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What He Didn’t Learn In School

Ron Kurtz (MBA ’67) shares advice for those early on in their careers in his new book, Fast Start to Career Success.



When his children graduated from college, Ron Kurtz (MBA ’67) sat down with pen and paper to write them a list. A handwritten note at an important junction was by then almost expected in the Kurtz family. According to his son Jason, “everything from my dad comes in the form of a letter from him to my sister (Carrie) or me.” But this letter stood out among the rest, because the content stuck with them – even subconsciously – for the rest of their careers.


Ron’s note contained a list of 36 tips that he believed his kids hadn’t learned in school. “When I was in business school, we didn’t really have practical, on-the-job education. Even with the case method, it all felt very functionally-organized,” Ron told me. Thus, the common sense tips he gave his children were based on his personal experience rather than academic learnings or research. Jason and Carrie found the handwritten advice so useful that they encouraged him to collect his 36 tips into a book in the hopes that others would benefit from their dad’s wisdom.


And so Fast Start to Career Success was born. With the help of his children, Ron built a book around the 36 tips, including a real-life example for each one showing how Jason or Carrie had applied his advice. 


“There are a couple major points of emphasis throughout the book,” Ron told me, “including the importance of being a team player, of being proactive in your career advancement and planning, and of balancing your work with your personal life.” But most of them aren’t tips you need to refer back to regularly. The book is intended as a starting point, a nudge to help readers develop intuition in how to have a meaningful career. 


When I asked Ron what advice stuck out from early on in his career, he shared something his first boss had told him. “My first boss told me to avoid any surprises,” he said. According to his boss, giving an early “heads up” when there was difficult news to share would allow time for the recipient to absorb the information, ultimately leading to a more productive conversation. This advice helped Ron to think deliberately about his communication style from the very beginning of his career. While this specific story is not in his book, much of Ron’s advice follows a similar thread. Many tips are related to communication and interpersonal relationships – from being careful about how you present your ideas (his advice: don’t “present your recommendations as surefire winners…present them for consideration and review by those with more experience”) to networking “regularly and with reciprocity…within and outside your industry.”


As I was reading Fast Start to Career Success, the pages I lingered on came towards the end. “The workday is unlikely to get shorter,” Ron wrote. “Pay attention to your family.” While this is advice that comes up again and again at HBS in RC classes like LEAD or EC classes like Leadership and Happiness, it remains the one thing that many HBS grads tend to forget. “I’m not sure I did a good job keeping things in balance myself,” Ron admitted to me. “We had to move a lot because of my job. My children reassure me that I did give them good time and effort, but I can see there are a lot of missed opportunities. Despite not having a good role model, my kids have done a better job maintaining family connections.” Maybe the same line that stands out to me had stuck with them: “The hours not spent with a spouse and children can never be recovered.”


Ron graduated from HBS nearly 60 years ago. We spent some time talking about how the HBS of today is a far cry from the HBS of the late 1960s. Like me, he was involved with the Harbus, and so we also discussed how the newspaper was different back then. “We published weekly, for one,” he said. “And any money we made…we got to keep.” My eyes widened when he shared the profit number, which would have been more than enough to fund frequent extravagant treks, if that had been as much a part of the social scene in the 60s as it is today. 


But when we turned to how to make the most of the time at HBS, his reflections felt timeless. “The opportunities to shine and advance are incredible. The doors that open to an HBS grad, even today, are unmatched. But the expectations people will have and the opportunities for advancement and exposure will be much bigger than you may be used to,” he told me. When I asked him what he wished he’d spent more time on, I almost felt like he had read my mind. “I didn’t spend enough time learning about the financial markets. I was focused on advertising and marketing, so I didn’t really think too much about finance.”


Like Ron, I didn’t spend as much time as I should have on FIN. Everyone always says there is not enough time in the day to do everything you want to do at HBS. As Ron’s advice affirms, that will only continue as we return to the real world after graduation. Time is precious. But this slim book of tips is a quick read worth spending an afternoon on.


If you’d like to pick up a copy of Ron’s book, you can find it on Amazon here.

Rory Finnegan (MBA ’24) has been an avid reader and writer all her life. She pursued these interests all the way through college, graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in poetry writing. After taking a couple years off from her literary passions to work at McKinsey & Company, Rory has been delighted to pick up the pen again by writing for the Harbus.

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