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HBX Business Blog

Spring Cleaning Your Personal Budget

Posted by Jackie Merriam on May 26, 2017 at 1:32 PM

AdobeStock_Budegt Clean [Converted]-835332-edited.png

Whether you track every penny you spend, or just periodically check your bank account and credit card balances, everyone maintains a budget to some extent. You could use an app, a spreadsheet, or keep track in your head, but it’s important to know how much money you have coming in, and how much you spend, for a given period of time.

Regardless of how you keep your budget, it is a good idea to evaluate your financial position at least once a year and think about how you could make better use of your money. These tips will help you to evaluate your habits, lower your spending, and improve your planning for the future.

Evaluate the Balances in your Accounts

There are three types of cash accounts that people should have: 

  • Checking Account 
    Your checking account should only have enough to cover your monthly expenditures. You should not be spending more than you make, so a general rule of thumb is to maintain the equivalent of one month’s pay in this account. This account balance will fluctuate a lot because there is constantly money going in and coming out, but this account should not be consistently growing over time, because it doesn’t earn interest. If you find that this account has grown over time, you should consider moving some of the funds to a savings account.
  • Emergency/Liquid Savings 
    Think of this as your Rainy Day Fund, used to keep a cash buffer in case of an emergency (i.e. losing your job) or to save money for known future expenditures, like a down payment for a house. These funds should be kept in interest bearing, yet liquid accounts, such as a simple interest bearing savings account, where you can access the money at a moment’s notice, without penalty. You should keep between 3-9 months’ worth of expenditures in this account for emergencies in addition to any money you are saving for a specific future event.
  • Long-Term/Illiquid Savings 
    These are generally retirement accounts that don’t allow you to withdraw money early, or that would incur a penalty if you did. You should be putting some amount into these accounts monthly—every little bit helps!

Review Auto-Renewal Payments

We are creatures of habit, and it’s important to know how much our habits are costing us. We all have things that we pay for on a regular basis that are automatically deducted from our bank account or charged to our credit cards. This can include subscriptions and memberships that give you access to certain benefits (such as app subscriptions, video streaming services, Amazon Prime, gym memberships, etc.). 

One survey estimates that the average consumer has 11 of these charges each month. While the individual amounts are usually small, they add up quickly.

To clean these up, grab your most recent bank and credit card statements and mark all of the items that are recurring or auto-renew. Add them up—you may be surprised by the total! As you go through these, ask yourself a series of questions about each:

  • Did I cancel this? Is this what I ordered?
    Try to find confirmations of your cancellations and call the company to investigate why you are being charged. They should be able to offer a refund if you are being charged incorrectly.
  • How much do I actually use the product/service? Is it worth it?
    For some payments, it might help to think about a per-day or a per-use cost. For example, if you pay $15 per month for a photo editing software, but you only use it to edit 2 photos per month, you are paying $7.50 per photo. Another way to think about this is to put it in yearly terms; if you kept this up you would be paying $180 per year to edit 24 photos.

    For payments that get you access to certain benefits, especially those that are intended to save you money in the long term, determine if the benefit you received was greater than the cost. A great example of this is Amazon Prime. Some of these memberships keep track of all your savings, and you may also be able to access this information in your online account. If the amount you saved is less than the cost you paid to get the service, it’s probably not worth it!

    For items that auto-renew at intervals longer than one month, put a reminder on your calendar a few weeks before it renews. When you get the reminder, think about whether or not you actually use what you are paying for, and decide to renew or cancel it before you get charged.

  • Could I be paying less?
    Especially for items where you pay on a monthly basis, like your cell phone, internet, or cable, check to see if you could save money by changing your payment plan. Many companies offer discounts to people who pay for 6 months or one year at a time, as opposed to one month at a time. If it’s something you have determined is worth it to you, see if you could take advantage of these savings!

    The answers to these questions are going to be different for every person. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking you will change your patterns—if you aren’t using something now, you probably won’t use it in the future!

Don’t forget about your infrequent expenses

Most people have a pretty good idea of their regular expenses that are frequently recurring. You know (or you should know!) how much you spend every month on rent, student loan payments, and car payments. You also probably know roughly how much you spend each month on necessities like food, utilities and gas. 

However, many people struggle to plan for big expenses that are more infrequent, but still fairly certain to occur, such as:

  • Car or home insurance, usually paid once or twice annually
  • Somewhat predictable car and home repairs
  • Taxes (if you are expecting a refund don’t forget to budget for that too!)
  • An annual trip home for the holidays

Know your patterns and don’t forget about these less frequent expenditures. For example, if you are expecting to have to purchase new tires for your car in the next four months, start saving a little money for that today. It’s much easier to save a little bit at a time for these expenses than to have to deduct it from your budget all at once.

Reevaluate your long-term savings plan

No matter how old you are or where you are in your career, you should be saving for retirement. When it comes to building your savings, time is your friend. The longer you are able to save, the more your savings will be able to grow, and the effects in the future are exponential. 

