In his monthly column for the Harbus, Professor Kevin W. Sharer shares his thoughts on the issues facing HBS students.
All things must end and so it is for my days as an HBS faculty member and your correspondent. It has been a wonderful adventure in so many ways, and I want to use this last column to express my deep gratitude for the journey. There are so, so many individuals who deserve and have my thanks. They are on the faculty, among the nearly 10,000 students who have been here and the wonderful support staff. Thank you all.
But rather than do a roll call, my comments are mainly directed towards this great institution in which we are privileged for a time to be members. The venerable, the inspiring, and the timeless Harvard Business School. She is the mother we love. Yet we also are a bit intimidated by her, want to please her and so earn her love and pride. She was here before us and will be here after us. She is not perfect. She is not static. But she is the best there is, and the place the best and brightest have come since the beginning. At first, they were white men from America. Now the family is from the farthest corners of the world and represents all of humanity in its wonderful kaleidoscope of diversity. There has been one true constant from the first day. The mission endures. HBS’s mission is to train leaders who can and will make a difference in the world. Leaders. Make a difference. World. Make those ideas and aspirations as big in your mind and goals as you possibly can. Now think bigger. Mother Harvard expects it of us and knows we have within us more than we can even imagine. She has seen it happen across the generations. Especially now she calls on us.
She did not so much choose me as give me a shot. Yes, there were other places that offered but none compared. You will not be a visitor or an executive-in-residence of ill-defined role or purpose. You will be a Harvard faculty member! But staying a faculty member demands dedication, performance, growth, and contribution. Do you know you are only a humble rookie who again needs to prove yourself? Becoming a teacher is a craft you must learn and in the process suffer and again doubt yourself and be afraid. But the view was worth the climb. We help you. We root for you. We give you time to grow. Teaching is a form of leading. Teaching is a chance to serve. Teaching is a chance to learn. Teaching is a chance to contribute. Teaching is a privilege.
You did not receive a job description or a how-to manual. In fact, someone told you that “Harvard has a lot of rules they will not reveal to you, and if you are not smart enough to figure them out, you should not be there.” That translated into a friendly and welcoming culture with a fierce dedication to the mission, little tolerance for wasting time and a premium on being self-directed. If you can help fulfill the mission and help the team, you are in. After a career in business, Harvard was a new challenge, a new purpose, and a new city. Life is a journey of growth in all the human dimensions and Harvard provided opportunity in so many ways. I did not really know Boston. I now know and love Boston. Living in Beacon Hill was a joy. Now more than ever we know how important are friends. Harvard was a place I made several important new friendships that I am sure will be lifelong. This is not something you expect to happen at my life stage, and it could well be the single most important gift I received. Opening day at Fenway watching the mighty Patriots charge on the field with their latest Super Bowl trophy was a thrill. Looking up at all the championship banners at TSA Logan and feeling part of that. Stopping cold in Logan in front of a wall where Commonwealth accomplishments are inscribed and seeing “Group of farmers defeat world’s preeminent military power” leading the list. Then standing on Cambridge Common at the spot Washington took command. So, the journey was not only about Harvard but also about Boston.
The things that happened because of Harvard deserve recognition and thanks too. Time to reflect on what I learned on my journey. A chance to write over fifty columns to you over the years. Time to learn from so many other leaders and scholars. Again and again being impressed and inspired by my students and so being able to testify with total conviction to my friends and the wider public that the future is in good hands. Harvard Business School helped me grow, demanded my best, let me get to know and work with so many exceptional people, and gave me a chance to earn a place as a member of one of the world’s great institutions.
I am thankful beyond my ability to express what is in my heart but these few words are a start. It has been a profound privilege to be a member of the Harvard Business School faculty. Thank you.
Professor Kevin W. Sharer joined the HBS Strategy unit in the fall of 2012. Before HBS, he was the CEO of Amgen for 12 years and, before that, Amgen’s president for eight. He has served on the boards of directors of Chevron and Northrop Grumman and is currently on the board of Allied Minds. For a decade, he was chairman of the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Professor Sharer is a Naval Academy graduate and has master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering and business.