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HBS to DBS: Larry Culp’s General Management Journey

Danaher remained a well-oiled machine, but the company's success didn't come without taking risks. Larry points to the $6.8 billion acquisition of Beckman Coulter in 2011 as the biggest risk of his career. A once highly coveted company, Beckman Coulter was a vastly oversold stock, facing severe regulatory challenges and the sudden resignation of their CEO. "Many people", Larry says, "felt it was too risky, particularly at that size, for anyone to take on". Since this was Danaher's largest acquisition to date, "the Beckman Coulter decision would take me to retirement, one way or the other," Larry joked. Fortunately for Larry, it would prove a success. Life Back at HBS "Trust doesn't follow you. You have to earn it everywhere you go." - Larry Culp And just like that, Larry found himself back at HBS, his old stomping grounds. Working for HBS - only his second employer post-graduation - has been an exciting cross-industry transition for him, but make no mistake Larry says, "learning to teach is no small challenge." Although part of a CEOs responsibilities involves developing talent, Larry says, "just because I was the CEO of a highly successful company doesn't mean I waltz into the classroom and magic happens. There's work to do!" A mindset like this would likely benefit the many career-switchers in business school who will be venturing into new roles, riding the waves of past successes and impressive credentials. While Larry may not possess decades of teaching experience, his past career speaks to the material that sits at the core of LEAD. In fact, his contributions are already being recognized by his peers. Professor Joshua Margolis, the course-head of LEAD, describes Larry as a voracious, open-learner and "someone who makes all around him better". Larry's insights, Professor Margolis says, have led to the adaptation and expansion of core course concepts for better application in difficult practical situations. Professor Margolis also had this to say: "he picks up key nuances in cases and conveys to the teaching team how those nuances matter in the decisions leaders face and the actions they take." Larry has also been pushing his students to take classroom discussions to the next level. He has placed an emphasis on closing the gap between the divergent conversations of the what (strategy) and the how (action plan). Great leaders, Larry says, do more than just entertain both, they ensure that these are one conversation. "It's easy for us, in the rarefied air of an HBS classroom, to talk about the 'what'. A lot of us aspire to do that post-graduation, but it's in the 'how' where you win or lose, it's the 'how' that determines whether or not you create value," Larry added. This transition from the what to the how - a blind spot early in his own career - is what Larry continues to improve with Section H, who he describes as "the best section at HBS". Of course, this endorsement will be contested by the other nine sections. When asked about change management, Larry says that they are "moving beyond 'communication' and 'aligning incentives' to broaden their repertoire," adding that "there's a lot more in the messy day-to-day reality of leading and driving change and performance than the bully pulpit and carrots and sticks". Larry's teaching style has been well-received by members of Section H, whose critical mid-semester feedback for him was that he wasn't sharing enough leadership anecdotes from his time Danaher. In response, Larry made an effort to weave relevant first-hand accounts into his different case wrap-ups. After a semester of LEAD and the many first-hand leadership stories, Nathan Bruschi, a former Intelligence Officer, says that Larry has inspired him to pursue general management for the summer. Nathan's classmate, Emmanuel Forlemu added that a semester with Larry left him with the impression that " was the type of leader who really cared about his team and people". Outside of faculty meetings and classroom discussions, Larry also manages to carve out personal time for students. During one-on-one meetings and group lunch discussions, Larry takes time to field student questions about their careers, a pressing topic for MBA students this time of year. On top of juggling cases, networking functions and final exams, students must also confront critical decisions about their career paths. A common set of questions Larry has encountered have come from students with ambitions of one-day running businesses. To Larry's dismay, he says, "some folks think there are better routes to real leadership roles than roles that actually allow you to practice real leadership." To Larry, one can only study swimming for so long before having to actually swim. Many students, Larry says, have proposed "getting exposure" for a few more years after school, to which Larry says he's "not convinced that that's all that more helpful if your objective is to run a business. I'm a big believer in getting real reps in real leadership situations as being the best preparation for ultimately being a general manager, or otherwise, running a business." He later added, "through the course of two years at HBS you get a lot of exposure to different companies, different industries, different topics, but at some point you have to jump in the pool". What Next? "When your kids give your eulogy, will they express regret over the things you did not do?" - Larry Culp Before wrapping up the interview, The Harbus asked Larry what type of opportunity it would take for him to put his jersey back on. "I'm in a good place, personally", says Larry, who continues to receive flattering offers, but doesn't see himself returning to the corporate world in a full-time capacity. Though Larry also serves on the T. Rowe Price board in addition to Washington College and Wake Forest University while advising and investing in a number of businesses, he remains content with this flavor of busy that's on his own time table. At a youthful 53 years of age, there is plenty of time for Larry's plans to take a detour. In the meantime, however, he remains an invaluable resource to students and faculty on the HBS campus. Thank you to Anja Anliker for sharing the Larry Culp quotes, placed at the beginning of each section. These are some of the statements Larry made in class that she kept note of throughout the semester. Alula Eshete (HBS '17) is a first-generation Ethiopian-American and CEO of The Harbus. Prior to HBS, he spent 4 years working across several divisions of Abbott before joining GE's Global Growth & Operations group in Ethiopia. He enjoys exploring the world, making people laugh, and advocating for the voiceless.