An easy way to do this is to ensure that you are taking advantage of everything that your employer offers. Employer-sponsored plans are beneficial for many reasons, including certain tax breaks and deductions straight from your paycheck.

Here are a few things to consider with employer-sponsored retirement plans:

  • Some employers require you to “opt-in” to the retirement plans. Make sure that you do this! If you don’t opt in, you could go months or years without contributing anything to your retirement plan.
  • Many employers offer a matching program where they will match any contributions you make to a retirement plan, up to a certain amount. You should contribute at least as much as this limit so that you are getting the full benefit of the match.
  • You set the amount or percent of your pay that goes to the plan. Determine if you can increase your contribution, even an additional 1% per paycheck can make a big difference!

Every employer offers different things, so talk with an HR or benefits officer at your employer to get the full scope of the benefits. It may also be worth it to speak with a financial advisor about other savings options that you might be able to take advantage of, especially if you feel that you employer doesn’t offer exactly what you are looking for.

Want to learn more about Finance, Accounting, Economics and Analytics?

Learn more about HBX CORe

About the Author

Jackie Blog Round.pngJackie is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and currently works on the Financial Accounting course for the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program. She also works on the Leading with Finance Course, and is working to design and develop a course in Entrepreneurship for the HBX Platform.

Jackie holds a BSB in Accounting and Finance, and a Masters of Accountancy, all from the University of Minnesota. In her free time she enjoys cheering on her favorite Minnesota sports teams and baking.

Topics: HBX Finance, HBX tips, Financial Accounting

HBX Staff Spotlight: Anna Vallee

Posted by HBX on May 25, 2017 at 2:58 PM

Anna Vallee in HBX Studio

We sat down with Anna Vallee, a Research and Teaching Associate on our content team, to talk about her role at HBX and to learn what goes into designing and developing new courses. 

Anna Vallee in Cap and Gown
What is your academic background?

I received a B.A., Political Science from DePaul University and a Masters in Education Policy and Management from Harvard Graduate School of Education. I was also in the very first group of HBX CORe students in 2014...Go Pioneers!

What is your role at HBX?

I assist in the design and delivery of courses. I started working with Professor Jan Hammond on the Business Analytics course in October 2016.

Any former CORe student will understand how awesome that was – like working with a celebrity after watching their film! Collaborating closely with Professor Hammond on student support and course delivery showed me how much her commitment to education comes out in everything that she does.

What projects are you working on right now?

After getting my feet wet with course maintenance, I moved into development in January and am now building out new courses for HBX. My current project is a cross-Harvard collaboration around K-12 school leadership and management.

The role has involved a lot of work with the Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School, and it has been rewarding to make contributions at the intersection of my interests in business and education. The work that we’re doing certainly fulfills HBX’s mission of educating leaders who make a difference in the world wherever they are; good principals and school leaders have a monumental impact on a child’s future.

Anna Valle with the Red Sox Mascot, Wally the Green Monster

What does your typical day look like at HBX?

Trick question…there is no typical day during the course development process! At any given time I can be found in meetings, writing up a storm, collaborating with faculty, or preparing for filming. I’d compare the work to something between writing a book and making a movie.

The process is incredibly creative and collaborative, and working with the HBX team makes it lots of fun! My favorite part is being in the studio and watching the faculty bring the material to life.

How has HBX shaped your academic interests and plans for the future?

I’m on the fence about whether I’d like to go back for more schooling. Regardless of my decision, HBX has helped me shape and solidify my career trajectory and professional interests. Before coming to HBX I was at another edtech firm, and I’ve found that I really enjoy the energy of a technology startup that’s coupled with the mission of a non-profit.

Anna Vallee eating a lobster

What's you favorite things about living in Boston?

I grew up in the landlocked region of the Midwest near Chicago. The people are really nice, but the seafood is terrible and the land is flat, so I never learned to ski.

Since moving here three years ago, I have fully embraced the New England diet with open arms and an empty stomach. I could eat a lobster roll a day if given the choice (and the budget). Skiing…well, I’m working on it. I’ve been told I’m a natural at cross-country, but I’m probably a hazard to others going downhill.

I also enjoy watching New England sports teams, albeit only about once a year. If I could choose any game at random, it would be watching the Celtics play. The players make the movements look so fluid and poetic - it’s almost a dance! 

What's your favorite hobby?

I’ve dabbled in watercolor and ink illustration and I’m starting to learn Japanese this summer in anticipation of a trip to Tokyo.

Do you have any hidden talents?

Karaoke. I’m pretty sure all of my friends are tired of hearing me sing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” by now. 

Topics: HBX Staff Spotlight

How to Minimize the Margin of Error in an A/B Test

Posted by Jenny Gutbezahl on May 23, 2017 at 4:07 PM

A-B Test showing different content on two computer screens

Often when you encounter statistics in the newspaper, in a report from your marketing team, or on social media, the statistics will include a "margin of error." For example, a political poll might estimate that one candidate will get 58% of the vote "plus or minus 2.8%." That margin of error is one of the most important – and least attended to – aspects of statistics.

