Honorable Dean, Professor Nohria, Professor Gulati, faculty members, Kathy and your team, fellow AMPs and our family members: it’s a tremendous privilege to stand before you today as the AMP 184 class speaker. I am humbled by the responsibility bestowed on me by this amazingly talented group of leaders.
In fact, my mere presence on this prestigious program is an honor that vindicates my father’s unfailing faith in me, despite an unpromising start.
At just 18, I had been expelled from school, had been to jail twice, had attempted to skip the country to go into exile, was on the run from the police and had not been studying for two years. All this in pursuit of freedom and democracy for all South Africans.
I was not alone; we were an army of angry and disillusioned young people, determined to make South Africa ungovernable and the apartheid system unworkable. We were marginalized, bitter and destructive. We were labeled the lost generation.
But my late father, Wellington Mzwandile Mali, refused to give me up for lost. He had a passion for education. He dreamed that I would overcome my difficulties and grow up to be a responsible and successful member of society. He never lost faith in me.
The fact that I am standing here at the Harvard Business School, supported by my lovely wife, confidante and soul mate, Sva, on an occasion as significant as this one, vindicates that faith. So do the competencies that I gained to bring me to this moment, as a civil activist, a lawyer, a banker and a businessman. It has been quite a journey, and my father and other loved ones supported me every step of the way.
My presence here also bears testimony to the role a parent can play in the life of a child, and I know this applies not only to me – it is true for each one of us – all 173 members of AMP 184. We come from many different countries and I doubt any of us has had an easy, uneventful journey to this auspicious day. Our rich diversity of experience has enriched our debate and deepened our learning, but today, we have one great thing in common: We are all grateful to our parents, spouses, sponsors, friends, coaches and relatives… all those who have supported us throughout our careers, making sacrifice after sacrifice. We owe our achievements to them. AMP 184, please stand up and give a huge round of applause to our families!
May each of us deeply contemplate Professor Christensen’s sobering question:
“How will I measure my life?” On the day we leave this earth, what will our families,
friends and colleagues say about us? Will they mention the expensive toys, extravagant gifts… or our absence from their lives? What will be written on our tombstones – the number of successful mergers and acquisitions, projects delivered, air miles totted up, or our net worth? I hope it will be more than this, I hope we will leave a much more meaningful and lasting legacy.
I know what happened when my father passed on. He didn’t leave a will. He bequeathed us no material possessions. But I can proudly proclaim that he left us, as a family, a rich legacy of service, leadership, integrity, and courage in standing up for beliefs, principles, values and the truth, regardless of personal consequences. Like the other members of AMP 184, today, I am an accomplished professional and a business leader. I know why – I stand on the shoulders of a giant.
He set an example for me through his marriage and how he brought up his children. The question I have to grapple with – to use the AMP language, the Mali (B) case – is: How will my wife, Sva, rate me, as a husband, and my children, me as a father?
Professor Christensen shared with us the painful stories of his former classmates who were now either divorced, not in touch with their children, or involved in corruption or scandal because of the forces and temptations that come with high corporate office. He further counselled us that understanding what trapped some of his classmates is important; not just for those who have left the path that they planned to follow, but also for those whose lives are still on track and for those whose journeys are just beginning.
This is especially important for us, as AMP 184. From now on, we are going to be in demand, within our organisations and outside them. Prestige, new positions, perks, new roles, fame and fortune beckon. Graduating as AMPs has vastly improved our chances of being tapped for the top jobs and being offered the opportunities that we all hope for. Professor Christensen tempers our excitement with a warning: “We are all vulnerable to the forces and decisions that have derailed many.”
We owe it to ourselves to create new centres of advice, caution and counsel from our families, our Living Groups and our fellow members of AMP 184. We must make AMP 184 an exception to the rule of derailment; pray that we indeed find our “True North”.
We will find this easier to do if we heed the learnings we can glean from the principled leaders who have preceded us and those who engaged with us over the past two months. Such leaders displayed deep humility, calmness under pressure, strong convictions and resilience. More importantly, they had what Professor Bill George calls “a deeper desire to serve something greater than oneself”.
I truly believe in, and remain inspired by, that timeless business theme, “making a decent profit, decently”. I hope our generation will be the one to turn around the
negative perception about business leaders and link our business objectives to our personal values and to the needs of society.
I say we, AMP 184, must become influencers. We must grasp our power to make a difference. As guided by Prof Kotter, we must have both the courage and the competence to bring about change towards a more balanced personal, business, societal and environmental scorecard.
Each of us came to AMP 184 with a great track record, a promise of a bright future and a desire to broaden our knowledge. Our Harvard experience stripped us of our titles, our executive positions and sense of identity. It separated us from our friends, family, habits, and routine. All the things that were important for our sense of purpose, value and support were removed from us. What was left was the essence of who we are. It is this simplicity and truth that has carried us through the last eight weeks.
