My name is ————-
I started writing this essay on a piece of paper, but that’s exactly what I’m not.
Let me introduce myself properly.
I am my parents’ child.
My parents are a driving force in my ambition to make this world a better place. My dream of pioneering my own Ed-Tech start-up first began at my kitchen table, where my parents – an educational strategist and a high-tech executive – would share stories about their work.
My dad, a farmer turned president of a $2B market cap tech company, showed me that determination succeeds in any environment, from the fields to the boardroom. My mom, an education innovator and social justice advocate, impressed upon me the importance of proper and equal education for all. My parents showed me that a profession is more than advancing just yourself or your family – it’s about advancing society.
I am determined to reach and exceed my parents’ achievements, in my own way, by combining the passions born from my life’s biggest influences – education, technology and management.
I’m driven by the desire to use technology and open source principles to improve education in remote and rural areas around the world.
I am a global citizen.
Just before I entered first grade, my father was tapped by a former army commander to work in high tech in Boston. My view morphed from the rolling hills of our town to skyscrapers, the songs of birds replaced by honking taxis.
Two days after arriving in America, I found myself in a public classroom, without a single friend or a word of English to my name.
Feeling embarrassed and confused in class led me to spend my afternoons memorizing the ABC’s and scanning books in English. I forced my parents to give me English lessons every night when they returned home from work. After a year, I felt completely at home, and I even mentored new foreign arrivals, preparing them for what to expect at school and helping them to practice English.
We moved back to my town after six years in Boston, but the experience abroad was foundational. Rooting for the Celtics became as much a part of my anatomy as Brazilian asado – Boston added another layer to my identity.
Acclimating to a foreign culture at such a young age opened me in ways that have been essential to my personal and professional growth. Long afternoons of learning made me an independent learner – a skill I use often at work today, mastering new programming languages and conducting in-depth research at my employer’s innovation center.
Overcoming my language barrier at a young age taught me to be patient, to give others the benefit of the doubt, and instilled the value of mentorship. These insights helped me to become a highly cooperative person whom others feel they can trust.
I am a leader.
I first learned to lead as captain of my high school basketball team, leading my team to a national championship against all odds. We had less talent, less experience, and we were (on average) 4 centimeters shorter than our opponents. In the end, our teamwork and friendship prevailed. After winning the championship, I was invited to scrimmage with the national team. I insisted they allow my entire team come.
Becoming national champions showed me the value of persistence and never underestimating you own abilities, or the abilities of your team. This was especially instructive when serving as a paratrooper; I suffered a serious back injury from long treks with heavy equipment. My commanders presented me with two options: take a desk job, or sign an extra year beyond my mandatory service to attend Officers’ School and afterward lead an elite unit for special operations and technology development. Determined to make the most of my service in spite of my injury, I chose the latter.
Just like the basketball team I led, my first project as started as something of a lost cause: I was handed responsibility for developing a $2.8M thermal tracking device alongside a world-leading military contractor. The project was over a year behind schedule, manned by an exhausted, frustrated team.
I never doubted that we would reach the ambitious 8-month goal the army had set. I created a comprehensive Gantt to meet development, finance, logistics, and HR benchmarks. I worked hard toward creating cohesion between army and civilian team members.
When additional product features required more capital to develop, I used my nights off to create marketing campaigns that I pitched to higher-ranking officers – to countless colonels and even a brigadier general. I solicited private donations from dozens of international donors, tailoring each presentation to their cultural preferences and priorities. I raised $1M in capital, we met our deadline, and our unit became the go-to unit for product development and for special tech operations. After the release of the thermal tracking device, I led 7 additional projects with budgets totalling $4M.
I believe that Ed-Tech is the future.
Growing up in an immigrant community, I developed a close understanding of what it meant to live in a poor, remote part of a country. Teaching at-risk teenagers and elementary school orphans in Thailand brought meaning to my mother’s words, “Education is the distance between have and have-not.” Technology is the only way to shorten this distance.
I intend to leverage my technological skills, experience as an educator, and the business acumen I’ll acquire at Harvard to create Ed-Tech products to increase access to education through low-cost applications based on based on collaborative knowledge sharing and big data analytics.
My tech achievements thus far give me the confidence that I am ready to bring my own products to the public.
I developed a start-up company, an online platform for professional development and recruiting. I drew capital for entire project with nothing more than belief in my idea and very convincing power point presentations. Today, My company has thousands of users and is the main professional development platform for several multi-million-dollar tech firms.
Global change begins from local change, and my country is fertile testing-ground. After my MBA, and hopefully following success as a product manager with an Ed-Tech firm, I intend to pilot my own projects in my country’s periphery, targeting underserved populations.
Harvard is my calling.
More than being located in my beloved childhood hometown, Harvard Business School is the place that piqued my interest in management sciences. I had the opportunity to accompany my dad to HBS courses while he was studying with the Advanced Manager’s Program. Sitting in the AMP courses ignited my interest in case-studies (I ended up reading every study in my father’s folder!), and I enjoyed in-depth discussions with professors like Richard Vietor and Guhan Subramanian. I am fortunate to be able to continue my interaction with HBS through reading articles and case studies on the IBM learning portal.
Harvard is the quintessential learning experience. Through innovations in EdTech, I believe the Harvard standard can become a world-wide education standard.
I’m an adventurer, a risk taker, a challenge seeker. I’m an educator, a leader, an entrepreneur and a social innovator.
I’m not just my past, I am my future; and I’m about to embark on a new chapter of my life, with you, at Harvard.