In statistics, error is any variability that can't be explained by a model. In mathematical symbols, we would say Y = f(X) + error. In words, we'd say, the dependent variable (what we're interested in predicting) is some function of other variables we're measuring, plus error. 

The reason this is called "error" is that when we create a statistical model, we use it to predict our dependent variable. For example, Amazon might run an A/B test where they randomly show a subset of their customers one version of a product page and the remaining customers a different version. They are trying to see if specific aspects of the page affect how much people spend on the product. In this case, Y is the amount spent, and X is the version of the page that they see. 

Perhaps, people who see the first page spend an average of $28, and people who see the second page spend an average of $35. If we know that someone saw the first page, and we know nothing else about him or her, our best guess would be that they spent $28. Any difference between what is actually spent and $28 is error (similarly, for people who see the second page, the difference between actual spending and $35 is error). 

We always expect some variability across the people in our sample, so we’d expect there to be SOME difference between the people who see the first page and the people who see the second, just by chance. If the errors are distributed in a predictable manner (usually in a bell-shaped curve, or normal distribution), we can estimate how much difference there should be between the two groups, if the page had no effect. If the difference greater than that estimate, we assume that difference is due to which page they saw.

Here are some of the things that contribute to error:

Variables missing from our model

There are a large number of variables that could influence spending, including: Time of year, the economic climate, individual information such as income, and computer-related issues, such as how they found the site and how fast the connection is. If these variables can be easily collected and added to the model, the model would still be Y=f(X) + error, but X would include not only the product page, but all the other information we have, which would likely lead to a better prediction. 

Actual mistakes

Maybe the person wants to buy two items, but accidentally hits 22. Oops! Or maybe the analytics engine was configured incorrectly or the dataset got corrupted somewhere along the way through human error or a technical problem.  You can minimize the effect of mistakes by taking time to review and clean your data

Misleading or false information

Maybe the person coming to the site is from a competing retailer, and has no intention of buying the product – they are just visiting the site to do research on the competition. While this source of error is relatively uncommon in behavioral data (such as purchasing a product), it is very common in self-report data. 

Respondents often lie about their behavior, their political beliefs, their age, their education, etc. You may be able to correct for this somewhat by looking for strange or anomalous cases and doing the same sort of cleaning you'd do for mistakes. You could also use a self-report scale that estimates various types of misleading information, such as this one.

Random or quasi-random factors

There are a number of factors that can lead to variability that are more or less random. Maybe the person is in a good mood, and so more likely to spend money. Maybe the model on one of the product pages looks like the shopper's 3rd grade teacher, who they hated, so they navigate away from the page quickly.

Maybe the person's operating system happens to update just as they are getting to the page, and by the time they reboot, they move on to other things. These things probably can't be built into the predictive model, and are difficult to control for, so they will almost always be part of the error.


So long as errors are basically randomly distributed, we can make a good estimate of how much money visitors will spend and how much this varies between versions. If we have a lot of random error, we may not be able to make a very accurate prediction (our margin of error will be large) but there's no reason it should be wrong one way or the other. 

However, systematic error leads to biased data, which will generally give us poor results. For example, if we decide to run one version of the product page for a month, and the other version the next month, the data may be biased based on time. If the first month is December and the second is January, or if there is a major change to the stock market toward the end of the first month, our comparison won't be valid. That's because the people who see the two pages differ systematically. 

Therefore, differences in spending between the pages are not due to random chance; some of that difference is due to bias. This makes it impossible to determine how much is due to the differences between the pages. The best way to address this is through good study design. Every single person who comes to the site should be equally likely to go to each page. 

It's never possible to completely eliminate error, but well-designed research keeps error as small as possible, and provides a good understanding of error, so we know how confident we can be of the results.

Interested in learning more about Business Analytics, Economics, and Financial Accounting? Our fundamentals of business program, HBX CORe, may be a good fit for you:

Learn more about HBX CORe

About the Author

Jenny G

Jenny is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and currently works on the Business Analytics course for the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program, and supports the development of a new course in Management for the HBX platform. Jenny holds a BFA in theater from New York University and a PhD in Social Psychology from University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is active in the greater Boston arts and theater community, and she enjoys solving and creating diabolically difficult word puzzles.

Topics: Business Fundamentals, HBX CORe

5 Key Takeaways From My Day at HBS

Posted by Kayla Lewkowicz on May 18, 2017 at 3:33 PM

A compilation of photos from HBX ConneXt, featuring Meghan Joyce, Professor Bharat Anand, Professor Mihir Desai, Mark Hardie, and Professor Rebecca Henderson

I recently got the chance to attend HBX ConneXt for the second year, meeting my fellow alumni and taking the opportunity to ask questions and learn from our professors. Here are my top takeaways from an incredible day of knowledge:

“Technology is only a tool, it’s not an end in itself. Online learning won’t magically improve learning.”
—Bharat Anand, HBX Faculty Chair

Bharat Anand kicked off the day by adding context around HBX and what it means to the world, not just to us as students. HBX pioneers a model of teaching that’s pushing the boundaries of what education can be.

