What happens when a father and son team up to attend executive education programs together? Bracken Seaberg (BS) and Jim Seaberg (JS) discuss their shared experiences in Private Equity and Venture Capital and Changing the Game: Negotiation and Competitive Decision-Making.

What led you to attend these two Executive Education programs at the same time?

(JS): Bracken has had an accelerated career path compared to my career process. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do, but he was buying and selling businesses right out of college. He was off to such a fast start, a traditional MBA program did not make sense for him. Yet, he knew he could become a more well-rounded business leader and investor with some traditional business education, especially functional/topical learning, to supplement his broad business experience. Attending executive education programs together was one way for us to maintain our collegiality and grow together. He's working in private equity and that's about 20 percent of where I spend my time, so we often collaborate and exchange thoughts. Attending a program together was a way to expand that.

(BS): Our first program was Private Equity and Venture Capital, and we had a great experience. We reviewed cases and learned from our assigned teams, but also talked between and after classes to share ideas with each other. I thought the material might be duplicative of what my day job has exposed me to, but the breadth of cases, attendees and their experience and geographic exposure, and the preparation and insight from the professors and discussion leaders exceeded my expectations. Beyond the specifics of a case or technical skill improvement, I take away broad themes and relationships that can help me improve as an investor and board representative.

How did the two of you interact while on campus?

(BS): We purposefully tried to separate, especially during social time, so we could both enhance our networks and learn from the broad base of attendees. Although not planned by us (perhaps by the course organizers) we were never in exercises together, either on the same team or across the table from each other in negotiations. We tried to make sure that our development was complimentary. We did talk when not formally involved in the course or social time with other attendees, to share insights and learnings, and interesting contacts from the program.

(JS): In my MBA program, it took me a while to learn how to participate. Bracken has just been very natural. Whenever he has an insight, he shares it. He was probably the youngest participant in both programs, but it didn't bother him a bit. He fit in and everyone welcomed him. I think his deep work experience for his age, along with intellectual and interpersonal maturity allowed him to be not just completely credible but quite advanced in ways he could add to discussions and exercises—he had a lot of practical application that was relevant. It's fun to see what my son has learned up to this point in his career, what things he sees that I don't, and vice versa. It's also great to be able to compare notes afterward. At night, he would always make time to play squash while we were on campus—we had a lot of fun.

We met people on different career trajectories, in different industries, and from different geographies. I've worked with people from around the world and have quite a strong, broad network of business colleagues, but Bracken works mostly with U.S. companies right now, so that geographic exposure was particularly advantageous for him.

HBS Executive Education Participants Jim and Bracken Seaberg

Jim, have your other children gone into business as well?

(JS): We have six children. A couple of them work for me in the real estate business, but Bracken is really the only one following in my footsteps, where he is buying and selling, and running businesses and is totally involved as an owner-operator, board advisor, and an investor. Of course, it's been particularly rewarding to see somebody do that, but at the same time, I believe my kids felt I advocated for each to have the flexibility to choose their own path, based on their particular interests and skills.

(BS): I tried a lot of different things in undergrad and ultimately chose what I liked the best. I found a role that seems to satisfy my endless curiosity and desire for problem-solving and analytics, managing and deploying resources, testing and improving leadership skills, creating new companies and jobs for others, and making buy-sell decisions about businesses where I constantly have to learn new skills. My dad and I must just be similar in our preferences, mental make-up, and also have some skill overlap.

Do you think you will attend other HBS executive education programs together down the road?

(BS): Yes, definitely. We're thinking about a couple of options, such as the M&A program and the family office program. Our game plan is that we might do a program every one to two years. It's a great way to keep improving our skills and extending our network, while learning from and pushing each other to be better.

(JS): We need to space them out a bit, given our life stages right now, but we will definitely continue with other courses. Bracken just had his third child. He has a very busy career, and he's very cognizant of the need to spend enough time supporting his wife with the kids at home. He's planning on attending the Program for Leadership Development (PLD). As I continue to "mature," my skills and abilities evolve as well. These courses have caused me to develop and refine different skills relative to what is honed in my day job, so I love the ability to keep being challenged and keep improving.

What advice do you have for others who might consider attending a program with a family member?

(BS): It was a very good opportunity to learn from our professors, the other participants in the program, and my dad. He had such context for the discussions, saying things like, "When I was here at Harvard 30 years ago, they taught us this and it's still relevant (or not) in this case," or "At McKinsey, we worked on this client where…or on these investments in this sector, here's what is most relevant…" He had such good examples of how a particular topic or issue has manifested and been addressed in real life. At the same time, I can share how our investment company is currently finding new ways to support our operating teams, and structuring deals to enable a bigger pie for all. I love the exchange where we both share and become better.

(JS): Every family situation is different. One concern I had was whether this would create jealousy from any of my other kids. We haven't had that problem, as no one to date has expressed a desire to participate with us. But as a parent, it is important to be aware of that possibility. That's one benefit I see in the family office program—it's a way for everyone in the family to participate to the extent that they want to. I do hope more of my kids may be able to get the HBS experience through a course that may have broader appeal to our family situation.

Jim, what insights do you gain from learning and working alongside younger executives such as your son?

(JS): Working with younger people, I sometimes realize that my thinking is a bit obsolete, which prompts me to question whether I need to change basic or long-standing assumptions. I've probably learned much more from Bracken than he has learned from me.

Some people in the company I run have a career path similar to Bracken's—and I can't forget what it's like to be working at that level—the insight, the creativity, the intensity, and the drive to succeed. All of those things are really energizing for me. I still think I've got a lot of good deals and good business opportunities ahead of me. Bracken continues to give me new insights just from the way he views a case here at HBS and when we discuss deals and operating improvement opportunities in my business. It's also a huge benefit to learn from the application of analytical tools that he has developed through his statistics and mathematical background.

When Bracken and I are with the kids at a football game, going out to dinner, or at a play, he and I will talk shop a bit. These conversations make me better and I hope I am returning the favor by providing a broader perspective and some operating principles to help him in his work. No matter what, he is on a strong trajectory and will be far more successful than I have been, and that's the ultimate joy: to see your kids love what they do, and have a successful life. Not just in business but also have a great family that benefits the broader community.

About the Author

Julia Maggiore is a Marketing Manager for Harvard Business School, Executive Education.