The Pontificating Professor: How Can I Make the Most Impact?

Professor Kevin Sharer, former CEO of Amgen and current member of the Chevron and Northrop Grumman boards, teaches first-year strategy to sections NA and NC.  Prof. Sharer has graciously allowed us to print his answers to questions many of us students have about life, liberty, and the pursuit of a business degree in this new column.  The question tackled in the inaugural entry is, “How can I have the most impact?”

I am newly arrived at HBS this fall after a career in industry and am now teaching Strategy in partnership with Professor Jan Rivkin. I am not an HBS graduate, but know the aspirations, concerns and uncertainty this career stage involves as you contemplate life after HBS. In fact, a key role for me and one I enjoy enormously is being available as discussion partner, counselor and advocate for students as they navigate today’s evolving, confusing and challenging work environment.

This is an understandable, worthy and admirable question and aspiration with no obvious answer. Some possibilities come to mind, e.g. starting or growing a small company with large potential, obtaining a key influence position in the service of a powerful person or enterprise, or teaching in an inner city high school for a few years or some other national service role.

The first and last options are up to you with the middle extremely rare and likely to sound better on entry than experienced in practice. Let me suggest a different and hopefully more useful and ultimately powerful set of framing questions.

What do I aspire to be and do? What do I love doing and feel can add real value? What industry, sector, and area of activity is the most attractive and why? Where can I learn the most, gain career-long valuable experience, and be closest to the heart of the enterprise in a job that exposes me directly to designing, making, marketing, or selling/delivering the firm’s product or service?

There are other factors in the mix including the need for income to deal with debts and all the investment needs of life and family. So what does good look like for an initial job in my experience? For sure the choice would have the following characteristics:

– A job where you can learn, grow and contribute in a way that builds your capability as a leader

– A firm where you know, agree with the values, mission and strategy with reason to be confident in leadership

– A growing industry with products or services that matter to society and of which you can be proud

– A life in a place where you can learn about the world

One last thing. See this as a joyful, wonderful and exciting experience for which you are well-prepared. Embark upon the journey with enthusiasm, confidence and humility. The world needs you.

I hope in future columns to answer questions in the Harbus that are on the minds of many students, and welcome your input on what areas are of most interest.