Look at the age distribution of HBX students—from 17-60! With technology, we can provide access to anyone willing to learn. The boundary, then, is not privilege, but the motivation and commitment of students.  

“Finance is about information and incentives, not money.”
—Mihir Desai, Professor, Leading with Finance

As a past CORe participant, one of the best parts of HBX ConneXt is getting a taste of the many different courses available. Being a marketer, I rarely get the chance to talk to my CFO or know what they’re thinking about during the day. Participating in Professor Desai’s financial policy case discussion on Apple was eye-opening (not to mention outside of my comfort zone!).

Like any business, Apple’s industry plays a major role in financial policy, and talking through some of the unique challenges in tech—fear of missing the product lifecycle, a brand-intensive marketing play, and a mandate for innovation—introduced me to the concept of cash flow, and why it’s worth paying attention to, especially for big players like Apple and Google.

“In order to change the world, you have to be up against problems that no one has been able to crack before.”
—Megan Joyce, East Coast General Manager at Uber

No matter what our role or industry, we all seek to make an impact. At Uber, they’re not just trying to build a successful business—they’re trying to solve big, hairy problems like global climate change. 

Joyce also talked about a different way to make an impact: through others. As a manager, it’s your job to bring out the best in the people around you and helping them dream bigger. And though we’d like to think we always know what to do, when you’re trying to make an impact, you might not have the right answer. In fact, you might not have any answers. And that’s okay. It’s not always your job to have the answers—instead, pull great ideas out of your team to make an impact on the world.

“How do you deal with no’s? Move on. You don’t have time to dwell on it.”
—Mark Hardie, HBS Career and Professional Development

Mark Hardie’s incredible afternoon workshop for aspiring entrepreneurs talked through a complete case study of a business idea. But knowing the partners, activities, and personas you have to target to create a business plan is only half the battle.

The other half? Getting your voice heard. To be able to get funding (not to mention customers), you have to build a story. Articulating your idea quickly allows you to capitalize on whatever opportunities might come your way—and if someone says no, that’s okay. Learn from it and move on so you don’t miss the next opportunity.

“Business can save the world.”
—Rebecca Henderson, Harvard Professor

To finish out the day, we heard from the brilliant minds of Rebecca Henderson and Michael Sandel discussing the future of capitalism. Capitalism, Henderson argues, is a fabulous tool but a bad master, which has caused problems like environmental issues, increasing inequality, and firms fixing regulation to benefit themselves.

We’ve become a market society, where market values and market thinking dominates every aspect of life, not just goods and services.  At times of major crisis, business leaders have stepped up to solve these kinds of problems for the greater good—the question is, will they now?

If Rebecca Henderson is right, I know that HBX’ers are ready, willing, and able to tackle the world’s biggest problems head on.

The amount of knowledge packed into one day at ConneXt was overwhelming, but it was also inspiring. Whether it was debating Apple’s financial strategy or outlining a business plan, I got the chance to meet HBX’ers from all over the world, learn from them, and be inspired by their dreams and plans—because the only way we’ll save the world is together.

About the Author

KaylaKayla Lewkowicz participated in the January 2016 cohort of HBX CORe. She is the marketing coordinator for a tech start-up in Cambridge, MA who took CORe to better understand her company. Her reflections on the program can be found on her blog.


Topics: HBX ConneXt

A New Graduate's Guide to Navigating Opportunity Costs

Posted by Patrick Healy on May 16, 2017 at 3:52 PM

Harvard Graduates celebrate on Commencement Day

It’s that time of year again: college graduation! When professors wear ridiculous robes, the band plays Pomp and Circumstance, and weepy parents watch their babies don caps and gowns and walk across the stage to get their hard-earned diplomas.

It’s a magical time, full of hopes, dreams, and, for many graduates, intense anxiety about what’s next.

After diplomas are handed out and the band plays its final tune, it’s time for newly minted graduates to head out into the real world. If you’re in this boat, this may be your first time living on your own, managing your finances, and doing your own grocery shopping. It’s an exciting (and scary) new chapter of life, full of responsibilities and big decisions. And, if you’re like me back in 2013, you’ll probably have little idea what to do or how to make those decisions.

Never fear, economics is here to lend a hand! You're probably thinking, “Economics? You mean that class I never took in college?” Yep, that’s the one!

Most people think economics has to do with investing or the stock market (that’s finance actually). But in reality, economics is mostly concerned with how people make decisions and the ways their choices interact. To that end, the field of economics contains several principles, tools, and frameworks that you can use to think about the decisions you’ll make after school (and those you face every day).

Few concepts are more important than the principle of opportunity cost.

