For the 879 graduates of Harvard Business School's Class of 2000, the future doesn't just look bright, it gleams like the sun streaking across Aldrich Lawn at the school's graduation.
This year's grads are a part of a long and prestigious tradition, following such business greats as Lew Gerstner of IBM and Alfred Zeien of Gillette. Like the 89 Harvard classes that have preceded them, many of this year's grads will take their places in banking, consulting, and marketing. But others will join industries that barely existed a few years ago. And they leave Harvard at a time of unprecedented prosperity, wooed by employers offering mammoth salaries and bonus packages.
Still, on this day, these future chieftains look as nervous and giddy as graduates anywhere, fidgeting as parents or spouses adjust their caps and running to their seats seconds before the ceremony begins. It's fitting that many were pushing strollers or holding the hands of toddlers.
Although it's a time when most have been focused on education and career, Dean Kim B. Clark made the family the focus of his commencement speech. "There is no success in business that can compensate for failure at home. Invest first at home, and think of that as the most important investment in your lives. The most important work you do in your whole lives will be inside the walls of your home."
THE BIG DAY
Since 1908, when Harvard Business School was founded, the world's most prestigious business credential has been bestowed on more than 45,000 graduates.
It's an elite group. The students have to meet exacting standards: The school admits fewer than 13% of applicants. More than 8,000 people applied to the Class of 2000, but fewer than 900 made the cut. Of those, 19% were minorities, 26% were international students, and 30% were women--the largest female cohort to date.
This year's graduates will earn median starting pay of $140,000 a year, a record. They'll need it after spending more than $100,000 on tuition, fees, room, and board for the two-year program. And money was on everyone's mind. Some grads waved $100 bills in celebration. Others tossed them in the balmy spring air.
Soon enough, these newly minted MBAs will head off to careers, many outside of traditional corporate jobs. More have accepted opportunities in venture capital and e-business than ever before, say school officials, although consulting and investment banking remain favorites.
On their first day at Harvard Business School, students are assigned to sections. They take classes and study with this group of 80 for the next year. They sit in the same seats, work through the same cases, and--somehow--push through to the second year together. During this grueling year, many form bonds that will last a lifetime.
The day before commencement, the sections regroup for one final session: a ritual stomping of the desks they occupied as first-year students.
FACES FROM THE CLASS OF 2000
Most Harvard MBAs have extraordinary stories to tell of success and accomplishment. This year's class includes former school teachers, Internet entrepreneurs, professional athletes, and writers from 62 countries. Hundreds of paths lead to the Harvard Business School.
Peter Cochran, 29, a former pro soccer player, calls his foray into business a fluke. A knee injury sent the Portland (Ore.) native off the field and into e-business. He became the second employee at Fogdog Inc., an online sporting goods retailer that went public in late 1999.
Laura Maydon, 26, was a financial analyst in Mexico City, where she was born and raised, before she left for Harvard. The daughter of a schoolteacher and a Mexican central bank official, she hopes to use her degree to spur investment in Mexico. "I want to do something for my country and Latin America," she says.
Raymond Jefferson, 34, graduated from West Point and served as a Green Beret. But when he held on to an explosive device rather than endanger other soldiers in his unit by throwing it, he lost the fingers on his left hand. The Army sent Jefferson to Hawaii to recover, and he set out to find a new way to "continue a career in service." His MBA follows a master's degree in public policy.
Peter Cochran decided to go to Harvard Business School after making a "lot of mistakes" with his co-workers at Fogdog. Cochran will now join CMGI@Ventures, a venture-capital firm in the San Francisco area. "My goal is to go in and show that I learned something from my first experience and help other entrepreneurs to get through it," Cochran says.
He credits his high school sweetheart and wife of seven years, Hope, with his success. "Without her, I would never be here," he says. His wife also was accepted but declined to go to Harvard because she already had her dream job. "It's a funny twist of fate," says Hope, the CFO of an Internet startup. "I was always the one who wanted to go to business school."
Bank of America's Latin America Private Equity Div. in Chicago is about to get its first Mexican woman on staff. There, she hopes to interest U.S. business in Latin America.
The graduation ceremony was bittersweet for Maydon, whose mother died when she was 13 and whose father died two months ago. "He made me promise I would finish my MBA," recalls Maydon, who credits her strong family ties--and a grandmother who has lived with Maydon and her two brothers since their mother died--for her success.
Ray Jefferson says his family taught him to care about others. His mother took him to visit the sick. His brother Alex says Ray "was always helping someone." When the native of Guilderland, N.Y., initially failed to get into the business school, he instead got a degree from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Just days before receiving his MBA, he was selected for a spot as a White House Fellow. That followed the award of a Fulbright
Fellowship to work with nonprofits in Singapore. "Harvard wants to turn out leaders," he says. "One way is to be a CEO; another is to be a leader in the public arena."
If Harvard Business School's Class of 1949 was known as the class the dollars fell on, the Class of 2000 could be called the class that opportunity--and stock options--rained on.
Whatever their chosen path, Dean Clark told the students: "I don't believe a class at Harvard Business School has graduated with more opportunity in front of them than you. You can literally change the world. Choose wisely and choose well."
The graduates join an elite group of CEOs, heads of nonprofits, world leaders, and humanitarians who have walked across the Aldrich Lawn, studied at the Baker Library, and lived in the school's red-brick dormitories before them. In two months, the Class of 2002 will come to take their place.
As one grad carried his young daughter across the stage, took his diploma, and walked back to rejoin his classmates, he cooed to the girl who was tugging at the document: "You'll get one of these one day." Perhaps in the Class of 2025?