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HBX Business Blog

Brady vs. Belichick

Posted by Patrick Mullane on February 2, 2017 at 8:40 AM


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

I hesitate to write this, but as a Texan living in Massachusetts and a much bigger fan of college football than pro football, I’m relatively agnostic about who wins the Super Bowl. I do root for the Patriots, but mostly out of loyalty to my friends who support them and the realization that the staff I manage will be much more productive the week after the big game if the Pats win.

I like to think that one advantage of my neutral feelings is that I’m able, more than my fellow Boston-area sports fanatics, to better consider the success of the team in a dispassionate way. That cool objectivity led me recently to a debate with a friend of mine centered on a question many have pondered before: is the Patriots' success because of their coach, Bill Belichick, or their quarterback, Tom Brady?

I took the position that the team’s success has much more to do with Tom Brady. One piece of data that supports this position: look at Belichick’s and Brady’s performance before they joined forces. From 1991 to 1995, as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Bill Belichick’s record was 37-45. Not good. Tom Brady’s record as a starting QB at the University of Michigan was 20-5. In short, Brady was successful before Belichick; Belichick was not before Brady. Even after getting to New England, Belichick started 5-13 in his first year-and-a-half with Drew Bledsoe at the quarterback position. His hand was only forced after Bledsoe was injured and Brady came in to begin a run he is still on, winning 11 of the remaining 14 games that season. (For a more detailed analysis, see this article that lays out the argument more fully and which I drew on extensively: Brady vs. Belichick). Brady stands out as the more important cog in the Patriots winning wheel.

Another piece of data to support the “it’s Brady” hypothesis comes from the story of Charlie Weis. Weis, the offensive coordinator at New England and the coach most connected to Brady on a day-to-day basis, became Notre Dame’s head coach in 2005 after several years under Belichick. At the time, Weis was considered an offensive genius and the most notable protégé of Belichick. But knowing the Belichick system and approach did nothing to help secure wins for Notre Dame (which, as an alum, was quite painful to me). Weis was fired after five years – turns out that coaching Brady makes you look good.

While all of this number-crunching and historical analysis is helpful, perhaps the most telling data point is the answer most Patriots fans would give to this question: would you rather, a week before the big game, be told that Tom Brady tore a ligament in his throwing arm while combing his movie-star hair and cannot play, or be told that Bill Belichick injured his hand cutting the sleeves off his sweatshirts, got an infection, and is in the hospital unable to coach during Super Bowl LI? I think that 95% of fans would rather have Brady in action than Belichick.  Five percent would be lying.

But is it as simple as all that? While Brady is talented, it’s also true that he’s in a culture that makes the best use of that talent. Yes, he’s a part of creating that culture, but Belichick and owner Bob Kraft are probably the center of gravity when it comes to the norms and principles that guide the daily activities of the team. In this regard, a football team is no different than Southwest airlines: while the assets matter (players and planes), how you put the assets together and use them (coaching, managing) in a given context (culture) is what really drive success. You could buy a bunch of 737s, paint them orange and blue, serve peanuts, and do without assigned seats and probably be successful for a little while. You could also take Tom Brady, put him in a Cleveland Browns uniform, and let him yell “Omaha!” before every snap and still have some success … okay that might be a stretch. But the point is this: over the long term, if you don’t have the culture right, valuable assets whither on the vine or simply never realize their full potential. In fact, this is probably the more common outcome in sports franchises. We’ve all seen it … the right coach is hired. He has magnificent players to work with. He’s in a market where fans are hungry for a championship. But it just doesn’t work out.

Unfortunately, in business and in sports, culture is a longer-term thing. It takes a lot of work to create it and just as much to sustain it. Often, managers and coaches aren’t given as much time as they need. This is because many metrics (wins and sales, for example) are known in the here-and-now; they are updated on a regular basis and are infinitely more visible in the short-term than the more esoteric things that define lasting success.

One final point. Luck plays a huge role in success. Belichick was lucky to be hired at New England after a lackluster performance in Cleveland. He was also lucky that Pete Carroll made a perplexing play call at the end of the Super Bowl two years ago that snapped defeat from the jaws of victory for the Seattle Seahawks. Brady was lucky Bledsoe got injured, giving him a chance to start in the NFL. He was lucky to have been drafted into the NFL at all – about 250 players are chosen in a given draft, and he was the 199th pick. All this said, you make your own luck, and the Patriots have done that by making sure that culture trumps everything else.

So, in the end, both men have much to do with the team’s success. But I’ll still take Brady before Belichick.

My prediction? Patriots 27, Falcons 24. Patriots win on a field goal with 37 seconds left in the game.


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

Topics: Executive Insights

Why People Matter Most When Making Business Decisions

Posted by Patrick Mullane on December 22, 2016 at 9:46 AM


The best business decisions are never ones of strategy, sales, or marketing - at least not directly. They are always people decisions. Who we hire, how we manage, and who we fire have far greater impacts on results than the things we usually think of as driving success.