After graduation, you’ll undoubtedly face many decisions: where to live, what to do for work, who to date, and countless others. In each of these choices, you will face trade-offs. If you take a job at a consulting firm, for example, you’ll likely have to travel a lot and won’t be able to sleep in your own bed. If you date Lily or James, you (presumably) won’t be able to date Arthur or Molly. No choice is the “perfect” one because you must always give up something else in order to get it.

Economists like to say that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” The idea is that even if someone offers to buy you lunch, the meal isn’t costless. You still “pay” for it in the form of the time you spend at lunch not doing other things (like reading the new book you brought to work or dining with someone more interesting).

In fact, you incur costs with every decision you make. The opportunity cost of a decision is the value of the next best thing you give up to make that choice. In other words, it’s what you sacrifice in order choose one course of action over another. 

Post-graduate life (and life in general) is full of opportunity costs that you should account for when making decisions. For example, suppose you’re thinking about going to graduate school. If you do, you’ll need to pay tuition, buy books, and incur other expenses. The full price tag? $100,000 over two years. But the actual cost of attendance is much higher than this!

Why? Because, if you do attend, you forego the salary you could have earned by working. If you could get a job paying $50,000 per year, for instance, the total cost of grad school (accounting for this opportunity cost of not working for two years) has just doubled! 

But opportunity costs don’t just factor into career decisions. For example, suppose you’ve gotten a job in a new city and are now looking for a place to live. Your salary is modest, so you are hoping to rent as cheap a place as possible. You look in the city, but the apartments are so expensive! You eventually find a place for $300 per month less than ones right by work, but it is an hour train ride away. Should you take the apartment?

Well, it depends how much you value your time. If you do take it, that’s 2 hours in the car each day. 30 days per month, and that’s 60 hours total of time lost to driving (more with traffic). Is 60+ hours of your time worth $300 dollars to you?

Economics can’t tell you whether or not to exchange time for money. But it can provide important principles and frameworks with which to help you make these decisions.

So when you’re making big decisions as a newly minted graduate, remember to consider opportunity costs—there’s no such thing as a free lunch!

Although, if you do value your time, you can always get lunch delivered.

Interested in learning more about Economics, Financial Accounting, and Business Analytics? Our fundamentals of business program, HBX CORe, may be a good fit for you:

Learn more about HBX CORe

About the Author


Pat is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and currently works on the Economics for Managers course for the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program. He is also currently working to design courses in Management and Negotiations for the HBX platform. Pat holds a B.A. in Economics and Government from Dartmouth College. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and strumming the guitar.

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Insights

An Insider's View: A Transformative Experience at ConneXt

Posted by Patrick Aveni on May 9, 2017 at 10:27 AM

Ethan Bernstein leads an HBX case discussion in a classroom on the Harvard Business School campus

As I begin another seemingly ordinary week, I can't help feeling extraordinary.

On this particular morning, I made my usual stop at Starbucks. I answered emails, as I routinely do first thing in the morning. And I prepared for the various meetings I have scheduled for today, as I typically do on Mondays. Nothing about what I’ve done so far today is different. However, I feel different.

My perspective is new and fresh. The feeling of change, in and of itself, is not new to me. I know transformative experiences well.

I spent much of my youth on stage learning how to perform in front of a live audience. I learned preparation, improvisation, failure and resilience in the face of failure. I once left my tightly-knit family life at home for college in Boston (Go BU!). I enrolled in law school and ultimately became an attorney. I argued a case (successfully) in front of a tribunal of Justices at the Massachusetts Appeals Court as a law student. I opened a company in order to transition from the traditional role of "attorney" to that of strategy consultant. And I have traveled as much as possible over the last few years, seeking out new opportunities to learn about other cultures and enhance how I perceive the activities of my own life.

HBX ConneXt now belongs on my list of transformative experiences.

This past weekend may not have been as intensive in nature or lengthy in duration as some of my other life experiences, but its impact was extremely powerful. Yes, being on campus at Harvard Business School is somehow simultaneously frightening and liberating. There is a unique amount of pressure to be the best version of yourself as well as a palpable feeling of confidence that you can change the world. Sitting in on an MBA-caliber class session (as I did in Professor Ethan Bernstein's classroom) is an absolutely electric feeling. And, having the opportunity to converse with some of the world's most renowned academic minds in the field of business is something many ambitious professionals wish they could do, but fail to realize.

If you considered any of the above reasons to be why I feel different today, I wouldn't fault you. Each is worthy on its own. You’d probably even be partially correct. The real reason, however, originates from something else. And perhaps this is why HBS continues to be the leading B-school in the world. The real reason is grounded in the numerous conversations I had with the talented people I am proud to call my peers. These people, as it turns out, come from all walks of life and all corners of the globe. The breadth of their experiences in the aggregate is unquestionably mind-boggling. This becomes increasingly evident as you move through a crowd at an event like HBX ConneXt.

