Emil Michael: What I Learned at Harvard and the Advice I’d Give My Younger Self

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Emil Michael, the former chief business officer of Uber, has had an illustrious career. He began as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs before eventually scoring coveted gigs at the White House and in Silicon Valley. But long before he impressed former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Emil Michael was living the Ivy League dream as a wide-eyed student at Harvard University.

“I was a public school kid going to Harvard,” Emil Michael recalls of his alma mater, which also counts Natalie Portman, Tommy Lee Jones, and Colin Jost among its alumni (former President Obama is an alumni of Harvard Law School). “So what it does is introduce someone who comes from that background into this whole other world of globally interesting people, who succeeded in all these different dimensions of life.”

Emil Michael admits the Harvard experience was humbling and a form of shock therapy for most people during the four-year span. “You know there’s always someone better than you. And so it’s sort of a humbling lesson, which means you could always do better, you could always improve yourself, work harder, smarter, and learn new things,” Emil Michael said.

However, the Egyptian-born tech mogul who was the key driver of Uber’s efforts in China and Russia, which resulted in over $10 billion in market value creation, soon understood that his bachelor’s degree would catapult him into another stratosphere.

“When you grow up [attending] a public school, you see your parents, you see your community — that’s your universe, and your options are those options,” said Emil Michael, who once considered following in his father’s footsteps as a pharmacist. “When you get to a place like that, your set of options increases. And then you learn that there are certain social skills, and if you adopt them, you can have more opportunities to work with these companies or start them. And so you understand that your options are fairly unlimited.”

Emil Michael recalls his first week as a freshman. “You show up and meet your roommates or the people living in your dorm, and you have these big classes or events where they’re trying to orient you,” Emil Michael said. “You realize how amazing everyone is and how average you feel relative to that, where you didn’t feel like that in high school because to get into Harvard, you’re at the top of your class.”

Emil Michael contributed to The Harvard Crimson, the university’s daily student newspaper that was founded in 1873, and he was elected president of the Harvard Republican Club.

In addition to receiving the epitome of higher education, Emil Michael also recalls some less-serious moments from his college years. “We all remember doing things that you couldn’t do today,” Emil Michael said. “We did costumed runs around the freshman quad, drank ‘Jungle Juice’ and all the things that were weird and interesting in the ’90s.”

Although Emil Michael also graduated with a Juris Doctor and honors from the prestigious Stanford University Law School, he admits he would’ve done things differently if he could go back in time and offer his younger self advice.

“I would’ve probably said, ‘Don’t go to law school. You’re going to get paid by the hour,’” Emil Michael said. “I would’ve gone into tech in 1994 instead of 1998. Those four years were when Amazon was invented, and other very big inventions happened during those years. I would also say that the branded education thing is not as important as you think anymore. We’re moving into a world, and I think it’s a good thing, where the quality of your work and your ability to learn new things matters more than the pedigree. I’m saying this, having gone to Harvard and Stanford. But that’s what I would say to other young people today.”

Emil Michael has had a world-class education. Still, he admits, he also sees the value in simple trial and error. He’s never been afraid to take intelligent risks throughout his career and served as an adviser for, or investor in, more than 20 startups, including Bird, Brex, Dandy, Kalshi, Gopuff, and Revolut. According to Emil Michael, innovative thinking combined with precise execution, tenacity, courage, and grit is paving the way for future successful companies.

“I believe in learning by doing a lot more than I did when I was younger, as opposed to learning by credential or getting ahead by credentialing,” Emil Michael emphasized. “And so what I’d tell young entrepreneurs today is you’ve got to be OK with failure. And if you haven’t failed when you’re starting, when you’re 22, then maybe you’re not trying hard enough.”

Emil Michael recommends intelligent risk-taking and feels it’s a crucial step on the pathway to success. Fighting through the hard times is also essential for companies to achieve greatness.

“In some ways, Uber had some improvement areas at the end there, and I reflect on what we could have done differently, because we were growing so fast and we weren’t paying attention to certain parts of the business with the same energy as the more fun parts of the business.”

Emil Michael recalls learning that there is extreme pressure to get things perfect when you’re in the spotlight.

“That was a hard lesson learned,” Emil Michael said. “So for the companies now that I coach, or the CEOs, I tried to tell them that they have to scale their personality and their business skills and their company together, right. You want to be a unicorn, meaning a high valuation company. OK, with that comes some responsibility to your community, employees, and investors. And if you’re ignoring any part of that, you could get out of balance.”

The post Emil Michael: What I Learned at Harvard and the Advice I’d Give My Younger Self appeared first on Eminetra.

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