HBS almuna Nancy M. Williams (MBA ‘92) sat down with The Harbus to share her advice and hopes for current and future business school alumni. Williams has had an incredible, varied career in the 23 years since she graduated from HBS. She is a renowned pianist who has performed at Carnegie Hall despite genetic hearing loss. She’s a healthcare exec who runs HPOne’s patient advocacy businesses. She’s the publisher and founding editor of online magazine Grand Piano Passion. She travels around North America as a hearing loss motivational advocate and speaker and lives in New Jersey with her husband, David Theobald (HBS MBA ‘91), and her two two children.
Megan Fairbank: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Nancy Williams: “Move calmly through life,” advises Pope Francis. Although I’m no longer a practicing Catholic – my husband and I became Presbyterians, much to the shock of my immigrant, Italian Catholic family -I felt a moment of inner peace when I read the Pope’s advice in Timothy Egan’s editorial in the New York Times on the art of joy. Pope Francis also suggested that we slow down and not hold onto negative feelings. “Take time off. Live and let live. Don’t proselytize. Work for peace. Work at a job that offers basic human dignity.” This is his secret to happiness. Of course the Pope did not direct his advice to me personally – he confided his life approach for millions – yet it is among the best advice I have ever received.
MF: What is the best way to grow your network, both personally professionally, after 5, 10, 15, 20+ years?
NW: To claim your passion. During the summer of my sixteenth birthday, I was told that with my hearing loss, I would never be a concert pianist. Then shortly after my fortieth birthday, although I had not touched the keys in 25 years, I stumbled back to the piano, a process that forced me to come to terms with my hearing loss. Now I am a hearing health advocate and speaker. In my talks, I often play the piano, with, I’m thrilled to report, “musicality and intensity of emotion,” says the Steinway Artist Cosmo Buono. My transformation led to a change in my business career, and I switched from telecom marketing to a field more suited to my interests, health care management. Currently I run HPONE’s patient advocacy businesses, including Stars Solutions (and the CEO and founder of HPOne is HBS ’92 Section B sectionmate Bill Stapleton). I found that the joy from claiming my passion radiated outwards to other parts of my life, making me more effective, successful, and most important happier. Hearing health advocates, concert pianists, health care executives, and adult piano students have swelled the ranks of my contacts. Now it’s difficult for me to discern where my personal contacts end and my professional network begins. I’m deeply invested in my current life, a new way of being that began with that moment when I reclaimed my passion for the piano.
Nancy M. Williams is a speaker, writer, pianist, and hearing health advocate. She is also the Vice President of Stars Solutions and Patient Advocacy Products at HPOne. Ms. Williams has spoken throughout North America on “Claiming Your Passion” to hearing loss and women’s advocacy groups, including serving as a keynote at the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association National Conference in 2014. Ms. Williams is also an award-winning writer and the founding editor of the online magazine, Grand Piano Passion™, which celebrates making music despite hearing loss. As a pianist, she debuted in 2012 at Carnegie Hall. Ms. Williams serves on the board of the Hearing Health Foundation. She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School (with distinction) and Stanford University.
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