HBS students at graduation
On March 22, Max Wibaux made a quiet exit from his office in Kansas City just before noon EST. He drove the five minutes to his apartment, rushed to his computer and then sat briefly paralzyed in front of the screen, desperately wanting to know if Harvard Business School would admit him and not so desperately wanting to know if it didn’t.
Wibaux, marketing manager for Russell Stover chocolates, had invested a lot of time and energy in the decision. By his own estimate, the 30-year-old native of France spent nearly 50 hours over two to three months on as many as 30 drafts of his HBS essay. He also wrote essays for Stanford GSB, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and INSEAD.
“I had gone home at lunch time because I knew the posting would go up at noon on the dot,” he recalls. “So I went home, turned on my computer and stared at it for a number of minutes until I watched the clock roll past 12. I was so hesitant to push the button to see what my status was. I finally clicked on it and then jumped up and down.”
THE HARDEST PART OF HIS HBS ADMIT? KEEPING QUIET THAT AFTERNOON IN THE OFFICE
The latest edition of the MBA Essay Guide from The Harbus costs $61.49
He spent the next hour at home, relaying the good news of his HBS acceptance to family and friends. The hardest part of the experience was returning to his office that afternoon, with the widest grin he ever wore on his face, and not sharing the news with anyone other than his boss and his second recommender, the only two people at his employer who knew he had applied to Harvard’s MBA program.
Wibaux will start the MBA program on Aug. 28, but since his acceptance into HBS, he has been involved in a rather unique exercise: Reviewing the essays of recently successful applicants to HBS for inclusion in the just published summer 2017 edition of the MBA Essay Guide from The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper at Harvard.
At first, Wibaux merely volunteered to share his own essay. But when the newspaper’s leadership team found out that Wibaux boasts nearly 10 years of Brand Management experience working for GlaxoSmithKline, L’Oreal, Reckitt Benckiser, and Lindt & Sprüngli, he was drafted as the new product manager for The Harbus.
29 ESSAYS FROM 29 NEWLY ADMITTED STUDENTS TO HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
His conclusion from reading nearly 50 essays, 29 of which are included in the new guidebook? “It would have taken a lot of the nervousness out of the process to see the wide range of essays out there,” says Wibaux. I was going off the premise that I just wanted to do my own thing. The reason why I went through so many iterations is I didn’t know what I was up against. I think I could have cut by drafts in two.”
The 29 submissions in the new guidebook, available for downloading at just over $60, are just a small fraction of all the 941 essays written by successful candidates who will become students at HBS by months’ end, of course. But they are representative of a wildly diverse student body from all walks of life, all industries, functions and geographies, and all ways of thinking. They come from HBS-bound applicants in Pakistan, India, the Ivory coast, Zimbabwe, and Egypt, among other places. They were written by people who worked in oil and gas, healthcare, nuclear engineering, transportation and community service, not merely consultants and financiers. The stories vary greatly as well, from a student who delivers a first-hand account of how it feels to run a triathlon to another who candidly describes a serious bout of depression that led to suicidal thoughts.
Ultimately, the real benefit of the guide is not that it will teach future applicants how to expertly craft the perfect HBS essay that will gain them an admit. Instead, like Wibaux himself learned, you may not have to be nearly as fussy as you think when answering the HBS prompt “what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?”
‘YOU CAN HAVE A KILLER ESSAY BUT GET REJECTED IF YOUR APPLICATION IS WEAK’
Incoming HBS student Max Wibaux
That’s because this inside peek at winning essays will allow you to read well-crafted writing worthy of The New Yorker as well as fairly unremarkable essays that could have been written for a college freshmen intro class. What you can’t know is how important these essays were in Harvard’s admission decisions.
“It has been said over and over again that the essay is just one component,” concedes Wibaux. “So yes you can have a killer essay but if the application is weak, it won’t make a difference. Or conversely you can have a bad essay but still get in. Even so, it’s the only chance for you to get your story across in a way that is not formatted by the admissions committee. It is one of the few pieces in there that is truly in your own voice. It is purely you.”
Some of the successful applicants who forked over their essays to The Harbus make even Wibaux look like a piker for his 25 to 30 drafts. Almost all the essays in the book are the result of days, if not weeks, of work and multiple iterations. One 2+2 candidate from Canada, who had worked as a consultant, claims to have powered through 75 versions of the essay over a period of 50 to 60 solid hours of effort. The French Canadian even consulted a a psychologist to help him write his 963 words with with deep introspection.
A SUCCESSFUL INDIAN APPLICANT OFFERS SOME KEY TAKEAWAYS
Not surprisingly, many were highly methodical in their approach. A successful round one applicant from India who applied to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Chicago Booth say she started thinking about his esays in June. “I laid out my entire life on a linear storyline and starting hunting for defining moments that I could talk about,” he explains. On Stanford’s iconic “what matters most to you and why” prompt, he invested three to four weeks and did eight to ten iternations. On his HBS essay, he spent four to six weeks, with as many as a dozen drafts.
Starting Harvard’s MBA program later this month, he shares key takeaways:
- Spend adequate time brainstorming for defining moments and discuss them with someone who knows you really well
- Adopt a simple writing style, with short sentences and cause-effect relations clearly laid out. Run a grammar/text bloat test towards the end.
- Don’t read into the feedback you get from your reviewers too much. Often times feedback will be contradictory. Go with what you think is best.
- Wrap up the essays at least two weeks before submission and lay primary emphasis on other elements of your application – CV, referrals, short responses.
- Take time to discuss your application with your recommenders and prime them with interesting instances they can talk about while writing you referrals.