This should be obvious to all of us; after all, decisions don’t just materialize from the ether, ready to be executed upon by managers sitting in a conference room primed to act. People make decisions. It’s probably not surprising we forget this. Headlines in the business sections of newspapers rarely read like this: Jane Doe Hires Well, Stock Price Soars. Instead, Jane’s successes are attributed to things like product decisions: Release of New Phone Drives Sales at Doe Industries.

My best business decisions have always been around people. Two in particular come to mind. One had to do with hiring; the other had to do with a termination. Let’s start with the latter.

I became the CEO of a manufacturing company in 2010 after a completing management buyout with some outside investors. When I took on the leadership role, one of the original founders was still in the business; the people I bought the company from had acquired the firm from him and had allowed him to stay in a very prominent role in the organization. In fact, he occupied the corner office in our brand new manufacturing plant. The founder was a great man. He was exceptionally smart and very good at what he did; he couldn’t have built a firm of the size he did without some skills. But he also (not surprisingly) had very strong views of how things should be done. Early on, I saw this as a problem. While having somebody who reports to you not buy into your own vision is a problem in general, it’s even more of a problem when that person is the previous owner and hired many of the men and women who still worked in the firm. Pretty quickly, issues arose around consistency of message, priorities, and the sharing (or lack thereof) of information. It was time for the founder to go. Over the course of six months, we worked together to organize a “soft” exit, essentially reducing the amount of time he spent at the office each month.

Upon his departure, things started to click. For example, he had been of the opinion that anybody we hired had to have fifteen years of experience in the type of manufacturing we were doing. The problem was that we were a highly specialize, niche business. And we were located in central Massachusetts, unable to draw talent from major metropolitan areas that were too far away for the average commuter. He also was subtly hostile to those with college degrees.  He didn’t have one, so why did our engineers need to? I used to tell him that anybody that met his hiring criteria already worked in the company! With his departure, I was more easily able to get hiring managers behind a new hiring philosophy and in short order we had added some very good personnel who significantly raised our talent bar. These new team members also more easily bought into the recently revised vision for our company, one centered on engineering excellence, not widget-making.

One of my other “best decisions” was around hiring. I ran a for-profit education location for a large multinational. When I arrived, the location had suffered some tough years, coming in annually as one of the worst performing sites. This location was in a major city and hosted students who were studying to prepare for the GRE, LSAT, GMAT and other standardized tests. When I got there, it became obvious what was driving the poor performance: much of the staff didn’t view themselves as customer service people but, rather, as academic administrators. While there’s nothing wrong with academic administrators, there is something wrong with putting them in a customer service role instead of an administrator role. We needed people who would provide service with a smile. A former waiter or retail delivery person fit the bill much better than an education bureaucrat. Within a year, the center I managed was in the top 5% based on several performance metrics. People matter that much.

While there are many decisions that can move the needle, nothing does it more than people decisions. Do that right, and the needle moves in the right direction. Do it wrong, and the needle will start trending toward “empty” … as will your company’s bank account.


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

Topics: Executive Insights

4 Things You Can Do to Fix a Screwup at Work

Posted by Patrick Mullane on November 22, 2016 at 8:44 AM


This article originally appeared on Fortune Insiders.

Well, that hurt. Twenty years ago, I was standing in my commander’s office as he told me in muted tones that I had not handled something well. He was a leader I really looked up to, and knowing I had disappointed him made his delivery even more painful—I almost wished he would just yell.

About an hour earlier, during a tension-filled exercise, I had told his boss, in front of probably 50 others, to keep quiet while the team I managed tried to work out a problem in preparation for an intelligence satellite launch. I was a 26-year-old Air Force captain at the time. My boss was a 40-something colonel and his boss was a 50-something senior official from the CIA. Needless to say, the CIA manager was not happy with my calling him out during an exercise. And he let my boss know it.

The thing was, I was mostly right. The CIA official had broken with established protocol and my commander conceded this. But, he correctly pointed out, I wasn’t right in how I rebuffed the senior official publicly. I had made a big mistake, one that could be career-limiting. In that moment, I had visions of being drummed out of the military, with a dishonorable discharge for my indiscretion. What should I do?

I got lucky in that moment, and followed what I’ve since learned is the best path forward in such situations. First, I conceded that I had indeed screwed up. There’s no point in fighting when you mess up; doing so makes you look petty and insecure. That reaction will stick with your boss and those around you far longer than a discreet mistake will, even if it’s a big one.

Second, I asked what I could do to remedy the situation, offering first an apology to the senior CIA official. My commander said that wouldn’t be necessary—he would handle it—but he did say that I should acknowledge to those who worked with and for me that I had messed up. Offering to make amends immediately disarms those offended and helps rebuild valuable relationships. And making such acknowledgements to those who aren’t expecting them often has an even greater effect.

