Classes started the other week and I am settling into the busy hum of case studies, student club events and catching up with classmates. Each conversation is a new opportunity to reflect upon my summer experience. Looking back, my time at Danaher was an intense period of learning, action and self-discovery. I got a glimpse of how Danaher operated through the lens of Beckman Coulter, an operating company. I scratched the surface of the healthcare and diagnostics industry and put theory to practice with lots of customer interactions.
The second year at HBS is a wonderful time because we can choose classes of interest. I discovered a newfound curiosity in healthcare this summer and decided to change my course selection to include Healthcare IT. Since my project at Danaher brought me in close working relations with the marketing and sales team, I’ve become very interested in B2B marketing and sales operations. I plan to audit Business Marketing & Sales, one of the classes that focus on exactly that. In the Winter term, I will be taking Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise (BSSE) and General Management: Action and Processes to further my understanding of general management.
As I embark on this next stage of learning and discovery, I am certain that my summer experience at Danaher will provide a valuable benchmark and perspective.
Looking back on my summer internship at Walmart, I have four main takeaways about the company:
Walmart cares A LOT about maintaining the culture that Sam Walton initially put in place. It’s actively and constantly managed- 4 core values, 10 rules of doing business, discussions on culture in small team meetings (e.g., what can Walmart learn from GM’s issues with recalls?), murals on the wall listing these values / rules, and so on. I have never worked in an environment where the culture was such an active focus.
For such a vast company, it feels relatively small thanks to unparalleled access to leadership. In my previous job as a consultant, I was of the mindset that, if I left consulting for corporate America, I would never get to interact with senior leadership until I was much further along in my career. This was most definitely not true at Walmart. About 20 MBA interns had a private Q&A with the CEO, watched a golf tournament from the CFO’s house, and had a training on strategic thinking led by the SVP of corporate strategy (an HBS alumna). Beyond this, I had the chance to meet several SVPs to discuss my project or my career ambitions.
Walmart’s scale is beyond belief, allowing them to take on some very exciting projects. One HBS intern was on the clinics team, seeking to roll out basic primary care health services in stores- this has been in the news a bit lately as it ramps up. I sat next to the Made in the USA team, who is working to get $250 billion worth of US manufactured goods sold in 10 years. The Savings Catcher feature in the app just launched in August, which checks competitor prices of the items on your scanned receipt and gives you a Walmart e-gift card worth the difference if competitor prices are lower. I’m sure there will be some kinks to work out as the Savings Catcher rolls out, but I think it’s a pretty brilliant idea to reinforce the one-stop-shop idea for cost-conscious customers.
Relationships inside a company are increasingly important with such scale. As someone who worked on a dotcom project without sitting out at dotcom (in California), I saw firsthand the importance of knowing the right people to even get basic data. Walmart understands this and thus strongly encourages networking. Although at first I felt like I was back in recruiting season, all the coffee chats proved to be a great way to get in touch with the right people for my project plus learn about other interesting teams.
Overall I had a great summer, and I learned a lot about e-commerce and even more about building trust and influence with people both in Bentonville and at dotcom in San Bruno. While I expected to apply knowledge from finance and strategy HBS classes during my internship, I was pleasantly surprised to be thinking about our Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) class more than anything else.
After spending the first half of my internship in Nairobi, I am now wrapping up the summer at Ushahidi’s San Francisco office, where I’ve been working in a business development capacity to develop a new mapping platform. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of product management, an exciting combination of business development, marketing, engineering, and design. In fact, I’ve been surprised how much I’m loving this role thus far- it’s cross functional, involves working with experts, and allows me to leverage my knowledge gained in the first MBA year.
The product I’ve been working on is largely enterprise-focused and still in beta mode, but Ushahidi’s greater mission of technology for development—“tech4dev”—is worth writing more about. The company uses cloud-based technologies—your smartphone, your computer, and even SMS, to quickly aggregate data from a base of users onto a map. This can include the location of relief supplies after earthquakes, pothole sightings in municipalities, or reports of violence, genocide, and bombings in areas as disparate as Syria, Congo, and Gaza.
The model of “crowdsourced activism” is a fascinating one, and likely to be increasingly important as government and NGO budgets are squeezed. The City of Los Angeles, for example, used our platform to crowdsource broken sidewalk locations for repair, saving the city a costly location survey estimated at millions. Ushahidid’s platform provides ease of use, transparency, and cost saving solutions that leverage free and readily available technologies that involve the whole community. It’s a dynamic space to be working in that feels like the future of government-tech collaboration!
