People never stopped asking me why I went to business school. I was too old, too senior and in the wrong career track. “What jobs do you think it will help you get?” they would ask. When framed that way, there was no good answer.
There are a number of reasons:
- Even though I was succeeding at Microsoft, I knew I had to leave. I looked ten years down the road and didn’t like what I saw: VP of something not so interesting; products I was no longer proud of; master political infighter. There were and are signs of life (Bing!) but it seemed like a long grey road ahead. But leaving for “nothing” seemed unpalatable. Leaving for Harvard was somehow easier to talk myself into.
- I had spent 4 years heads-down on a media battle that I could now see Microsoft was going to lose and lose badly. The XBOX Live Video Marketplace is a big success in four years otherwise spent trying to make water run up hill. I’d spent too much time on politics – begging the Windows Media Player team to support some feature or another (and them lobbying me). I’d given up a lot of personal stuff to work so hard for those four years (and there’d been payoffs career-wise) but I wanted to surface, to have fun, to interact with the world, to live.
- My father had been dying for 5 years. I applied and was accepted before he died but it was obvious where things were going. I felt like I needed some air – some time and space to get away and come to grips with things. Business school felt arguably more additive than surfing in Thailand for a year.
- I felt like I knew a lot about a very narrow slice of the world. I could specify software for media really well and I was a good manager. But I just had a sense that there’s so much more out there – and on this Harvard does a great job of exposing you. I spent 2 years learning and talking about airlines and food processing companies, about factories, about sports management, about consulting companies, about politics and about finance. I also made friends from crazy places, out of the way amazing places: Brazil, Belarus, Zaire, rural China, Sweden. I feel like I know a thing or two about macroeconomics and finance and accounting and about a million other things. On this front, Harvard delivered brilliantly.
- I wanted to be inspired by the people around me again. There was a time when Microsoft hired the brilliant and fiery college kids, the savant programmers, the ambitious drivers. Occasionally they still do (and I’d like to think I hired a few of them) but for the most part, those days are gone. There are still some of those people around but for the most part they are rich, they reflect on past glory and they leave early enough to catch their daughter’s softball game. (Which is a perfectly rational thing if that’s where you are – it’s just that I am not.) Every time someone talked about how comprehensive the healthcare plan was as a reason for staying, I felt like an idiot.
- If I’m being honest with myself, I thought school might offer opportunities romantically. Whether it did or not, I did not capitalize on them. For the answers to that one, look within.
All things considered, I wouldn’t change a thing (except maybe the huge bill.)