Third, I recounted in my own mind what had happened and replayed a scenario in which I had acted more appropriately. This helped me internalize a mental checklist, so that if a similar situation arose again, I would handle it better.

Finally, I found a way to reference my mistake in a self-deprecating manner in the weeks after. This is a delicate balance, since being too flippant can come off as arrogant. But making light of your own flaws can make you seem more human to those you interact with.

Unlike The Doors frontman Jim Morrison, who said, “Some of the worst mistakes in my life were haircuts,” you’ll likely have to deal with more substantial transgressions over your career. In these moments, your mistakes can feel deadly. But most of the time they’re not, and are more salvageable than you realize. Take a deep breath, and act deliberately and genuinely to make amends. You’ll live to fight another day.


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

Topics: HBX Insights, Executive Insights

How to Take the Sting Out of Saying ‘No’

Posted by Patrick Mullane on September 20, 2016 at 10:12 AM


This article was originally posted to Fortune Insiders and can be found here.

If you, like me, have children, you’ve probably become convinced that the most common word in the English language is “no.” In fact, you may have concluded that “no” is the perfect sentence unto itself — no modifiers, adverbs, or adjectives needed. It’s always on the tip of the tongue with offspring around, no matter the question. “Dad, can I …” “NO!”

The word is also one that children learn to use frequently because of how prolific we parents are in uttering it. It is among the most common first words an infant says. They say it to siblings, to us, and to playmates. It’s just so easy to say — until, that is, we become adults in the working world.

At that point, the word seems to get lost. Why? Warren Buffett famously said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” But if that’s true, then why does the word go missing from our vocabulary? Why do we become selectively dumbstruck?

Volumes have been written about this, but the most common explanation is that we are wired to avoid conflict and to seek approval from those around us. So we often say “yes” even when we don’t mean it. In almost all situations, this is bad. A wedding proposal, a request to do something shady, agreeing to pick up somebody at the airport — saying yes when we don’t mean it can be a really miserable experience.

So, how do we say no? If you accept the premise of why it’s hard to say, then you need to find ways to lessen the likelihood of creating a conflict or disappointing someone.

First, remember that saying “no” by itself is almost always provocative. So one key is to provide context when responding to a question or request. People are much more likely to accept a “no” when they understand the train of thought that led to your response. “No” or “I can’t” should always be followed by a “because” clause. For example: “No, I’m not going to be able to get that report done by Tuesday because I’m concerned that rushing it will mean we have inaccurate data.”

I’m not suggesting that such an answer will always be well-received. Interactions between humans are rarely that simple. But by providing a “because,” you have offered information that can be the basis of a discussion if the other side pushes the issue. Without this qualifier, defenses immediately come up and all parties can quickly feel aggrieved.

In addition to explaining your refusal, saying “no” can be more effective if the word “no” is never actually part of the response. In place of it, use information and data to lead the requester to understand they are being turned down.

Using the example from above, let’s suppose my boss asks me if I can get the monthly production report done by Tuesday. The response I suggested above still has a bite to it because it begins with “no.” What if, instead, you responded, “I’m not sure if you know, but I need to gather information from our global sites and I’m concerned that if we don’t give them time to respond, the report will be less useful.” As long as the information presented is legitimate, this can be an effective way to respond without ever having to say the dreaded “no.”

Take it from Mahatma Gandhi: “A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

Topics: HBX Insights, Executive Insights

Virtual Classrooms: Tech Insights from the HBX Executive Director, Part 2

Posted by Patrick Mullane on August 5, 2016 at 11:18 AM

phone-world-2-to-1.pngThis is an excerpt of a post that originally appeared on Flarrio.

In my last post, I looked back some of the key lessons that have guided the development of HBX, the online learning platform of Harvard Business School, to date. So, what does the future hold?

Given how fast technologies change, are adopted, and abandoned, that’s difficult to say. That said, at HBX, we are actively trying to address several questions:

How Does Mobile Factor in to Our Strategy?

For example, how does online learning translate to a mobile device? Given the ubiquity of mobile phones and tablets, this is an area where the borrow/release principle will play in a big way. Trying to adapt the desktop platform completely to a mobile one may not be the best path forward for us.

However, there is much to borrow not only from our own platform and other mobile ones but from some of the technologies mobile devices offer. Geo-location is a wonderful example. How might this capability allow online learners to connect in person to form study groups or work on a project? The cameras on mobile equipment also suggest an opportunity. For example, could student-supplied videos and pictures augment a case discussion?

How Can New Technology Enhance Peer-to-Peer Interaction?

