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Why Am I Doing This?

Three weeks ago, I was finishing up my second term at Harvard. I wrote this late one night when all was quiet and I was tired:

WHY AM I DOING THIS??  Six to eight solid hours of classes every day followed by another four to five hours of reading and preparation each night… for three weeks straight, weeks spent away from home and family. It’s intellectually challenging and physically draining, with too little sleep and not enough time for exercise. It’s certainly not inexpensive. The question seems to be: Why am I doing this?

“This” is the Harvard Business School Owner/President Management program, an intensive learning experience that brings together 150 business owners and entrepreneurs from all over the world for three weeks at a time, once a year for three years. I am writing this in the midst of my second term here, late at night after a very long day!

The Harvard professors and guest speakers boast impressive credentials: national leaders in finance, marketing, leadership, negotiation and global markets.  My classmates are CEOs, COOs, presidents and managing directors of companies with annual sales of $10 million or more. Each one is sharper than the next, with an astonishing depth of experience in all kinds of businesses. As you might imagine, this makes for some very lively discussions. The youngest in the class is 30 and the oldest – or should I say, most senior? – is me.  I get a laugh when I tell them, “It’s not age, it’s stature!”  But my classmates still want to know, “Why are you doing this?” “Why go back to school at this time of your life?”

After all, I already have my MBA and five decades of experience in business. I have been a CEO, COO, president, manager and owner involved with six diverse companies with volumes ranging from $1 million to $6 billion.

So why am I hitting the books when I could be perfecting my chip shot, hanging out with the grandkids, or escorting my wife on cool trips? Why don’t I just retire and take it easy?

Actually, I did retire once, but it was soon obvious that I had no aptitude for it whatsoever—I really “Flunked Retirement”.  My wife will confirm this. Maybe it’s genetic: the Dolginows are not retiring people.  They pretty much work ‘til they drop – in my dad’s case, at age 55 from a heart attack, no doubt brought on by smoking and a robust diet of everything that’s bad for you. I adopted a radically different lifestyle, but I have the same stubborn fascination with work.  I love business. I love reading about it. I love talking about it. I loved the many years I built and ran businesses. I loved the years I worked for the brilliant retailers at Dayton’s department store.  And I love working with my clients to help them strengthen and grow their businesses.  It pleases me to no end that my years of experience have equipped me to help other business owners analyze problems, recognize opportunities, and improve their operations to increase profits and better serve their customers.

I am at Harvard Business School OPM because I wanted to hone my skills in business. How are some of the smartest people in business and academia today thinking about the current economic challenges? What experiences have other companies had that I can learn from and apply to my clients’ situations?  I want to soak up everything I can here at Harvard to stay on top of my game.

Is it any different than a person who has a passion for golf? Wouldn’t he or she give their best putter to take three weeks off to go to golf school with Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson?  We had the senior vice president of Swatch Watch Company tell us OPMers that HBS is the West Point of business.  Where else would I want to be?

I get a kick out of learning from these smart folks, and an even bigger kick out of using what I’ve learned to help all of you who come to me with your questions and your issues.  It’s about making a contribution and giving back.