I feel different today because I am aware, now more than ever, of the unpredictability of tomorrow’s possibilities. A relationship created during CORe, further reinforced at an event like ConneXt, may ultimately lead to a business venture in India. Some unforeseen project may be just around the corner, possible only because of a friendship I forged over the weekend with a classmate from a different cohort. This is what I imagine to be one of the top strengths of the MBA program: a magical mixture of diversity, talent and ambition. If I can sense it after a single weekend, I can only begin to comprehend the effect of the full-time MBA program.

Community can be a powerful platform for success. The HBX community is one such platform. Despite still being in its infancy, the program shows immense promise. Ever evolving, the HBX division of the school challenges the traditional medium of education. It provides a pathway to arguably the most influential professional network in the world, that of Harvard Business School. And most importantly, it fosters new relationships and sparks new ideas between like-minded, ambitious people looking to further their business acumen.

How fortunate are we to live in an age when we can be a part of such a program? The awesomeness of this is not lost on me. And while the HBX community is primarily based online, it’s almost preferable. Today, almost all network connections are sustained online. We are a community of doers with the ability to learn together, learn from one another, and connec(X)t. I look forward to cultivating more relationships and connections. I look forward to traveling the globe to visit new friends and peers. And I especially look forward to contributing to the HBX community in whatever way I can.

Patrick Aveni

About the Author

Patrick J. Aveni, Esq. is a strategy consultant and attorney from Connecticut. His management consulting firm, Aveni Consulting, provides strategy advice to small business owners and managers. Patrick earned a B.A. in Political Science from Boston University and a J.D. from Suffolk University Law School. In September 2016, Patrick took CORe and is currently enrolled in Disruptive Strategy. 

Topics: HBX Insights

A Look Back at HBX ConneXt 2017

Posted by HBX on May 8, 2017 at 1:25 AM

A group of students who've participated in HBX CORe pose for a group photo at HBX ConneXt

On Saturday, more than 400 HBX students from nearly 40 countries gathered on the Harvard Business School campus to meet their classmates and participate in a day of learning, networking, and exploration.

Half of the participants came from more than 1,000 miles away, with some traveling from as far as China, South Africa, Australia, and India. Every HBX course was represented, including a handful of students from the June 2014 pioneer cohort of HBX CORe.

Professor Bharat Anand stands at the podium on stage and welcomes an auditorium full of students to HBX ConneXt

HBX Faculty Chair Bharat Anand started the day by welcoming learners to campus, looking back at the first three years of HBX programming, and giving a sneak peek of the new HBX Mobile Platform that is currently in development.

"The promise of digital learning is not about reach, it's about engagement."

– Professor Bharat Anand,
HBX Faculty Chair

Students laugh during the morning keynote session at HBX ConneXt

Next, HBX Executive Director Patrick Mullane introduced Meghan Joyce, the East Coast General Manager for Uber and HBS MBA ('13), who explained how her experiences in the HBS classroom – especially the use of the case method – have informed her work at Uber and helped her solve real-world problems.

Professor Mike Wheeler leads a case discussion in a Harvard Business School classroom during HBX ConneXt

After the morning keynote, participants made their way to their assigned classrooms for faculty-led case discussions with Professors Bharat Anand, Ethan Bernstein, Mihir Desai, Jan Hammond, V.G. Narayanan, and Mike Wheeler.

Case topics ranged from financial policy at Apple to a challenging negotiation from the Civil War and a Napa Valley winery's dilemma about when to harvest its grapes.

Professor Jan Hammond leads a case discussion at HBX ConneXt while dressed in her iconic blue suit

During these sessions, students got the chance to experience the famed HBS case study method (and dreaded cold call) in person, most for the first time.

Mark Hardie leads a discussion about entrepreneurship at HBX ConneXt

After lunch, students made their way to the Harvard University Innovation Lab for breakout sessions, including entrepreneurship and design thinking workshops, presentations on the HBS MBA program, resume tips and tricks, and charting a career path, professional headshot stations, and campus tours.


Participants were also invited into the HBX Innovation Room, where they tested content and provided feedback on various ideas and designs, shared ideas for new courses, took a quiz to discover their spirit faculty, and more.

Harvard Professors Rebecca Henderson and Michael Sandel sit on stage discussing the future of capitalism at HBX ConneXt

In the afternoon keynote, Harvard Professors Rebecca Henderson and Michael Sandel discussed the future of capitalism.

"You don't have to make a choice between believing in capitalism and caring about the world – Businesses can make money and do good at the same time." 

– Professor Rebecca Henderson

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria reflects on the loss of colleague David Garvin

Later in the afternoon, HBS Dean Nitin Nohria reflected on the recent loss of a beloved member of the Harvard Business School faculty and the author of our newest HBX course, Professor David Garvin

"David was the kindest, most wonderful human I know," he said. "He was a teacher's teacher."

The dean went on to describe a recent email he received from Professor Garvin, who was trying to instill a greater sense of urgency in the HBX team to complete work on his new course. Due to his declining health, Professor Garvin worried he wouldn't have enough time left to see it through.

"I was amazed that a colleague, in his final days, wanted so badly to create a course that you can benefit from for the rest of your lives." 