In addition to this work, we also are considering how peer-to-peer interaction in the context of a case activity might be facilitated through new technologies or adaptations of current ones. In the Harvard Business School’s negotiations course (offered in the on-campus MBA), students are asked to pair up and negotiate with each other after each is given information that allows them to take on the role of a principle in the negotiation. In the physical classroom this is easy. And certainly technologies exist online that would facilitate such a scenario in the virtual world (e.g. Skype).

But if we are to create a seamless experience for our learners conducting a negotiation exercise on our platform then it should be as easy as turning to the person next to you in a physical classroom. This is where the principle of student first comes in. What role could virtual reality (VR) play in this case? As more smart phones ship with VR goggles and full-featured goggles come to market, could students feel as if they were in a boardroom in New York City sitting across from a counterpart, negotiating a major merger? And even if they could, would this have value?

What Value Do These Technologies Add?

It is that question – would this have value? – that we must not lose sight of. Technology for technology’s sake is the express lane to irrelevance, poor learning outcomes, and user frustration. We must push boundaries, but not at the expense of students actually learning. This is our EdTech Hippocratic oath.

Immediately after graduating from college, I served four years in the US Air Force operating intelligence satellites. Inevitably, when I told people this is what I did, they asked, “Can you really read a license plate from orbit?” I was not allowed to answer, but I always turned the question around: “Why would you want to?” There are easier ways to track somebody and, in any case, the laws of physics don’t allow a satellite in low earth orbit to “hover” over a location despite what the movies show you (although this is something drones can now do). The message was this: just because technology can do something doesn’t mean there is efficacy in doing it. And this couldn’t be truer than in the digital education space.

I am confident that we will be surprised and amazed by how technology will revolutionize education in the years to come. I am also confident that some will use innovations even when they do little to further learning. But by focusing on student first, reinforcing community, and borrowing what works and releasing what doesn’t, we believe it’s possible to create a rich, immersive educational experience that stands the test of time … at least until somebody invents a Holodeck.   


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

Topics: HBX Insights, Executive Insights

Virtual Classrooms: Tech Insights from the HBX Executive Director, Part 1

Posted by Patrick Mullane on August 4, 2016 at 10:29 AM

This is an excerpt of a post that originally appeared on Flarrio.

In the science fiction series Star Trek: Next Generation, many episodes featured a technology that used holographic tools to enable crewmembers to simulate various scenarios in a near-to-real-life way. The “Holodeck” immersed the user in artificial worlds that felt real, enabling quixotic escapes or serious training. As with many things in science fiction, Hollywood overshot what is currently possible (a necessary aspect of sci-fi to be sure). But also like many things in science fiction, the demonstrated technology hinted at tools to come and ways to use them. And as somebody who works in the education technology (EdTech) space, I can’t help but think of how such tools will drive the future of education.

I’m no savant with respect to where technology is going, but my experience as the Executive Director of Harvard Business School’s (HBS) digital education initiative, called HBX, has shown me that while hardware and software elegantly created and coupled can – and will – matter, it is the intersection of student, pedagogy and technology that really makes a difference. As we think about the use of even newer technologies to educate, it’s useful to consider how we approached using the Internet to deliver effective business education before turning to thoughts about the future.

It can be argued that the first “online” education in the United States took the form of public broadcasting from universities. Educational programs sprung up at numerous institutions in the 1920s that featured a professor lecturing to a microphone. Interestingly, this transfer of a known pedagogy to a new technology without considering the new technology’s capabilities and limitations was not very effective.

As researcher Paul Saettler noted, “the first years of [American] university broadcasting were generally ineffective because many a professor repeated his classroom lecture before the microphone without realizing that a good lecturer was not necessarily an effective broadcaster.” Early Internet instruction suffered the same flaw as many learned that just putting a lecture online did little to inspire and educate the students who received the message over the ether. 

Fortunately, for many of us in the EdTech space, others ventured to experiment in the online world when technologies and best practices regarding how to use them were nascent. Standing on the shoulder of these giants, those who got HBX off the ground were keenly aware of how technology alone wouldn’t make online education compelling based on several lessons from early participants in the EdTech space. Here are some of the key lessons we've learned so far:

Start with the Student

Put yourself in the student's chair and understand how the pedagogy will be executed in the new medium. At HBS, there was perhaps more focus on this than at other organizations since no standard platform had been built to support the method of instruction the school had used in its classrooms successfully for a century: the case method, an inductive, rather than deductive, form of instruction. Deductive learning is what most of us are familiar with. If you’ve sat in Chemistry 101 your freshman year of college, you likely experienced deductive learning: a lecturing professor explaining how to get to an answer through a formula or process. In deductive learning, students apply general principles to specific situations. It is this “lecturing professor” model of deductive learning that most permeated early online education efforts, perhaps because it was relatively easy to do.

By contrast, inductive learning forces students to “notice” concepts while working through a presented problem; students induce principles from general situations. This is the case method at its core. Putting the student at the center with the pedagogy in mind pointed us to building our own platform to ensure that the method of instruction would not be compromised. 