Throughout the eight weeks, our faculty has been sharp, witty, interesting, challenging and engaging. Each day, we have been guaranteed new insights, knowledge, new discoveries and a challenge to accept new paradigms. Each case we examined unfolded differently from how we prepared it, mutated into something else in our Living Groups and was completely transformed by the class discussion.
As the weeks progressed, we built relationships in our Living Groups, we understood the cases better, enjoyed the classes more and got to feel we were set for success. Then, subtly but firmly, our faculty started showing us that it’s not about the cases, although that’s important… it’s not about the lectures, although that’s important too… neither is it about the exhibits, nor the cold calls. It’s all about the learnings! So, why did we bother with all 229 cases, 38 optional lectures and speeches? They were merely a means – a necessary and important means – to learning and self-discovery and to sound independent reasoning.
And what a great end those means have served! Today, we pause to celebrate reaching a summit. This institution has awakened the giant sleeping in each one of us.
Nelson Mandela’s famous words succinctly reflect our moment: “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that, after climbing a great hill, one finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
I would like to highlight a few of the learnings I will be taking home to support me as I tackle the next summit:
- Over and above the countries and industries we studied, we were exposed to 173 live cases of colleagues whose collective experience and insights have made us wiser. They will be a permanent resource for years to come;
- Leadership and change begin with us knowing ourselves, challenging ourselves to change, and knowing our key and unique strengths while being mindful of potential disruptors, enticements and forces of destruction within us;
- We must nurture our desire to be curious with our ability to question, to inquire, to participate in a dialogue through active listening and reflection and then make decisions, never forgetting our potential biases;
- Leadership is not about “either/or”. Most of the time it’s about “and”: short and long term, strategy and execution, creativity and delivery, sales and service, financial and non-financial, competence and character and business and society, government and business, the individual and the team, work and family.
- We can learn and improve as leaders, as human beings, as parents and as husbands and wives so that we can make a difference in our organizations and beyond.
- We also looked deeply inside our hearts and learned a lot about compassion. We had front row seats to an atrocity that rocked the world – the bombing of the Boston Marathon. Our lives are forever entwined with this fair city as together with our friends, families and businesses we stood shoulder to shoulder with a proud and strong community.
On behalf of the AMP 184, I thank each one of the members of our faculty, Professors Gulati, Bertoneche, Montgomery, Narayan, Narayandas, Raman, Subramanian and Vietor. Thank you for leading from behind like true shepherds, we have found the way… for now… Should we stray again… please nudge us onto the correct path again.
I would also like to thank Kathy and her wonderful team, the security staff, the catering staff and everybody who made our stay here a life-changing and memorable experience. We will honestly never be the same again.
What memories we are taking away with us! I’m sure many of them are similar to those of most AMP classes through the years: the trips across the bridge, hanging out at Harvard Square, who was always late for class, who dominated the discussions, … lost deals during the negotiation exercises, the final dinner and graduation…
But I contend that this AMP, which my dear brother and friend Brian Jones of Vietor’s Flush Band fame has termed “the perfect AMP”, is special. We have more. We have a heart, character, soul, vibe and swagger all our own. We have more than our fair share of characters, talents, our own band, our own song… We are an AMP unplugged!
Last night was the last “exhibit” in our “case”. Here’s why I think we can rightly claim the title of “the perfect AMP”.
- So many of us have shown that we are prepared to give of ourselves and what we have towards a cause bigger than ourselves;
- So many of us are willing to build relationships beyond our natural group;
- So many of us understand that we are not here to win through competition, but to learn through collaboration;
- So many of us have been willing to listen and learn rather than to speak and lecture;
- So many of us are willing to explore what we have in common, rather than exploit our differences; and lastly
- So many of us have allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, to be trusting and to share deeply and intimately – We brought ourselves and not our corporate personae or masks to this AMP.
I proclaim, in front of our faculty and families, that AMP 184 is ready to tip-toe back into the world; humbler, wiser and better equipped. As leaders ready to make a difference, we are prepared to proudly graduate from the Harvard Business School. We are fit to carry its name and mission forward for the rest of our lives in service of mankind through our leadership roles in global businesses.
May the Harvard Business School continue to fulfill its mission and ensure that its products make a real difference throughout the world.
As AMP 184, we commit to walking a path that will bring personal and professional fulfillment to ourselves, happiness to our families and friends, success to our organizations, prosperity to society and glory to this iconic institution. We will move together… towards a more balanced scorecard!
Honorable Dean, I proudly present to you AMP 184, the perfect AMP!
Lincoln Mali, Class Speaker: AMP 184, Graduation Ceremony, HBS