Alumni Perspective – Robert Kraft, (MBA ’65)

A cold New England morning dawned at the Harvard Business School in 1963, when legendary marketing professor, the late Ted Levitt, sporting his distinctive, thick mustache and bushy, black eyebrows, while exhibiting his customary, theatrical teaching style, spotted his cold-call victim for the morning’s case about Marlin Shavers. This particular morning, his quarry was a 22 year-old, Brookline native named Robert Kraft. “Mr. Kraft, if you worked for this company, what would you do”? With the tension mounting and Professor Levitt’s face about six inches from his own, Robert leaned back and quipped in a cool New England accent, “Look like a darlin’, shave with Marlin.” The class, and Professor Levitt, erupted in laughter.

Robert Kraft entered the Harvard Business School in 1963, fresh out of Columbia University, newly married, and with no real work experience. “I didn’t have a clue,” Mr. Kraft says, recalling the days when he had to use a slide-rule for math problems. He remembers those formative days with fondness, recalling the infamous WAC’s (Written Analysis of a Case) on which he and his classmates toiled feverishly late on Friday nights, because the assignments were due at Baker Library early on Saturday morning. Fortunately, the impressive combination of the case method of learning, incredible professors like Levitt and John McArthur (finance professor and later HBS Dean), and a group of brilliant peers, proved to be transformational for Robert, shaping and guiding his thinking and helping to imbue in him a strong sense of confidence to succeed.

Forty-three years after his HBS graduation, Robert Kraft is the picture of success. He has built a thriving conglomerate, The Kraft Group, with two of his sons Jonathan (HBS ’90) and Daniel, with businesses in Paper and Packaging, Real Estate Development, Private Equity, and of course, Sports and Entertainment. He is most widely known for his ownership of the New England Patriots, which he bought as a struggling franchise in 1994. He has since turned one of the worst teams in the NFL, in terms of record and attendance, into one of the most well-respected and successful sports organizations of the last decade, with five Super Bowl appearances and three Super Bowl wins since 1996. He and his wife Myra have generously donated tens of millions of dollars to a variety of philanthropic causes, including education, children and women’s causes, healthcare, youth sports, and many institutions of higher learning. He also currently serves on the Board of Directors for Viacom, the Executive Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and the Executive Committee of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In January of 2006, Robert was presented with the highest honor bestowed by the NCAA, as the recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Award.

Success. It’s what we’re all after isn’t it? What advice would a man who has experienced so much success give to those of us who are just beginning our post-MBA career? For Robert Kraft, the answer boils down to three simple things. First of all, he suggested, “Do something you are passionate about; something you love. Don’t do something just for financial reasons.” “Find a good life partner,” was his second piece of advice. Be willing and committed to go through the tough times together, and focus on the long-term success, because “family is the best return-on-investment.” Finally, conduct business in a way that treats people how you want to be treated, and “have pride in your brand.” Even for a man who owns three super bowl rings, saying “please and thank-you”, opening the door for someone, and treating a waiter with kindness if he’s having a bad day, are important elements of his method of doing business and have helped to lay the foundation for his success. “A little kindness goes a long way. It really makes the difference,” he urged.

But how should success be defined, especially in an industry (sports) in which the media often deems success only as winning a championship? Many of us were fascinated by the incredible events of this year’s Super Bowl, as the New York Giants ended the New England Patriots’ perfect season in a dramatic tag heuer replica for sale , almost miraculous fashion. How does one define success under these circumstances? Robert Kraft hangs his hat on something his father once told him: “When you go to bed at night, make sure the people you’ve touched that day are richer for having known you.” Translated to the gridiron: “If I’ve helped put the organization in a better position to compete, then I’ve succeeded.”

At the end of the day, Robert Kraft isn’t too concerned about what the media says. He has always measured himself by his own standards breitling superocean replica, which he describes as “the four F’s:” Family, Faith, Philanthropy . . . and Football. If we measure Robert Kraft by those standards, he has most certainly found true success.