Cultivate an Engaged Community

Learning is better when students help each other, when there is a community aspect to their experience. In a physical HBS classroom, students aren’t asked to individually address the problem presented through the case, they are drawn into a discussion with their peers, debating each other and answering questions. This helps the inductive process develop and keeps student engaged. The power of peer learning is well known but to date has been infrequently used. In the book Make it Stick, The Science of Successful Learning, the authors note that peer instruction “engages the students in the underlying concepts of the … material; reveals students’ problems in reaching understanding; and provides opportunities for them to explain their understanding, receive feedback, and assess their learning compared to other students.”

So, when we built HBX CORe – a 150-hour credential course that teaches students economics, accounting, and data analytics – we ensured our course platform had rich interactive tools. HBX students can seek out help from their peers by asking a question that is tied to the content on the page they are studying. Likewise, they can answer questions members of their cohort have posted. They can view a live map showing which of their cohort peers are online and learn more about them. Each of these features helps students feel more connected to each other and engaged in the course material.

Adopt a Borrow/Release Mentality

This one may be counter-intuitive, especially given the earlier reference to replicating aspects of the classroom experience. We've adopted a mentality we call “borrow/release,” and it comes down to this: don’t try to recreate everything as it exists in the physical world. Rather, borrow the best of the other world and integrate it into the new, technology-enabled platform while letting go of things that just won’t work.

At HBX, we created a virtual classroom in a studio at Boston’s public television station, WGBH. As in the physical, tiered-seating amphitheater in a classroom at HBS, students are organized on a video “wall” four rows high. The professor can conduct a case discussion in a completely synchronous manner and allow students to debate each other and answer questions in real-time. It feels very much like being in a classroom and those who have participated are blown away by the realism of the experience. HBX Live is our education “Holodeck.”

But there are a few things lost in this version of the real thing. For example, students who are not talking directly to each other at the instructor’s invitation cannot really see the rest of their peers in class by scanning the “room.” Also, students can’t, in the middle of a session, be broken up into small groups in real-time to address some issue or come up with ideas and then immediately reconvene. We recognized these limitations and are comfortable that little is lost in giving these things up.

But there are aspects of HBX Live that best the physical classroom. Students can broadcast chats that appear in an electronic ticker along the bottom of the video wall. Professors have commented that this gives them a chance to get insight into what is on all students’ minds in an efficient way, something that is difficult to do in a classroom where only one person can be called on at a time. Using HBX live, it’s relatively easy for a professor to post a poll and get instant feedback from students, including from any number of observes who are not on the video wall but watching the classroom video and audio feed. And, of course, HBX Live collapses geographies, allowing sixty people from around the world to attend a case discussion without leaving the comfort of their home in Paris, Dehli, Los Angeles or Nairobi (for an example of how HBX works, see: BBC 4's The Global Philosopher). Try doing that from your grandfather’s classroom!

With the lessons of putting the student first, cultivating a community, and borrow/release front and center, we believe we have created a unique digital experience that our learners value. With course completion rates between 85% and 90% (most online courses are below 15%) and satisfaction scores that indicate users love their experience (particularly the community aspect of case learning), there is data to suggest we are on the right path. 

Continue on to part two of this blog post featuring Patrick's thoughts on the future of HBX and online learning.


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

Topics: HBX Insights, Executive Insights

4 Must-Read Tips for Career Transitions from HBX Executive Director Patrick Mullane: Part 2

Posted by Patrick Mullane on July 5, 2016 at 11:55 AM


In part 1 of this post, HBX Excutive Director Patrick Mullane spoke about his transition from military to civilian life. In part 2, he offers additional tips on how to make a successful career transition.

Tip 3: Network, network, network

Technology not only helps educate you but it can help you to connect with others. HBX has built peer help features into its platform and uses closed Facebook pages to foster cooperation, communication, and networking, so connecting to others happens while you are learning. LinkedIn is another critical tool. Next to the magnifying glass icon at the top of the LinkedIn home page is the word “advanced.” Click on this and you are given power to search the larger network with precision. Use the search area on the left side of the screen to find people who share common experiences with you. Typing my alma mater’s name into the “school” field and the abbreviation “Lt.” in the “title” block yields 80 graduates of Notre Dame that were some sort of Lieutenant during their career. You can do the same for job titles, locations, and the like. If you are transitioning out of the military, sending a note to fellow alums through the LinkedIn system explaining that you are a veteran leaving the service and are looking for introductions into a certain industry or region can be very, very effective. You may have to pay a monthly subscription to get some of the messaging features on LinkedIn, but they are well worth it to expand your network and gain the help and trust of others.

