A Harvard MBA is helpful — but not enough

November 6, 2011

I am a first-generation American, and was raised in a family that eschewed entitlements or handouts. I was taught to be self-reliant, work hard and accept responsibility for my actions.

However, it did not take long for me to realize that other kids had advantages that I would never have. They had money, status, privilege and access.

Rather than resent these kids, I found my own way to succeed. I learned to be scrappy, tenacious and to simply outhustle everyone else. Fueled by a hunger to succeed and a need to win, I quickly rose to the top of the sales charts at IBM.

However, I came to a place where I realized that I simply did not have the knowledge needed to achieve my goals. So I decided to get my MBA. I set my sights on the Harvard Business School (HBS) and miraculously, I got in. (And perhaps even more miraculously, I got out!)

Harvard was intense. My classmates were brilliant and quite intimidating. Many had been educated in the world’s finest schools. Several had parents on the Forbes 500 list. Some had already started and sold companies, and had become millionaires in the process.

I came to realize how inadequately my public school education prepared me for the academic rigors of the Harvard Business School. I struggled to keep up.

One day, a classmate offered me a word of encouragement. “Do you know what they call the person who finishes last in the class at Harvard? A Harvard MBA!”

This was just the boost of encouragement I needed, and through that same scrappy, tenacious hustle and sheer determination, I did indeed graduate, somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Harvard gave me a breadth of knowledge that became the foundation for the rest of my career. I was exposed to ideas and people that totally changed my life. I left with a portfolio of tools that I still use to this day. I owe a lot to Harvard, and would strongly encourage everyone who is serious about their career to consider an MBA.

However, for me, even the HBS education was inadequate. As I re-entered the workforce, I faced new challenges about how to manage people. Being an exceptional manager requires people skills and perspective that we never covered at Harvard.

I found the answers on how to manage and lead in a most unexpected place — the Bible. I came to believe that people were created in the image of God, and that changed everything for me.

The winning formula starts with hustle, tenacity and drive. But, that is not enough.

To this, you must add a deep educational framework. Again, this was enormously helpful, but still not enough.

Once I added the people-centric worldview to the mix, great things really started to happen.

Dave Ramos founder and chief executive of the Dashboard Group, a Northern Virginia-based consulting firm that aims to help leaders build high-performing organizations.

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