While I’m not totally certain where I’ll land after graduating in May, this summer has held a number of important lessons: my enjoyment of product management, my confirmed belief that governments and organizations can be made more efficient through smart technologies and data-optimization, and my love of start-up culture. It’s been an unforgettable summer of learning and exploration, and one that I suspect will shape my trajectory in ways I can’t yet realize.
A lot can be achieved through emails, phone calls, and meetings, but being in the field helps broaden perspectives. The HBS Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) did just that – when Matt Segneri, Director, and Margot Dushin, Director of Programs, took a field trip to New York City over a couple of days in July, to visit Social Enterprise students and alumni.
Within SEI, we have a lens before fellowships start, when we receive student applications for the Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship or when HBS selects opportunities for HBS Leadership Fellows. We also work closely with students, alumni, and organizations after the fellowships, to hear about experiences. Seeing students and alumni during their fellowships brings us an entirely different angle. They may have just come from a brainstorming session or have on their mind a presentation to senior management coming up next week, and we get a peek into their day-to-day roles and the impact they are having.
HBS Social Enterprise Summer Fellows:
Urvesh Shelat, MBA 2015, arrived with a hardhat in hand for our breakfast with the HBS Club of New York, the fellowship sponsor for his summer internship. Working with New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, he often finds himself going between on-the-ground construction sites and strategic planning meetings at the central office with the Recovery and Resiliency group – a team that started in 2013 in response to the effects of Hurricane Sandy to make the system more resilient against adverse weather and climate change impacts. Urvesh was motivated to pursue this internship by his belief, as he explained, “that efficient and reliable transportation is a critical public service, and that it stands to become only more important as the U.S. population returns to urban centers from the suburbs and as environmental consciousness grows. My mission is to pursue a career improving public transportation, and this summer experience, which is more operational than my previous management consulting and transportation analytics work, is giving me greater skills and insights to manage a system in future.”
We met with Jacob Cohen, MPP/MBA 2016, at his internship with the New York City Department of Education (DOE), between meetings he had scheduled with staff throughout the organization.DOE serves more than 1.1 million students and their families in over 1,800 schools, and Jacob is playing a critical role with senior leadership in the Office of Student Enrollment in mapping and documenting current admissions/enrollments processes to advance the efficiency of daily operations. Jacob told us, “The Education Pioneers fellowship and my placement at the DOE is providing me with an opportunity to work directly with an education agency on the types of strategic issues that have the potential to impact thousands of kids and entire communities.”
HBS Leadership Fellows:
A visit to Harlem Children’s Zone connected us with three out of four HBS alumni who are current or alumni Fellows through the HBS Leadership Fellows program, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a select group of graduating HBS students to experience high-impact management positions in nonprofit and public-sector organizations for one year at a competitive salary. Lauren Scopaz, MBA 2007, and Adam Zalisk, MBA 2013, shared how their roles have evolved since their Fellowship years, including Adam’s significant role in the HCZ transition team for their new CEO; and Christina Anderson, MBA 2014, spoke to her upcoming Fellowship year. Each has been working with senior leaders and playing a key role on HCZ’s strategic priorities going forward. Joining us in the conversation was Shana Brodnax, Senior Advisor of Quality Improvement and Strategic Planning, who noted that each of the alumni have “immeasurably enriched” the organization.
Thank you to students, alumni, and organizations for the chance to meet with you and learn more about your experiences in making a difference in the world!
Matt Segneri, Director, Social Enterprise Initiative
Margot Dushin, Director of Programs, Social Enterprise Initiative
ABOUT THE HBS SOCIAL ENTERPRISE INITIATIVE
The HBS Social Enterprise Initiative applies innovative business practices and managerial disciplines to drive sustained, high-impact social change. It’s grounded in the mission of Harvard Business School and aims to inspire, educate, and support leaders who make a difference in the world.
I’m flying back from a mid-summer report out at Danaher’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The past three days were full of reflection and feedback, as well as some fun after-hour jaunts in the city. For some of the interns, it was a chance to hear more about the work that’s happening in other operating companies. For others, it was a valuable mid-course correction on project scope and impact. For all, it was an opportunity to meet senior executives including Danaher’s enigmatic CEO Larry Culp (HBS ’90), hear his story of becoming CEO at the age of 37 and growing the company from $1B to $19B over the course of 15 years, which is nothing short of legendary. He had cases written about him and the company! I’m a little embarrassed to say that meeting Larry in person had a bit of a celebrity-sighting effect on me.
Over the course of the trip, we all received a strong dose of DBS (Danaher Business System) and witnessed its culture in action at “ground zero”. There was much emphasis on being data-driven and self-driven. We spoke to past MBA interns who have joined the company full-time and have done exceptionally well. We learned about new HR initiatives aimed at improving career movement and development of MBA hires. We also talked about family-life balance and diversity. All of these discussions gave us meaningful glimpses into what a full-time gig at Danaher is like, and whether it would be a good fit for us.