Tip 4: Don’t forget about your alma mater

Most colleges and universities maintain a webpage where recruiters can post jobs, and Alumni usually have access to these postings. Don’t be shy about calling the career development office of your undergraduate institution to see what sort of services they offer. If there is a strong alumni club in the area where you live or will be moving to, think about joining that as well. When finishing a meeting with alumni, ask them, “Who else would you suggest I speak with to learn more about [fill in your industry or career interest].” Phrasing the request this way has a way of keeping the conversation moving forward and increases the likelihood that you will leverage one meeting into others. And always follow up with a thank you note. While hand-written is always a nice touch, email works as well. But just be sure you do it!

Final thoughts

There will always be trepidation when making a change. And moving from the military to private sector, can, at first glance, look daunting. But rest assured that almost all of your military skills will translate nicely into the private sector. Brushing up on business fundamentals, resume prep, networking, and using your alma mater are not exhaustive steps to take in an effort to land on your feet in the civilian world, but they are foundational in many respects. Working on them while seeking the diverse opinions of others who have gone before you will increase the chances that things go smoothly.

It’s been 20 years since I left the Air Force and during that time I have called on my experiences as a JMO in jobs that were in sectors about as diverse as you can fathom: distribution, manufacturing, software, Internet, for-profit education, non-profit education, and telecom. In all cases, the foundation the military gave me was instrumental in making the right decision. Rest assured, the same will be true for you.


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.


Topics: HBX Insights, Executive Insights

4 Must-Read Tips for Career Transitions from HBX Executive Director Patrick Mullane: Part 1

Posted by Patrick Mullane on June 30, 2016 at 4:19 PM


Back in the waning days of the Cold War, I entered the US Air Force as a newly-minted second lieutenant out of the University of Notre Dame’s ROTC program with a degree in mathematics. I was assigned to an intelligence-related unit in California and served for a little over four years, loving every minute of my time. When the time came to explore the world beyond the military, I found myself well-prepared in some ways, but under-prepared in other ways. Read on for tips on how to prepare for your own career transitions, be it from military to civilian life, or from school to the "real world."

During my time in the US Air Force, I managed a team of around 20 contractors and military personnel operating satellite systems, getting fantastic leadership experience while being entrusted with more than a billion dollars of hardware that informed senior decision makers in Washington on a daily basis. With 25 years of general management experience behind me, I've often said that I had more responsibility during those four years than I’ve had since. The US military’s trust in young men and women is unsurpassed and, in virtually all cases, that trust is well placed. Officers and troops often succeed in ways that belie their experience.

My search for a soft landing

As a junior military officer (JMO) exiting the service at 27 years old, I was terrified of how my military skills would (or, more fearfully, would not) translate to the private sector. But like all of those separating from the service, the time came to make the leap and I took a job at an auto parts manufacturing and distribution company, managing a location in Omaha, Nebraska where I quickly realized that in so many ways, I was much better prepared than I thought.

Leadership aspects of the job came naturally to me as did decision-making. But I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that I was missing some key skills and so began considering returning to school. I researched what an MBA was and ultimately decided that business school was likely the best path for me.


So apply I did, to several MBA programs. To my suprise, I was accepted at the Harvard Business School (HBS) and spent two years there from 1997 to 1999 getting my MBA. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, truly transformative.

If I was afraid of how competitive I’d be in the private sector coming out of the military, I was even more afraid of the rigors of an MBA program. I prepared as best I could, taking an accounting course at the University of Nebraska in the months leading up to my matriculation at Harvard. I was also required by HBS (as were many others from non-business backgrounds) to complete some work before beginning the program that ostensibly got me to a level of expertise that would put me, if not on par, close to on par with my classmates who would be coming out of banking and consulting. The extra preparation helped and, two years later, I had my MBA and was ready to dive back into the private sector pool.

After stints in a startup and as the CEO of a manufacturing company (among other things), I am now the Executive Director of HBX, the Harvard Business School’s digital education initiative. I often think back on my days as a JMO worrying about how to best have a “soft landing” in the private sector. Specifically, I think of how much easier it is today to prepare for that landing in an age of online offerings that aim to educate people from all walks of life.

Tip 1: Brush up on business fundamentals

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) such as EdEx and Coursera offer courses that teach an array of business disciplines and they can be a good option for getting some fundamentals down and showing potential employers your seriousness and intellectual curiosity. Some of these courses are offered at no charge but provide for the option to receive a “verified certificate” upon completion of the class for a nominal fee. Others charge when you register. The quality and depth of courses can vary substantially so it’s worth studying the syllabus and, to the extent possible, sampling the course to be sure it will meet your needs.

At HBX, our Credential of Readiness (CORe) program is another fantastic option to learn the language of business in one, integrated program. The course covers three fundamental disciplines: Economics for Managers, Business Analytics, and Financial Accounting. While the practices learned are important, perhaps more impactful is how students say that the course gave them a confidence and a language they never had before. 

