Q. Before you arrived on campus, what did you know about GMP?
I attended a shorter HBS program to find out if HBS would live up to the hype before I committed to GMP. In the one-week program Leading Change and Organizational Renewal, I became familiar with the case method, the living group process, and the faculty. My overall reaction was, "Wow!" I realized that HBS was a truly magical place—a school in a league of its own.
My CEO had attended GMP. When he came back he had this glow about him—a light in his eyes. He was a different person. He said the program would be transformational, and he's not one to say that lightly. I was skeptical, but he was right. When I came back, he popped into my office, smiled at me, and said, "Now you get it." And I did.
Q. How would describe the value that GMP offers executives?
GMP is very demanding—a compressed, intensive experience—but the result is an incredible amount of learning. You step outside your day-to-day responsibilities and are forced to think through and reflect on what you're doing both professionally and personally. Beyond just gaining knowledge, you learn how to apply knowledge and institute change. You come out with a different and broader perspective on life and business. You acquire a new set of tools. You find that many of your belief systems have been challenged and reshaped.
Attending GMP is a real privilege. If someone is willing to invest in you and send you to this program, then you should absolutely go. If you are ready for a truly transformational experience, then this is probably the best program out there.
Q. Which parts of the GMP experience stand out?
I had time and space to reflect on questions about my organization, such as who are we, what's our purpose, where do we want to go, are we doing the right things? In addition, I enjoyed being surrounded by knowledgeable peers and faculty. Because they were not involved in my day-to-day work, they could give me unbiased and honest feedback that was extremely helpful. With participants coming from different countries, industries, and functional backgrounds, they brought a broad range of perspectives to the table. I learned a tremendous amount from my living group in ways I had not anticipated. For example, one person challenged everything I said and thought—but in a very constructive way.
Q. What is it like to be on the HBS campus?
Sometimes I felt as if my head would explode from absorbing all that knowledge and trying to make sense of it. My notebooks are filled with frantically written notes in boxes with exclamation marks. For many of the topics I would think, "I wish we could spend a whole week just on that."
Everything on campus is amazingly well organized. You are in a bubble, shielded from the everyday hustle and bustle, issues, and complaints. You study and work hard, but you have the ability to focus. It is intense, but in a way, it's very relaxing.
GMP has a significant social component. It's important to get to know other participants, socialize with them, and build relationships and networks. So you're never really "off" when you're on campus at GMP. You wake up in the morning and just sprint. And at some point you come back to your room and crash. The next morning, you do it all over again. But it's great. Looking back, I would not have missed it for the world.
Q. Which aspects of the curriculum were most helpful for you?
The finance classes were tremendously valuable. Mihir Desai is amazing. I knew nothing about finance. Mihir taught in a non-threatening way in order for us to internalize key concepts. He was not dumbing it down, but rather taking difficult concepts that appeared to be incredibly complex and breaking them down so that they were simple and digestible and could be grasped intuitively. He told us that when we could explain a concept to our loved ones, then we'd know we really understood—that was powerful.
When I went back to work, I found myself teaching my team how to read a profit and loss statement and really understand it. I realized I had started to emulate Professor Desai. Everyone was getting it, and I thought, "Whoa, where did that come from? I didn't even know I had that stuff." That's when I realized I had absorbed a great deal of knowledge and also his way of teaching.
Q. How has GMP changed your view of leadership?
GMP broadened my view of what leadership is and gave me a bigger toolkit. It taught me that there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Many different kinds of leaders can be successful. It also inspired me with a renewed sense of purpose.
During the program, you have the opportunity to test and validate some aspects of your leadership style and to discover things about yourself you might not have known. The learning is structured in a way that encourages you to reflect on your own effectiveness in relation to a group and to individuals.
Q. How has GMP changed the way you lead day to day?
As a functional leader, I had lacked a broad perspective on aspects of the business outside my function, such as finance or product strategy. After GMP, I can come into a meeting with anyone and be comfortable giving input. I ask more and better questions.
After attending GMP, I am a different person. I think and speak differently. It was noticeable to the people who work for me, to my friends, and to my wife. I now cold call on people in meetings. I ask more questions. If someone gives me a one-word answer, I ask follow-up questions. My team started out saying, "Why are you asking so many more questions all of a sudden?" Now they like the new me.
GMP taught me the value of taking time to think. Part of my job is to fuel innovation and provide leadership, and I can't do that if I'm always in the trenches dodging grenades. I am trying to carve out four hours per week when I can create a little bubble around myself so I can think.
Q. Did you have any "aha" moments at GMP?
One unexpected treat was a lecture by Clayton Christensen. At the end of his presentation, he shared a personal story. Back when he was a consultant, a big deadline was looming and his boss wanted him to work over the weekend. He said no—his religion kept him from working on Sunday, and Saturday was for his family. He told us, "You need to have the conviction to allocate your time to the things that matter most in your life—and for most people, that should be your family."
That was a profoundly significant moment for me. I started thinking about the important people in my life—my wife, parents, and sister. I often get so busy juggling the various activities that I don't give enough time to them. I started thinking about specific changes I could make to spend more time with family. I learned that we have to draw these lines because no one else will do it for us.
Q. Did you take other important lessons from the program?
Sunil Gupta said in one of his classes, "Strategy is tradeoffs." It really hit me that in our organization we were trying to do it all. When we work on strategy this year, my CEO and I have decided that we will focus more on two or three action items, and we will make those choices very clear to the organization. If an initiative is not on that list or supporting something on that list, we won’t fund it.
I have a poster in my office with one word: tradeoffs. My team always comes to me with cool ideas. My instinct is to say, "Let's do it." But then I look at the poster and say, "No, we're not going to do it." With this clear sense of what's important for us, I feel a lot less rushed and very comfortable dropping the ball on less important things.
The need to make tradeoffs was one very big takeaway, but there were many others takeaways at GMP, both big and small. Sometimes just an offhand faculty comment could give me an idea for a powerful change.