For myself, I had just kicked off a round of customer surveys for the marketing plan that I’m working on at Beckman Coulter Genomics. On the first day of presentations, I was at the edge of my seat not because of the content, as engaging as it was, but because I couldn’t wait to start reviewing survey results. The direction of the marketing plan and my next steps all hinge on the feedback from customers. We needed high quality results and enough of them to make the data statistically significant. Back at the hotel that night, I was finally able to take a first look at the results. Some strong trends were already emerging. If they continued, I will be able to confirm and reject several hypotheses already. It also looked like I was off to a good start, with the number of results reaching almost two-thirds of the target already.
The rest of the days in DC went by like a blur. I’ll need a few more days to unpack the content, but one of Larry’s comments stuck with me clearly. He said “I was pretty much like this when I came out of HBS,” in reference to his leadership style. He then followed it up with a wink and said “that’s what HBS will do to ya.”
If you asked me two months ago whether I learned anything during my first year at Harvard Business School, my response would have been a resounding “Yes!” But, if you followed up by asking me for an example of how I applied the lessons I learned into practice, my response would have been a hesitant “Umm…”
The FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) curriculum provided me an incredible opportunity to learn leadership skills not only in the classroom, but also through practical experience in Ghana and in Boston. However, at the end of the day, FIELD remains an exercise constrained within an academic environment. The question I asked myself was “How do I actually put what I learned to the test?”
As I was starting my summer internship in Zambia over seven weeks ago, I pondered “What am I bringing to the table that I would not have been able to had I not gone to HBS?” At that moment, the answer was not quite clear. However, as the days passed and the summer (technically, it’s winter here) progressed, it became clear that what HBS equipped me with was not the hundreds of cases I read and analyzed, as I will be the first to admit I will be the last to recall any of the case facts. Rather, it was the persistent pushing and prodding by my professors, section-mates, and discussion group members that I remember the most.
As I dove deeper into the managerial and operational issues of working in Zambia, I found myself asking whether the problems were really as simple and clear as they appeared at first glance. The many times I was pushed to justify my stance – from the morality and ethicality of pharmaceutical patents in the developing world to the negotiation tactics I would use with Steve Jobs – became constant reminders for me to go deeper than just the first layer of the metaphorical onion.
What I learned at HBS and what I have applied in Zambia was more than just root cause analysis or the typical “Five Whys” questioning. It requires combining a dose of empathy with an equal dose of traditional problem solving. Just as I had to put myself in the case protagonist’s shoes, trying to understand the motivations, pressures, and stakeholders influencing his/her decision making, I found myself standing in the shoes of our sales captains, sellers, and buyers. I forced myself to distinguish what the problems appeared to be and what they really are, as well as what the solutions should be and what they really could be given the real and practical constraints we face. This “method” of thinking has become my de facto mindset whenever I’m in the field with our sales team or in a meeting room with a multinational telecom.
There isn’t a simple list of “Things I’ve Learned at HBS and How You Can Apply Them Too,” because the skills I’ve learned, and am constantly honing, are those that can only be learnt through the experience of having been forced repeatedly to defend my logic despite knowing it was not perfect.
To end this post on a lighter note, my HBS experience also never lets me forget that having fun is just as important of a success metric as any other. Here are a couple snapshots to explain why I may never leave Zambia (more on Google +).
I have a tendency to plan rather far in advance (huge understatement), so I was pretty psyched to get the MBA intern calendar from Walmart in my email prior starting my internship. Opening it was actually overwhelming- there is literally at least one training / tour / meal / happy hour / concert / festival / charity event / bike ride every single day for the whole summer! I’m thankful that Walmart is helping us get to know the Northwest Arkansas area while we’re there, since they understand that not every MBA student is clamoring to move there full-time without a trial run. I’ve spent the last 5 years in Boston taking road trips all over New England, so I am excited to explore a new area and enjoy the lakes and mountains in the region. Maybe I’ll even drive the 45 minutes across the border to Oklahoma and see my 35th state…
As for time spent in the office, I’m excited about that too! It will be a nice change from sitting in class each day, and I’m curious to see how different it is from my previous job. I imagine the main difference will be the financial impact of any given project. Given Walmart’s scale, I expect to be amazed by the sheer magnitude of the numbers I’ll be seeing when I reunite with my friend, Microsoft Excel. It will also be gratifying to apply some shiny new b-school knowledge to my project and further realize what I have gained from HBS in the past year.