Danaher remained a well-oiled machine, but the company's success didn't come without taking risks. Larry points to the $6.8 billion acquisition of Beckman Coulter in 2011 as the biggest risk of his career. A once highly coveted company, Beckman Coulter was a vastly oversold stock, facing severe regulatory challenges and the sudden resignation of their CEO. "Many people", Larry says, "felt it was too risky, particularly at that size, for anyone to take on". Since this was Danaher's largest acquisition to date, "the Beckman Coulter decision would take me to retirement, one way or the other," Larry joked. Fortunately for Larry, it would prove a success. Life Back at HBS "Trust doesn't follow you. You have to earn it everywhere you go." - Larry Culp And just like that, Larry found himself back at HBS, his old stomping grounds. Working for HBS - only his second employer post-graduation - has been an exciting cross-industry transition for him, but make no mistake Larry says, "learning to teach is no small challenge." Although part of a CEOs responsibilities involves developing talent, Larry says, "just because I was the CEO of a highly successful company doesn't mean I waltz into the classroom and magic happens. There's work to do!" A mindset like this would likely benefit the many career-switchers in business school who will be venturing into new roles, riding the waves of past successes and impressive credentials. While Larry may not possess decades of teaching experience, his past career speaks to the material that sits at the core of LEAD. In fact, his contributions are already being recognized by his peers. Professor Joshua Margolis, the course-head of LEAD, describes Larry as a voracious, open-learner and "someone who makes all around him better". Larry's insights, Professor Margolis says, have led to the adaptation and expansion of core course concepts for better application in difficult practical situations. Professor Margolis also had this to say: "he picks up key nuances in cases and conveys to the teaching team how those nuances matter in the decisions leaders face and the actions they take." Larry has also been pushing his students to take classroom discussions to the next level. He has placed an emphasis on closing the gap between the divergent conversations of the what (strategy) and the how (action plan). Great leaders, Larry says, do more than just entertain both, they ensure that these are one conversation. "It's easy for us, in the rarefied air of an HBS classroom, to talk about the 'what'. A lot of us aspire to do that post-graduation, but it's in the 'how' where you win or lose, it's the 'how' that determines whether or not you create value," Larry added. This transition from the what to the how - a blind spot early in his own career - is what Larry continues to improve with Section H, who he describes as "the best section at HBS". Of course, this endorsement will be contested by the other nine sections. When asked about change management, Larry says that they are "moving beyond 'communication' and 'aligning incentives' to broaden their repertoire," adding that "there's a lot more in the messy day-to-day reality of leading and driving change and performance than the bully pulpit and carrots and sticks". Larry's teaching style has been well-received by members of Section H, whose critical mid-semester feedback for him was that he wasn't sharing enough leadership anecdotes from his time Danaher. In response, Larry made an effort to weave relevant first-hand accounts into his different case wrap-ups. After a semester of LEAD and the many first-hand leadership stories, Nathan Bruschi, a former Intelligence Officer, says that Larry has inspired him to pursue general management for the summer. Nathan's classmate, Emmanuel Forlemu added that a semester with Larry left him with the impression that " was the type of leader who really cared about his team and people". Outside of faculty meetings and classroom discussions, Larry also manages to carve out personal time for students. During one-on-one meetings and group lunch discussions, Larry takes time to field student questions about their careers, a pressing topic for MBA students this time of year. On top of juggling cases, networking functions and final exams, students must also confront critical decisions about their career paths. A common set of questions Larry has encountered have come from students with ambitions of one-day running businesses. To Larry's dismay, he says, "some folks think there are better routes to real leadership roles than roles that actually allow you to practice real leadership." To Larry, one can only study swimming for so long before having to actually swim. Many students, Larry says, have proposed "getting exposure" for a few more years after school, to which Larry says he's "not convinced that that's all that more helpful if your objective is to run a business. I'm a big believer in getting real reps in real leadership situations as being the best preparation for ultimately being a general manager, or otherwise, running a business." He later added, "through the course of two years at HBS you get a lot of exposure to different companies, different industries, different topics, but at some point you have to jump in the pool". What Next? "When your kids give your eulogy, will they express regret over the things you did not do?" - Larry Culp Before wrapping up the interview, The Harbus asked Larry what type of opportunity it would take for him to put his jersey back on. "I'm in a good place, personally", says Larry, who continues to receive flattering offers, but doesn't see himself returning to the corporate world in a full-time capacity. Though Larry also serves on the T. Rowe Price board in addition to Washington College and Wake Forest University while advising and investing in a number of businesses, he remains content with this flavor of busy that's on his own time table. At a youthful 53 years of age, there is plenty of time for Larry's plans to take a detour. In the meantime, however, he remains an invaluable resource to students and faculty on the HBS campus. Thank you to Anja Anliker for sharing the Larry Culp quotes, placed at the beginning of each section. These are some of the statements Larry made in class that she kept note of throughout the semester. Alula Eshete (HBS '17) is a first-generation Ethiopian-American and CEO of The Harbus. Prior to HBS, he spent 4 years working across several divisions of Abbott before joining GE's Global Growth & Operations group in Ethiopia. He enjoys exploring the world, making people laugh, and advocating for the voiceless.

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