Rising Tide Blog

A Week at Harvard University

Posted by Matt Hale

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I fell into financial services as a career; it was good luck rather than good management.

I’m now going on 17 years at Rising Tide – my whole working life – and this path has taken me to some incredible places, both physically and metaphorically. My recent trip to Harvard University was, without a doubt, right at the top of those experiences.

As a winner of the inaugural ASTRUM award for Business Culture in 2022, Rising Tide received two invitations to attend a study tour hosted at the prestigious Harvard Business Club of Boston, in Massachusetts, USA. Joining me for the trip was one of my Rising Tide partners, Sam Gawenda. Sam and I have been mates for a long time – both personally and professionally – but, as we’ve chosen to expand our families and business, the time we spend together is often thinking about Rising Tide or sharing the challenges of our days. It was great to enjoy a couple of free days catching up with each other, enjoying some of the local hospitality and knocking over the rest of our study preparation before the work aspect of our trip officially began.

Day 1 at the Harvard Business Club of Boston was incredible. This place is where JFK had party room meetings before and during his tenure as US President and where the ‘who’s who’ of American politics and sport sip on neat whiskey. You could feel the electricity in the air; it was the equivalent of walking into the MCG or the Colosseum for the first time.

Throughout the course, our lecturer Boris took us through case studies about strategy, people, culture, and everything else that makes excellent businesses tick. One business that was easy to learn from was Domino’s, which has gone from strength to strength over the past 15 years since the global financial crisis.

A week of 9 to 5 learning in the business classroom is hard to distil, but here are my key takeaways.

  1. Start with strategy, systems, and structure first. Focusing on culture first is putting the cart before the horse.
  2. Be directive; people want to be led.
  3. Your strategy needs laser-like focus; don’t try to be all things to all people. Maccas refused to allow customers to use credit cards in the early days because it would blow out their ’90 second service’ promise.
  4. We all have a balance sheet. The stronger that balance sheet is, the more relevant we are. This is both personal and professional.
  5. Relevance is a depreciating asset. If you aren’t building it, you are losing it. There is no standing still.
  6. Great teachers evoke excellent outcomes. Boris is the creme de la creme of teachers worldwide, and I know why.

Finally, people can only digest changes of around 5% at any time, so keep it simple and consistent. Continual improvement is the driving force behind success, not seismic shifts.

I am still taking everything we learned in, as is Sam and the rest of our team, and we can’t wait to bring to life some of these learnings at Rising Tide and personally.

For now, though, I need to get back to the books and the whiteboard – and then I’ll come up for air!