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Reflections from the Outgoing SA Co-Presidents

Our term as Student Association Co-Presidents has officially ended. It’s been a great ride and something which was the undoubted highlight for both of us here at HBS. Thanks to every single one of you for providing us with this opportunity!

With Brett and Justine now taking the helm,ÿPatrick and I have had some time to reflectÿback on the year. We wanted to share our thoughts about the progress we have made, the areas where we could have done even better, and some of the lessons we learned.

As for our accomplishments, we got the big events right.ÿ Events are the most tangible activities of the SA, and our reputation is made or lost by their success.ÿ Holidazzle, our largest, sold out and ran smoothly.ÿ Newport went as well as could be hoped given the miserable weather.ÿ The SA launched two new large-scale events, the EC Ski Trip and the Revelry Ball, each posing a unique set of financial and reputational risks.ÿ Both were hugely successful.ÿ The complexity of planning, communicating and flawlessly executing a 500-person trip to a destination 2,000 miles away is simply daunting and would have been impossible without the dedicated work of our talented SA Executive Committee.ÿ Every large event the SA organized was sold-out,ÿmanaged toÿour budget, and well-executed -ÿthat is a huge win.ÿ

Our second set of accomplishments centered on academic innovation.ÿBased on direct feedback from the class collected last fall, we knew demand existed for more creative academic opportunities.ÿ These insights resulted in Berlitz language classes and the Best of EC Year Speaker Series.ÿ Hundreds of students took advantage of the Berlitz classes offered through the SA Office to hone their foreign language skills.ÿ Hundreds more attended each of the four Best of EC Year lectures to hear our favorite professors speak in novel formats.ÿ We developed these initiatives based on ideas we heard from the student community, and we enjoyed delivering experiences we knew you wanted.

Thirdly, some of our most important accomplishments were ones you haven’t heard about.ÿ A policy change that went unnoticed for most is the availability of non-alcoholic tickets to ALL SA events.ÿThis option makes events less expensive for students who don’t drink alcohol and more compelling for students who might not otherwise attend.ÿ These tickets create logistical complexity for our team, but it’s an investment we are willing to make for the student body.ÿAdditionally, the Senate made important improvements to club transparency.ÿ The Guaranteed Benefits form required of all clubs at the Club Fair was the result of heated negotiations between club leaders, administrators and the SA.ÿ More effort must be taken to improve transparency around club dues and activities, but this win was a great step toward further reform.ÿ Finally, the SA made dramatic cuts to our budget this year to ensure fiscal sustainability; most students have no idea this happened.ÿ Massive losses of corporate sponsorship from 2009 and 2010 forced our team to make difficult choices to balance the budget:ÿwe strategically cut downÿTGIFs, reduced hours for the Office staff, andÿmade toughÿcuts to many Orientation and social events.ÿÿOurÿExecutive Team accepted these mandates and delivered a year’s worth of great services and events on aÿshoestringÿbudget.ÿThe Executive Team and Senate deserve credit for finding creative ways to make this happen.

Despite these many accomplishments,ÿthere were also areas where we were less thanÿperfect.ÿ Patrick and I worked hard to think of creative ways to communicate with and engage the RC class.ÿ We rebranded our emails, focusing on a new communication strategy that made our emails clear and succinct.ÿWe alsoÿspoke to many sections andÿheld weekly Open Hours (as the HBS Show reminded us!).ÿ However,ÿin retrospectÿthese efforts were not enough to develop the relationship with the RC Class that weÿwere aiming for.ÿWhile we understand the RC experience tends to be more section-focused than class-wide focused, the sheer size of HBS makes sufficient communication a challenge, and weÿwish we could have gotten to know the RCs even better.ÿ

Another challengeÿwe faced was finding balance on our team.ÿPatrick and I ran on an aggressive agenda, and after taking office,ÿweÿpushed our team hardÿto deliver on these promises.ÿÿUndoubtedly, emotions ran high.ÿ In hindsight, there were points when we pushed too hard on our Executive Team members who were volunteering their precious time for little or no personal gain.ÿ Inga, Lee, Lauren and Lakshmi were the driving force behind every success Patrick and I enjoyed, but they did not receive enough credit for their efforts.ÿ

Through theseÿsuccesses andÿlearnings, Patrick and I haveÿgleanedÿa few insightsÿthatÿmay resonate with many of the other leaders on campus:

You can’t always make everyone happy:ÿ
As a public figure, sometimes you just can’t make everybody happy.ÿÿIf youÿdon’t believe us, ask your section president.ÿ Starting our first month in office, Patrick and I were faced with manyÿdecisions that were zero-sum: no matter the conclusion,ÿsomebody would end up disappointed.ÿ Over timeÿweÿdevelopedÿa thick skin and learnedÿto take the criticism.ÿÿWith that said,ÿif anything, Patrick and I for too long were too deferential to minor criticisms. The important insight that was constantly affirmed is that leaders have to ignore some criticism, not just for their own sanity, but for the benefit of their teams. By trying to make every single student voice we heard happy, we put too much pressure on our team to make exceptions, making them less effective and motivated. The team needed cover and support to execute tough jobs. Leaders need to take the heat so that their teams can perform.

HBS students are demanding customers:ÿ
Patrick and I were surprised at times by the emotional responses we and our team received from irritated students.ÿÿAs SA Presidents who proactively asked folks for suggestions and insights, we started to get a good sense of what was reasonable. However, at times, it felt like folks forgot thatÿthe members of the SA who serve you, your section senators and presidents, the Office staff, the event organizers, are volunteers dedicating their time.ÿ Yes, theyÿsigned up for the job, but it does not change the fact thatÿthey areÿpeers, who have many of the same academic deadlines, extracurricular commitments and personal circumstances that you do.ÿ We are a community of talented people who accomplish amazing feats on a daily basis, and as a result we frequently demand the same immaculate service from others.ÿ I know that next year’s SA leadership team,ÿSenators and section officers,ÿas well as the professors, administrators and staff who make HBS run so well, would appreciate just a little more patience and personal self-awareness.ÿ

Use relationshipsÿtoÿnavigate an organization:
ÿHBS is a big place, with the complex organization of people and processes necessary to function well.ÿ By this point, Patrick and I know how to navigate it about as well as anyone.ÿOver time, you begin to appreciate the various pressure points and tensions that are not readily apparent, ones that you need to work around to get something done.ÿOne key to success we learned was the necessity of personal relationships.ÿ We have spent countless hours getting to know dozens of administrators on a personal, face-to-face basis, and many times we took opportunities to build these relationships without a specific agenda or action item.ÿ But when crises did develop or when we needed particular favors, we could rely on these relationships to get something done faster than it could have happened normally. ÿ

HBSÿtruly is the world’s best business school:
We realize we are preaching to the choir here, butÿas our final lesson,ÿit is worth noting how special this place is.ÿ Patrick and I have had the opportunity to meet student leaders from the world’s top 50 MBA programs and have a close working relationship with student government presidents at our closest peer schools.ÿ When we compare strengths and weaknesses, it becomes clear that HBS isÿbest practice.ÿ We believe it starts with the people: you, the students, represent a collection of the most driven and interesting young business leaders anywhere.ÿ Combine you with the foremost thought-leaders, unparalleled resources,ÿdedicatedÿstaff, and 100 years of experience, and you get the world’s premier MBAÿprogram.ÿ A few aspects stand out.ÿ First, our students are engaged and professional; we come to every class on time, laptops down, cellphones off, prepared, and opinionated.ÿ Believe it or not, this does not happen atÿmany schools.ÿ Second, our best professors love to teach.ÿ Instruction in the classroom is a top priority for every faculty member, no matter the tenure or specialty.ÿ Third, our administration and staff are among the hardest working. From Student & Academic Service or MBA Career and Professional Development, to Operations or Alumni Relations, the employees in every department have always been receptive and responsive to student suggestions for improvement.ÿ Patrick and I would know, because we have constantly pestered them all over the past year.ÿ HBS is an amazing institution; we all should consider ourselves very fortunate for the time we have spent here.ÿ

In conclusion, Patrick and I have been asked a single question repeatedly over the last few weeks: if you had to do it all over again, would you still run for SA co-president?ÿ Our answer: absolutely.ÿ The past year has required a huge investment of time and energy, and has entailed frequent sacrifices.ÿ But that was a small price to pay to have the opportunity to meet so many of you and to contribute what we could to the experience you had here at HBS.ÿ For all of you, we hope it really was the best . . . year ever.ÿÿThanks again for all of your support!

May 3, 2010
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