An Interview with Richard Formato
Executive Education OPM Class of 2012
While Richard Formato waited patiently in line with his children to see Santa at a local mall, he received some unexpected and life changing news. He was accepted to the Harvard Business School Executive Education Program. He was shocked to learn he had been admitted, but when he started at HBS several months later, he found that the Harvard he has come to know and love was not the Harvard he expected.
Richard Formato started out in sales but found it to be both spiritually and personally unfulfilling, so he decided to go out on his own and create his own company, employing others rather than competing with them for commission. Mr. Formato stated that being an entrepreneur is “…one of the things that gives me a unique perspective on business, I’m someone who organically started a business….I had to jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down many times.” His company, SalesEdge, which began with only three people, now employs a few hundred in all fifty states, and most of the Canadian Provinces. Since its inception SalesEdge has been debt free, and grown to include other ventures such as an auto parts retailer and a general service retailer.
Mr. Formato began at HBS in 2010 as his company was feeling the impact of a down economy. Like many Harvard students before and surely many to come, Mr. Formato was unsure that his place in the Executive Eduacation program was really deserved. That fear was quickly assuaged. In his opening statement to the class Professor Robert Kaplan said that “you would not be here if your life was in alignment.” And Mr. Formato realized that this was a continual process of improvement for everyone. Soon after arriving at HBS Mr. Formato noticed the pomp and pretense he had anticipated was not at all the reality. “I thought I was going to be lectured to, but it’s more of a dialogue, more of a discussion than you’re sitting listening. So the Executive Education program starts on a Sunday and you’re wheels are turning 7 days a week until you get out of there. To me it’s almost a boot camp, which I really like because it allows me to focus intensely there, and then get back to work.”
The classroom is just one aspect of Mr. Formato’s overall experience. While there are many things Mr. Formato has gained from his HBS education the part he least expected was the sense of community that developed between him and his classmates, and incredible support he has received from the Executive Education staff. He describes himself as “very close with my classmates…and I’m still awe struck. I’m 50 years old and I feel like my life is just starting over again.” In regard the experience of living on campus Mr. Formato could only say positive things. “The staff in the Executive Education takes a concierge, tender love and care approach. We respect Jackie and her team of HBS associates as much as the highly esteemed professors. The level of attention we get in some ways we don’t deserve…It’s built like a great company; it serves the customer. We all really feel like there is a lot of value in this program. It’s a value based program for the money. If I could go every year for the next ten years I would probably go. On the whole to me it’s an A+.”
When asked what he has been able to take back to his company Mr. Formato said “culture, leadership, understanding how important the rigorous analysis of numbers, and also balancing that because you can have great numbers all day long, but if you don’t have the right management team, governance, or ethics in place you have a greater chance of failing. Seeing the context and the big picture of business has been one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned”. Mr. Formato also stressed the value of having a comprehensive business strategy, which he was able to develop through the program.
In thinking about what advice to give to those considering starting their own ventures, Mr. Formato said the most important thing is to “admit the things you can’t do faster than the things you can… one of the reinforced concepts at Harvard is your not to do list.” He also stressed the importance of listening to the customer. “If you go into the market place with your head screwed on straight… and go where your customers want you to go, and serve them in a way they want to be served you will always end up on your feet. As Peter Drucker says the purpose of a company is to create a customer.”
Mr. Formato’s experience at the Harvard Business School Executive Education Program while brief has certainly proved to be interesting, intensive and greatly worthwhile.
Catherine (Katie) Leary Tomezsko is the General Manager of The Harbus. She can be found on twitter @CTomezsko