As HBS has done for more than a century, instruction in CORe is accomplished through the case method of study. This pedagogy relies on real-world issues addressed by real-world managers (we call them protagonists since they are central figures in a story) that require the student to learn by discovery in concert with his or her peers. Just as in the HBS classroom, students learn from others who have different experiences and expertise through an online peer help function. Unlike MOOCs, which are generally a standard platform that content “slots” into, HBX is a platform custom-built to facilitate the case method and the student community necessary to make such a method of teaching effective.

Tip 2: Get your resume ready for prime time 

If you are just getting out of the military, it’s likely been a while since you created a resume. Take the time to do it well. Besides the usual advice to ensure you have correct grammar and spelling, there are several other things that JMOs (and anybody else for that matter) should keep in mind given the mistakes I’ve seen people make when I was the hiring manager. 

First, if you use a personal statement or “objective” statement of some kind at the top of your resume, ensure that it’s about the employer and not about you. Having an objective statement that says: “To find a job that allows me to further develop my leadership skills and one day become a senior manager in a manufacturing firm” is much less appealing to an employer than: “To use my leadership skills to build, train and drive a high performance manufacturing team that delivers on time and on budget.” The first statement is about what you want. The second is about what you can do to help your future employer.

Second, keep it short. In general, no matter how many great things you have to say about yourself, if it takes too much room to say them, people will lose interest. For most JMO’s I’d argue that your resume shouldn’t be more than one page if you’re exiting the service as a 26-year-old O3. Of course, if you have more experience, dipping into two pages is fine but beyond that I think little is gained and you risk turning off the reader.

Third, spend time taking the jargon out of your resume. This also applies to people changing industries. Thinking back to my military experience, a government description of my duty would have been something like “Managed a team operating national security assets providing 24/7 intelligence coverage used to inform the national command authority.” While accurate, much will be lost on somebody who has not served. Saying that I “operated satellites that gathered intelligence used to inform the President daily” was much shorter, simpler, and impactful. 

Click here to see part 2 of Patrick's post!


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.

Topics: HBX Insights, Executive Insights

Uber vs. Arro: The Comeback of the Yellow Taxi?

Posted by Patrick Mullane on June 7, 2016 at 11:22 AM


I was recently in New York City to speak at the Harvard Business School club there and, for the first time in a while, had the opportunity to ride in a few iconic Yellow Taxis. While sitting in the back seat of two of these taxis during my stay, lurching to and fro through the canyons of Manhattan, I watched looping video snippets on the flat panel television in front of me. Scenes from Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel and Live with Kelly encouraged riders to tune in when at home. But what caught my eye more than these was a promotion for Arro, Yellow Taxi’s answer to Uber.

Arro is a mobile-based application that allows users to order a Yellow Taxi, see taxi locations, and pay via a stored credit card. Sound familiar? If you are thinking “Uber,” so was I. 

Generally, I am an Uber fan for two reasons: I love being able to order a car from my phone of a certain level of luxury and I love not worrying about having payment handy. 

But there are two things I dislike about Uber’s business model, both ultimately driven by the fundamentals of economics. The first is related to the fact that Uber drivers are not tied to a city or region, they can float to where demand is. On the surface, this is a great thing. Why have drivers in one location twiddling their thumbs reading the paper while some short distance away others are inundated with requests for a pickup? One day while touring Boston with my family, I ordered an Uber to take us back to the Harvard Business School campus where my car was parked. The driver told us he was from Providence, Rhode Island, about an hour south of Boston. He said he came to Boston on the weekends because there was more demand than in smaller, sleepier Providence. This mobility of supply has a drawback though: drivers outside of their “home” area typically don’t have a good understanding of the city they are driving in, and that can cause frustration for the rider, even in the age of GPS. 

In my case, the problem came about because the listed address for Harvard Business School isn’t as much an address as a suggestion. This is an issue for a driver compensating for his lack of knowledge by using GPS. I would have directed the driver myself but after 11 years in the Boston area, I still get flummoxed when in the financial district; I needed help to get to the main highways before I could help the driver. So we spent nearly 30 minutes trying to figure out how to get the GPS to direct us to the school. Even if we had a good address, the other problem is likely familiar to many who live in cities with roads buried deeply between buildings and poor sightlines to the sky – GPS can be unreliable. So, we had a driver who didn't know where he was going and a GPS that didn't know where it was. Not a good combo.

Contrast that with all my time as a student at the business school years ago. There wasn’t a single taxi driver who didn’t know what I meant when I said, “Take me to HBS, please.” They not only knew where to point their vehicle but they knew the exact location the school had designated as a taxi stand. 

The other thing I don’t like about Uber is surge pricing. For the uninitiated, surge pricing involves charging the customer more when demand is higher. On the surface, it’s another creative exploitation of fundamental economics: raise your price when demand is high to optimize the revenue of the available supply. But as a user, it can be a bit off-putting, given how much of a premium you can pay. In one instance I paid a 100% markup to get a car – one that arrived much later than the app told me it would. 

