Reflecting on Two Years at Harvard Business School

BY LT. CMDR. ADAM GUNTER, SC, USN,
MBA CANDIDATE
HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL

I will never forget arriving at Harvard Business School (HBS) for Admitted Students Weekend. While checking in at Spangler Hall Student Center for the day’s events, I nervously waited as the admissions representative looked for my information packet. During the wait (which seemed like an eternity), I whispered to my wife, “My admission letter must have been a mistake – let’s get out of here.” Luckily, the representative eventually found my packet, and my wife and I ended up having a fantastic weekend. After our visit, we discussed and I decided to attend HBS. In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions we have ever made.

Lt. Cmdr. Adam Gunter with his family after his promotion ceremony on the HBS Campus.

Of course, my Master of Business Administration experience began long before that fateful day in Spangler Hall. I first heard about the Navy-sponsored 810 program during my tour as supply officer aboard USS Rhode Island. From that moment, I became determined to make myself competitive for selection by performing well in difficult jobs and excelling on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). I took the toughest jobs I could find – serving at Defense Logistics Agency as an aide-de-camp, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a joint operational logistics intern, and aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt as the aviation support officer (S6). Preparing for the GMAT, I studied for more than four months to earn a competitive score. Throughout the application process, I had terrific mentors who helped with my 810 package and I was fortunate to be selected. Following selection, I read HBS Professor Clay Christensen’s book, “How Will You Measure Your Life.” The book resonated with me and I knew immediately that I would make every effort to get into HBS. After several months preparing and finally submitting my school application, I was admitted to the school. The next fall, I began an incredible journey.

Without a doubt, the classroom has been integral to my HBS experience. Every day, I am privileged to learn from a world-class faculty, business leaders, and classmates. That last point is central – in a typical HBS case method class, students do 85 percent of the talking. The case method, pioneered by the HBS faculty in 1924, places students in the role of the decision maker: reading through a situation, identifying problems, and performing the necessary analysis to develop recommendations and an action plan. Over the course of two years and 500 cases, students become adept at analyzing issues, exercising judgment, and making difficult decisions. Military officers are particularly suited to this kind of discussion, where our voice and experience are valuable additions to the classroom.

Outside the classroom, I have had numerous opportunities to learn, lead, and grow while in the program. Key highlights so far have been: traveling to Brazil, where I worked with a “global partner” business to increase their appeal to area consumers; developing a micro-business and pitching the product to venture capitalists; taking leadership and negotiation courses at both the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Law School; serving as the chief financial officer for a student club; and mentoring numerous prospective military applicants. Most rewarding was working last summer with the City of Boston’s civic innovation team, the New Urban Mechanics, where I worked to end chronic and veteran homelessness in Boston. Ultimately, the team delivered a proposal to increase the stock and flow of permanent supportive housing to address the homeless population. My experience working with and assisting the homeless population – some of the most vulnerable citizens in Boston – was humbling, fulfilling, and a great reminder of the power of government to make a tangible, positive difference.

As I reflect on the last two years, I am incredibly grateful to my wife and son for their support throughout this journey. Likewise, two years as a Harvard MBA candidate carries significant costs, and I am unbelievably grateful to the Navy and Supply Corps for the opportunity. For any prospective MBA candidates (810 or otherwise), I encourage you to be thoughtful about what you want out of your school experience. A universal business school lesson is that life is often about trade-offs. With that in mind, be intentional with how you spend your time and maximize the learning while in school. Additionally, the Supply Corps has given you an amazing chance to build on the leadership skills you have formed in the service. Use your time in school to reflect on and experiment with your leadership style. Personally, I have used the experience inside and outside the classroom to build on the foundations of leadership learned in the Supply Corps, becoming a better communicator and a more empathetic leader with better judgment. Now, with graduation on the horizon, I hope to apply each of these refined skills to my future assignments.

May/June 2017