The Sit Down: Back to School with Michael and Con

So, the rumors are true: My business partner, Constance, and I went back to school … at Harvard! We recently took part in a four-day program at Harvard Business School called “The Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports,” and we had the full college experience, people: We slept in the dorm, worked out with other students in the on-campus gym, and even ate our meals the dining hall (college food is a whole lot better than it was when I went to Texas Southern). And even though Con and I have been running our own talent management and media company for the past seven years, I still had those first-day jitters when I sat down at my desk. But we both made it through the program with flying colors—and have the certificates to prove it. (A big shout-out to our professor Anita Elberse for dropping her incredible knowledge about business administration on us and special thanks to filmmaker Kevin Wolf for creating this great video, too.) Below, Con and I break it all down …

So, why Harvard?
Constance: LL Cool J and his business partner Claudine Joseph took the BEMS (Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports) class two years ago and introduced us to Professor Elberse. Once you meet Anita, you understand why her class is booked solid and there is a very detailed application required for admittance.

Michael: We were excited because the course talks about the things that are right up our alley: the business of entertainment, media, and sports which is everything that SMAC does and stands for. It was the perfect program for what we do in business, and we couldn’t wait to get there. It was really cool to go to business school on the Harvard campus.

Constance: As soon as we got our course work about a month before class, all I could think about was Rodney Dangerfield in the movie Back to School <laughs> I was nervous and excited all at once. Would I be smart enough to sit in a class with my peers, many who have an M.B.A., and how the heck would I find time to read and prep for all the case studies we would be going over? But a big highlight for me was meeting our classmates. The group was from all over the world, a variety of very interesting people I hope to work with in the future. We all exchanged emails and have been in touch—there’s talk of a reunion already!

Did you like being a student again?
Constance: I don’t know that I like being a student, but I love to learn! I also love the overall experience and hope that all kids get a chance to get the experience to going away to college. It’s not only about what you learn in the classroom, but about being on your own and living with a diverse group of people who are all going through a similar experience. When I was in college, I always felt that I didn’t have to like everyone but it was important to respect one another and their right to express their views.

Michael: It was cool being in class again. You forget what school’s about because you’re out there living your life and working. It was great to sit at a desk with other extremely bright people and have discussions that really open your mind to different points of view on interesting subjects. I think we both just wanted to come out with something that we felt would help us in our business and that definitely happened for us.

Constance: Michael and I really maximized our experience at Harvard. We had group study, participated in class, and even hosted a workshop about SMAC. We have a lot of the same philosophies and it was funny to have a lot of the same answers in class, too.

Michael: Con’s a great student. She’s smart. She was pretty reserved at first. She knew a lot of the things that were going on because she had lived the experiences of some of these things in entertainment and the business and sports, so she let everyone else participate. And then when it was time to really dive in and offer an opinion, she wouldn’t hesitate to do it and have a lot of great insight into that. So you know Con’s the kind of student that you hope sits next to you because if you have a question, she’d always have the answer.

Michael: We had a great time and a very smart class. You had your athletes and your entertainers in there, but it just wasn’t about that: It was just about gathering smart people from all different genres of business and that’s what made it interesting. For a lot of us, especially the athletes, it was great because you knew if you could hang in that room and have an opinion that stacked up against those who’ve been in business for their entire lives, that you really weren’t behind because you played a sport. It made me feel like, “You know what? I can do this and I do belong in the business world if I choose to be.”

How was the food?
Michael: The food was great, but you’re at Harvard, so it’s not like you’re slumming it. The dorms were cool and too small for me, but it was great to go back. It was very nostalgic, to have a backpack and sit at a desk and be around different people and take class breaks together and congregate outside of the classroom. I loved the whole experience and the feeling of community. I kind of miss that, actually.

Constance: It’s Harvard! Everything is better.

What was college like for you?
Constance: My freshman year was tough for me: I was on academic warning. But once I declared marketing as my major, I locked in and was able to focus. I figured out how to study but also how to have fun, too. There were a few classes I blocked out of my memory … Sorry, Statistics.

Michael: I was kind of quiet and went about my own business, but I was a good student. I loved learning. I think coming from a military family, the structure of school was something I enjoyed. I didn’t always know where it was going to take me, or how it was going to impact my life, but it definitely has helped me in business and in life. I encourage everybody to go to school and do your best. Always be open to discussions and opportunities.

If you had to go back to school now, what would you study?
Constance: I would go to law school. So much of what I do involves contracts and negotiations, and I would love to be able to practice law.

Michael: I would study real estate development and business. I just think those are things I’ve done pretty well without really knowing the ins and out, based on my gut. I would love to be able to expand my knowledge and really understand what the heck I’m doing. The sky could really be the limit then.