To date, these minor hassles were just that, minor. The alternative to Uber and its few problems was a taxi service and its many: not able to take my credit card payment, not able to let me easily order a taxi, and not able to let me see where available taxis are. But the new Arro app appears to change that to a great degree. And here’s the kicker … Yellow Taxi (with Arro) has differentiated itself with a key distinction: no surge pricing. So, it begs the question, why use Uber if I essentially get Uber without the surge pricing and, in some cases, more knowledgeable drivers? In fairness, I have not compared Uber standard pricing or surge pricing to taxi rates but some people have. But even if the numbers don’t always work, the messaging does… I hear no surge pricing and I think, “Thank goodness.” 

There are some areas where Uber can still claim a leg up in many cases. The ability to order a level of car, for example, allows me to get an upscale car when I’m feeling more like a movie star with cash to burn, rather than a leader in an academic institution. And I can’t remember the last time a taxi driver had a bottle of water, candy, or a newspaper available for me to enjoy during my ride. 

Still, the release of Arro without surge pricing has me thinking about another fundamental law of economics: in a competitive market, no one player has an advantage forever. The Uber/Arro battle is an example of that. The world of business is one filled with punch and counterpunch. Success often relies on anticipating the competitions’ counter-punch and having a counter-punch to their counter-punch teed up. And this is hard to do. It’s especially hard when the future is hard to predict, and we are biased by what we know of the present. If you had asked a taxi cab company in New York ten years ago if a startup car service would threaten them, the response might have been, “It won’t happen, they would have to buy a medallion (a license to operate a taxi in many parts of the country). Medallions cost way too much to make a start-up competitor a viable threat (before Uber introduced competition, a medallion in New York could sell for $1MM).” The answer would have seemed perfectly reasonable, but it didn’t anticipate a world where the startup wouldn’t bother with a medallion. 

That is the challenge of running a business today. Are you thinking about all the “medallions” that stand in the way of a current or potential competitor, blind to the fact that they may bypass that obstacle completely? Have you considered what a competitor is likely to do in response to your actions? Are your differentiators only temporarily setting you apart from your competition and, if so, do you have an innovation pipeline that ensures another differentiator is on the horizon? If not, then use the Arro/Uber example as a motivator. 

As for what happens next in the Uber/Arro arms race, if either of then is looking for their next counter-punch, then how about this one: I’d pay a premium for an Uber or taxi driver that had more speeds than full accelerator and full brake. Now there’s an innovation!


About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth, expansion in global markets, and long-term success.

Topics: Executive Insights

HBX ConneXt - The Power of Community

Posted by Patrick Mullane on May 14, 2016 at 10:30 AM


This past Saturday, May 7th, I had the privilege of being involved in something that at first glance is replete with contradictions. I gathered with people I knew, but didn’t. I talked with students of an institution who had finished their program of study but who were, in many cases, making their first visit to that institution’s campus. I saw men and women who had taken a course together interact as if they were long lost classmates from an in-residence, multi-year program despite never having been in the same room. And I saw this from people who had to make travel arrangements and purchase tickets to come from all areas of the globe: from Australia to India, from Colombia to Qatar.  

HBX ConneXt was wonderful in its own right but it was most important in the evidence it offered of what an online education program can be. When we set out to create HBX, we started by putting ourselves in the student’s shoes and thinking about the pedagogy (for HBS, this means the case method of study). In starting there, we realized quickly how important interaction between members of the community would be if the case study would be at the center of the learning experience. After all, the case method relies on students questioning and challenging each other. Through this back-and-forth, they come to induce principles and, in having to work for the answer to a problem, they come away with a more fundamental understanding of how to apply their thinking to a host of situations. 

So our efforts to include a community in the platform had much to do with our pedagogy. What wasn’t anticipated at the time but which, in retrospect, should have been obvious, is that this online community that engaged to solve a real-world problem would form bonds that would transcend the course platform. That is what we saw at HBX ConneXt.

We saw digital world relationships become physical world friendships. We saw how helping peers online led to bonding with colleagues offline. We saw what I believe is the beginning of something very special.

As an employee and graduate of the school, I had an amplified sense of pride in what I saw. The employee in me thought about how well the team here executed in creating a wonderful platform and the courses that go on it. The graduate in me took pride in seeing the extension of the school’s mission – to educate leaders that make a difference in the world – take root in so many lives across so much of the world. HBS Dean Nitin Nohria noted to the HBXers assembled during one of the day’s sessions that the world is in desperate need of leadership everywhere. After seeing the enthusiasm of the HBX students, relatively early pioneers in the new world of digital education, I think I can say with confidence that we have many who are ready to answer that call of leadership.



About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth, expansion in global markets, and long-term success.

Topics: Leadership, HBX Insights, Executive Insights, HBX ConneXt