collar and summoning my pale 5-9 frame I began to stomp and strut – even doing that head bobbing thing, which I’m not sure turkey’s do, but it definitely looks pretty bold. The turkey held my gaze for a moment, and then meekly turned away.

That’s right turkey. There’s a new bird in town.

If just at that moment, I hadn’t turned to my left and seen something truly astounding, I may have continued on like that for quite some time.

I may have spent the weeks that followed dressing cautiously before leaving the house, asking my wife “do these jeans make me look bold?”

Who knows, I may have invited the turkey and his wife over for dinner. For the single students out there, this is what lame married couples do on Thursday when you’re out at Rumor. We go on couple-dates.

The often awkward first couple-date conversation would likely be even worse with a turkey couple. I can hear it now: “Now, remind me again, you’re an attorney? Oh you’re a hen, that’s cousin works, uh, really closely with a hen in Pennsylvania. He’s a you guys have any plans for thanksgiv-“

Yes, my attempts to impress the turkey may have carried on for quite some time, but right then as I stomped and strutted I turned to my left and saw:

A grown man acting like a turkey. My reflection in a window. I looked like a moron.

And I realized – I do this all the time. I think we all do.

Most of us don’t like to be far from the top of any pecking order.

From time to time we do things, not because we love to do them, but because we like to wear them. We buy a certain watch, or a car, or apply for a job because we like the way it makes us look. I worked at a hedge fund last summer. Unlike many of you who have a true passion for investment management, I didn’t even know what “hedge fund” meant last winter. But it sounded really bold. So I turned up my collar, stomped and strutted and then sat staring at a Bloomberg terminal all summer wishing, at times, that I was outside mowing the lawn.

It’s really tempting to act like a turkey just to impress the turkeys we meet out there. Let’s admit, many of us have found subtle ways to work the letters H, B, and S into the first five minutes of an introductory conversation.single people, I’m looking at you.

But simply impressing people isn’t what got us here.

All of us are here because there is at least one thing that we love to do, something that’s a part of us. An admissions essay we wrote.that was actually true.

We do things no one in their right mind would do if they weren’t madly in love. We spend hours organizing tech-media conferences, prepping for investment club meetings, rehearsing WAY too long for a business school student musical, and championing causes with no profit and no glory at stake. Nobody’s watching, but we do these things because we love them.and when we do we are at our best.

Anne Moore, Chairman and CEO of Time will speak at Class Day, and I’m willing to bet that she’s not going to tell us that the secret to success is to be bold, to do whatever it takes to impress people out there.

As the story goes, Ms. Moore had thirteen job offers when she graduated HBS. 13 offers! I don’t think 13 companies even recruit here anymore unless you count divisions of Goldman separately.

But I’m pretty sure at least one of those jobs, if not 12, sounded more impressive than “Financial Analyst – Time, Inc.”

When she took that first step, Ms. Moore didn’t care what her classmates thought of her business card, and certainly she didn’t expect to be here speaking to us at class day. She took what to everyone she knew must have looked like a somewhat humble first step because she sensed that something she loved lay beyond.

When we do what we love, the first step is often not glamorous. For some this might mean we work for a place that can’t pay an average MBA wage, or even worse doesn’t grant us a title with one of those words we really like.words like “Senior” or “Principal” or “Chief.” Even better crammed together: “Senior Principal Chief. Financial Analyst Time Inc.” Unfortunately the first step towards what we love doesn’t always sound quite so regal.

For some of us, it will be awhile before we have a true opportunity to take the first step.

Before we learned in first year finance that 90% leverage was not the best idea for an entity with unstable cash flows – like, say, hypothetically an intermittently employed screenwriter whose wife dragged him to business school – the financial aid office encouraged some of us to take on what by even the MOST aggressive LBO standards is a large amount of debt. And some of us will go off next year to service that debt.

Others of us may have had a bit more financial foresight, but recognize that sometimes there are skills we need to acquire before we can do the things we really love to do. And we’ll spend the next few years developing those skills.

(Side note to my future employer: as stated repeatedly in my interviews, working
for you is indeed my dream job and the only thing I have wanted to do since I was an embryo.)

But as Tim Butler told us 174 times, many of us will change jobs in the next few years. Once we’ve serviced our debt or packed our toolkit, that’s when many of us will face the real test. When we’ll be given the opportunity to choose a job based solely on what we and our families want to do next. When we’ll really decide how much we care about what other people think.

Ignoring the turkey will be hard to do. It would be much easier just to turn up our collars, bob our heads, and strut from one high profile job to the next for the rest of our lives.

But if instead we just keep walking the way we love to walk. If those of us passionate about markets work in finance, and those of us who love to see new ideas take form start our dream companies, and those who actually like doing things become general managers, and none of us ever does anything we don’t want to do because of where it might place us in someone’s pecking order, we all know that we’ll be happier, we’ll do a better job, and the world will be better off for it – so we have to try.

We can’t ignore the turkey by ourselves. Our partners, our parents, our children, our families and our friends know who we really are and what really matters to us – sometimes better than we do. We’ll need their support on the road ahead.

And we’ll have to support each other – because sometimes we’re the biggest turkeys. In the emails, sporadic phone calls, and reunions that will bind us together after graduation, we’ll have to remind ourselves not to leap immediately to easy metrics when giving our updates or evaluating those of others. To celebrate moments of personal growth, not just moments of recognition or promotion. To discuss our failures as well as our triumphs. To show off our passions, and value the passions of others, even if they are very different from our own.

Collectively we can be a pretty impressive group. In two years we’ve only sat down all together twice, and graduation week will give us our third, and then fourth and final chance. So let’s take the time to look around at each other when we meet back here in June, especially as we’re bobbing and strutting across the stage to shake Dean Light’s hand. Let’s recognize the collective potential in this group and think about what might happen if for the rest of our lives all of us just did what we love to do.

Without worrying about the turkey.

May 5, 2008
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