–Nitin Nohria,
Harvard Business School Dean

The HBX team is immensely proud to be associated with Professor Garvin's Becoming a Better Manager course, which will be officially announced in the coming weeks.


After the closing remarks, participants wrapped up their HBX ConneXt experience with a networking reception.

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Many people lingered at the end of the evening, still actively engaged in conversations and hesitant to acknowledge that HBX ConneXt had come to a close. Perhaps none more so than Professor Bharat Anand. 

Professor Bharat Anand at HBX ConneXt.jpg

Want to see more from HBX ConneXt? We will be sharing additional photos, videos, student stories, and reflections throughout the week. 

Topics: HBX ConneXt

Coming to ConneXt? 8 Things to do While You're in Town

Posted by HBX on May 5, 2017 at 3:19 PM

Boston skyline as seen from across the river in Cambridge - Photo courtesy of Megan Burkes

We cannot wait to welcome hundreds of HBX CORe credential holders and HBX certificate holders from around the world to the Harvard Business School campus this weekend for ConneXt 2017. If you have built a little tourist time into your trip, here are our top six places to visit while you are in Boston! 

Paul Revere's statue in front of the Old North Church - Photo courtesy of Megan Burkes

1. Freedom Trail

Looking to soak up some history and explore some of Boston's most charming neighborhoods while you get some exercise?

The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile path that takes you past 16 historically significant sites, including the Old North Church, Bunker Hill Monument, State House Building and more!

As you weave your way through Boston's North End, stop by Mike's Pastry for a cannoli - one of Geri's favorite treats!

Fenway Park_ Stock Photo

2. Fenway Park

Baseball fan or not, a visit to Fenway Park is a must for anyone interested in sports, history, or willingness-to-pay. Our friends at Ace Tickets can hook you up for a game, or you can take a tour of the historic stadium while you are in town.

People relax in the grass on Harvard Yard - Photo by Chris Larson

3. Harvard Yard

You will be spending all day on the Harvard Business School campus on Saturday, but don't forget to stroll over to Harvard Square and do some people watching in Harvard Yard. You might just meet a Nobel laureate or two!

4. Harvard COOP

Cardullos is conveniently located right next to the Harvard COOP and bookstore, so stop in and browse for a minute if you're in the market for any Harvard memorabilia. From t-shirts and coffee mugs to teddy bears and golf balls, the COOP has it all. Even copies of all of your favorite professors' books! 

Please note: the Business COOP on the HBS campus is closed on the weekend, so stock up on your Harvard gear Friday or make your way into the Square.

Cardullo's Deli Sign - Photo by HBX

5. Cardullo's

Revisit one of your favorite cases from Financial Accounting by stopping by Cardullo's in Harvard Square. Buy yourself some imported chocolate or have the deli dish you up one of their speciality sandwiches. The benches alongside the Charles River are a great place to dig into your Cardullo's delicacies, and from the Cambridge side of the river you can look across at the beautiful Harvard Business School campus.

Boston Duck Boat Tour

6. Duck Tour

No visit to Boston is complete without a duck tour.

Hop aboard one of the colorful W.W.II style amphibious landing vehicles for a great way to see the city (from the streets and from the water)!

7. Public Garden

It is springtime in Boston and flowers are blooming everywhere you look. No place in the city is more spectacular this time of year than the Boston Public Garden. The first public botanical garden in the US, it is striking in its beauty and centrally-located between the historic neighborhood of Beacon Hill and Newbury Street, the go-to destination for all of your shopping needs.

We are thrilled that you are joining us for ConneXt 2017, and hope you enjoy our beautiful city while you are here. For those of you unable to make the trip, we hope your travels bring you to Boston sometime in the not too distant future!

Harvard Art Musuem - Photo courtesy of Kate Pilbeam

8. Harvard Art Museums

If the weather isn't cooperating or you just want to spend some time indoors, Boston is home to a number of incredible museums, including the Harvard Art Museums, Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, Contemporary Institute of Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and more!

5 Tips for Making a Successful Sales Call

Posted by Wendy Casey on May 3, 2017 at 8:24 AM

Illustration of a bearded man in red glasses and a bow tie making a sales call

Love 'em or hate 'em, sales calls are a necessary ingredient for organizational success. The sales process is full of nuances, so we turned to Wendy Casey from our HBX Business Development team for some tricks of the trade.

1. Do your research before calling on a prospect.

Learn as much as possible about their business, industry, and competitors. With this information you will be able to ask relevant questions and uncover their possible pain points.

2. Knowledge is power.

The more you know about your product or offering before you make the call, the better you will be able to understand whether you can provide a beneficial solution to your prospect.

3. As a sales person you should always be thinking about the next step in the process.

Go in to the call with a goal. Whether it is a cold call and your goal is to get an in-person meeting or it's a follow up conversation and you want to get a signed contract; set an end goal and then ask the closing question to get to the next step in the sales process.

