Participant Story

Kevin O'Shea

Kevin O'Shea

Progressing to the Next Level of Leadership

  • Role

    Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, AvalonBay Communities, Inc.
  • Industry

    • Real Estate

The program helped me gain insight on ways to improve my leadership style for the benefit of others in my company.

Kevin O'Shea earned his MBA from Harvard Business School (HBS) more than 20 years ago, but his days of learning are far from over. Now executive vice president and chief financial officer for AvalonBay Communities, Inc., O'Shea recently returned to campus to attend the Leadership for Senior Executives program at HBS Executive Education. Here, he describes the value of his learning experience.

As an HBS graduate, what compelled you to return to campus?

One of the lessons that I learned at HBS over 20 years ago is the importance of lifelong learning. My own educational experience has transformed my career. It's enabled me to create a richer, more diverse, and more impactful life than I could have achieved without my academic foundation.

Today, as a CFO of a publicly traded company, I face very different responsibilities and challenges than I did more than 20 years ago as a recent graduate. In returning to HBS to participate in this program, I sought to learn about the latest views on leadership and management and identify ways to enhance my leadership style.

What were some of your key takeaways from the program?

A variety of lessons naturally emerged through engaging in the case method and examining business leaders who were wresting with pivotal issues in their companies. These lessons ranged from defining what it means to manage and lead in a narrow context—such as managing yourself in a difficult situation or leading a small team through a critical project—to managing an executive team of a large organization through a growth phase or transformation. Together, these provided a broad framework for reflecting on various leadership competencies. For me, the workshop that combined individualized feedback from my work colleagues with a discussion of leadership competencies provided the most valuable insights.

Are there other insights that you found especially useful?

The insight that effective leaders are made, not born, gives hope to most business professionals—including me. At the beginning of the program, we were asked this question: "What price will you make others pay for your own success and learning?" That motivated me to further understand the key leadership competencies that should be my focus.

What are the biggest challenges facing your organization, and how has the program helped you tackle them?

Like other companies, AvalonBay Communities—which is a publicly traded US apartment real estate investment trust (REIT)—faces the dual challenge of delivering excellent value to our customers and providing attractive returns for our investors, while adapting to changing consumer preferences, technological innovations, and competition in the marketplace.

To meet this challenge, we have focused on developing our associates. We believe that our people and culture are an important part of our overall strategy for driving long-term performance. As a reflection of that commitment, my company supported my participation in this program. The program helped me gain insight on ways to improve my leadership style for the benefit of others in my company.

How would you summarize this program's value for someone considering it?

Leadership for Senior Executives provides an opportunity to reflect on your own leadership and management style. It will immerse you in a rich process of examining leadership lessons revealed by real-life managers facing difficult challenges.

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Leadership for Senior Executives