On February 17, former model-cum-entrepreneur Tyra Banks became a graduate of Harvard Business School. What did Banks learn during her time there and, more importantly, what wisdom is she now equipped to impart on the current and future business leaders of the world? Glad you asked.
1. You’re running an army here– don’t be afraid to get ruthless with your sergeants and your corporals, your captains and your privates, your colones and your majors. Flip over a table in the mess hall. Put people on potato-peeling duty.
After my first term at Harvard, I came back and killed a whole bunch of businesses we were going to go into. We have to say no more often than we say yes, no matter how much money people put on that goddamned table. Harvard is all about innovation and being first to market. It’s something I’m constantly bringing back to my team, whether it’s my soldiers or my generals. I give them challenges and homework and brainstorming sessions to bring the culture that I’m learning at school into my own business. I’m supposed to see a business plan on Thursday and I learned that the differentiation wasn’t in there yet, and I said, “You guys know that needs to be in there before I see it.”
2. Take it all in. Look yourself in the mirror. Reflect. Drink it up. Gargle. Wait for the tingling sensation. Spit it out. Wipe your mouth. Smile.
In second term we talked about a tactic that’s highly risky—you take such a leap forward in one direction that you burn the bridge to go backward. I thought, “Oh my gosh, is that what I did when I retired from modeling and walked off the Victoria’s Secret runway and told the entire world ‘I am retired!’ before I even had my talk show renewed?” I knew with my gut that I was making myself accountable to the entire world so I couldn’t go backward. But I didn’t understand that these were tactics and strengths I had.
3. Let down your guard. Strip naked. Invite people to watch you silently weep. Smoke peyote. Form a human totem pole. Stand motionless until the next harvest moon.
Our leadership professor, Robert Steven Kaplan, was the vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs before he left to become a professor at Harvard. The difference in income he now gets is staggering. He is constantly trying to teach us to not chase the dollar but to make a difference. I thought we’d be taught “profit, profit, profit, win, win, win, go, go, go.” Instead, we were hearing about the importance of exposing vulnerability to your team. It’s soft stuff, talk-show stuff.
4. Zorro masks. Nun’s habits. Meat frocks. Teacups. Think about it.
I also look at what Lady Gaga is doing and think it’s near-genius. Had I not gone to Harvard, I’m not sure I would have seen it as a marketing play. I would have just said, “Oh, she’s popular.” Now I see how smart she is. It’s a true, clear, executed plan.
Tyra Banks Talks About Attending Harvard Business School [BusinessWeek]