4. Channel your inner Mary Tyler Moore – turn the world on with your smile!

Smile and be curious. These may seem like two separate things but they serve the same purpose. People buy from people they like and trust. Whether on the phone or in person, smile and ask open-ended questions to try to get to know your prospective client as an individual, don't just treat them as a potential sale.

5. Know what role your contact plays in the organization.

In the book The New Strategic Selling, authors Miller and Heiman list four types buying influences. Which of these categories does your contact fall under?

  • Economic Buying Influence/Decision Maker: This is the person who signs the check! If this is not the person you are talking with, find out how your contact is connected to them and what the decision maker will need from your company to close the deal.
  • User Buying Influences: These people have an interest in the product and/or service in question. It will directly affect their productivity.
  • Technical Buying Influences: These people screen suppliers. Providing them with information to avoid possible barriers to close is key.
  • Coaches/Champions: Coaches are allies inside the client organization that can help the sales person to move the order forward, mainly by giving advice on the people and processes in the organization. *
Knowledge of what role they play will allow you to navigate the sales process and to a quicker path to “Yes”!

Do you have any other tips for making sales calls? Leave a comment below!

About the Author

Wendy Casey Image

Wendy is a Business Development Consultant at HBX. She works with organizations interested in engaging with HBX to provide learning programs for executive development. Wendy has 25 years of C-level relationship building within the corporate and non-profit sectors. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing degree from Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. Wendy is an avid Boston sports fan and outdoor enthusiast.


Topics: HBX Insights

Why Your STEM Career Requires Business Skills

Posted by Kyle Rosenmeyer on April 27, 2017 at 9:46 AM

STEM Blog_Sewer Pipes.pngFrom a very young age, I was interested in design. Toys that could be infinitely reconfigured like Legos and SimCity captured my imagination for hours. Interests at home influenced my interests at school, and by age 13, they had coalesced into the goal of becoming an engineer. This drive grew, and propelled me for over a decade, to graduation day at Boise State University. I had done it. I had become a Civil Engineer and had landed a job in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

Discovering STEM

Looking back at my childhood, I can’t remember how old I was when I first heard the acronym STEM, although today it's a difficult word to miss in the education world. In a day and age where technology moves the world forward by leaps and bounds and cities are larger than ever in history, the demand for both STEM professionals and innovation is increasing exponentially. STEM programs and messaging have increased in schools to help meet this demand. However, spending time in the workforce uncovered another message for me that hadn’t been drilled in: understanding business is critical to success in STEM. 

Why an Engineering Degree is not Enough

I loved working as an engineer, but in order to prepare myself for future jobs, I needed business acumen. Senior engineers and division and department heads all use more business skills in day-to-day work than engineering skills. My STEM education gave me a way to solve problems and think logically, but I needed to understand accounting tools, financial reports, and markets to compete. I hadn’t studied business in school, so I started looking. Free workshops to six figure master’s programs, I found HBX CORe somewhere in the middle of the range, at 12 weeks and a fraction of the price of a master’s degree. For me, it was a great fit to learn business fundamentals as a busy professional.

The Impact of HBX CORe

I took CORe in 2016 and I have great things to report. I am more confident in my current role and tackling the jobs that I want. I was even able to turn my photography hobby into a side business. HBX CORe offered an amazing opportunity to learn from the experts at Harvard Business School, interact with students all over the world, and, in my case, reconnect with my local university.

CORe provided a new lens to understand the world that I didn’t experience while studying engineering. Regular tasks in work are now easier to navigate: requesting budgets, managing expenses on construction projects, using data to drive decision making, and communicating with coworkers in finance. Business fundamentals helped me contribute more to my organization, during meetings, and in general communications—it helped me do better work and stand out in my field. 

Business is important to any STEM career. The blend of skills between business and STEM educations are formidable in today’s market place. Companies need to think differently to solve today’s problems and this requires increased versatility and innovation at the employee level to move the organization to the next level. Even if you don’t want to be CEO or CFO, you will need a business skill set. You must work with money, budgets, and financial teams to be effective and impactful. However, regardless of your career, most paths ahead of you involve business. The higher you work up the org chart, the more business skills you'll need to lead people and teams, and effectively run organizations. 

If you’re working in STEM, I'm confident you want to change the world. Use my story as an example that knowing and understanding business significantly helps. Use business skills to compliment your education and stand out for the job you want. I’ve had great opportunities in my career to work in both private and public sectors—building the same sewers and roads that I simulated building 20 years earlier in a video game. And working for my hometown, the City of Boise, has proved to be an incredibly rewarding place to make an impact and the most satisfying time of my life. Thank you HBX for giving me a new tool to build and shape my life.

About the Author

Kyle Rosenmeyer is a practicing engineer in Boise, Idaho. He Headshot of Kylereceived his undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from Boise State University and has spent over 10 years working on infrastructure in transportation and waste water collection systems. Kyle is an advocate for mentorship and community involvement, leading the professional development programs for the Boise Young Professionals Network and volunteering on a regular basis. 

Topics: HBX CORe, Student Bloggers