7 Tips for Success – A Note From A Friend


Usually when I write a blog article, most of the comments I receive are from LinkedIn connections who read my message and link to the article. My recent post about legacy admissions triggered an email from a long-time friend, Lee. Lee and I worked together at Price Waterhouse before the partnership merged with Coopers & Lybrand and became PwC. The text below is from his email to me.

Saw your LinkedIn article on legacy admissions and figured I would drop a note.  The link that follows is to an article I read many years ago that I found interesting enough to remember and re-read every once in a while. Personally, I’m against legacy admissions on the simple principle that it perpetuates a social class. At the same time, the article highlights the odds that intellectuals who are successful in life are not smarter than anyone else, but they are likely to have different character traits. RV life has also introduced me to the entrepreneurial class like I have never been before. Taking these thoughts as well as my personal experience, there are some success factors that are worth noting.

  1. Make as many friends as you can. This is where your opportunities really come from. I was lousy at this as I was always competing instead of collaborating. You really nailed this.  You were LinkedIn before there was LinkedIn.
  2. Get off your parents’ payroll as soon as possible. This is critical to self-reliance.
  3. Don’t go to college right out of high school. You have no idea what lies in store for you, how can you know your path? How many careers have you and I had?  
  4. Develop skills that have a long life in a changing world.  The nature of accounting may change, but being able to read financials is key. (I know a lot of CPAs that have no idea what the information they are preparing means).
  5. Take chances and don’t be afraid to fail.  Chances are exciting and educational. Failure is the best teacher. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like had I stayed at PW, S, E, or S.  And I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like with that adventure course!
  6. Persevere. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and jump back in.
  7. Have fun and celebrate!

Legacy admissions block people that deserve to rise from rising as far as they can go academically. But at the same time, it’s such a small number of people that it’s probably getting more attention than it deserves. Further, I believe that those that don’t get admitted because their seat is taken by a legacy admit haven’t lost anything. On the other hand, that failure may have taught a serious lesson on how the world works. And if they have the character traits to succeed, they will find another path.

One last thought that I passed on to all my kids. 90+% of the population are employees. In school they learned to receive an assignment, do it, hand it in and sit still until they got the next one. To get ahead all you must do is figure out what the next assignment is and do it without asking. One small step at a time; you will leave everyone else behind. Anyone can follow that recipe, and they don’t need to go to Harvard to learn it. I have met very successful people that created copy centers, garbage hauling companies, landscape companies, etc., all without ever going to college. They just figured out the next assignment in basic industries. There’s a lot to learn there.

Lee and I were raised in blue collar families. Our parents weren’t college graduates. His dad didn’t want him to go to college, but his mom wanted him to go to college. His mom won that argument, Lee went to the University of Delaware and met his wife there.

Lee notes that neither of us knew what our career paths were going to be when we were in college (very true for me as well). He attributes his first job post college, which was at Price Waterhouse, to an accidental meeting of a friend of a friend who worked at PW.

Lee’s career went down a different route than mine after we both left Price Waterhouse, but we both have been successful. I really like his comment “To get ahead all you must do is figure out what the next assignment is and do it without asking. One small step at a time; you will leave everyone else behind. Anyone can follow that recipe, and they don’t need to go to Harvard to learn it.” I believe the same comment could apply to being a student. Lee writes that he has imparted that advice to his three children (and likely their spouses). Last time I checked, his three children are following their dad’s advice and doing well.

Lee’s seven points are excellent pieces of advice. I might word them differently or modify one or two, but they are spot on. His comment about the RV life deserves explanation. After Lee sold one of the companies he led, he retired to the beach. As much as many people would be satisfied living at the beach, after a few years of beach life, Lee and his wife sold their house, bought a very large RV and travelled around the country for several years (and continue to do so). Obviously, in retirement, he’s still working on rule number one, make as many friends as you can.

Lee’s point about legacy admissions is not too dissimilar to my feelings many years ago. As I pointed out in my article, I believe that Professor Khan is correct when he says that legacy students will be replaced by privileged students. The primary reason that legacy students will be replaced by privileged students is that both groups are likely full-pay students and the elite college model cannot exist without a hefty percentage of full-pay students.

I also believe Dr. Khan’s comments that underprivileged students fortunate to be admitted at an elite college or university will benefit from attending college with privileged students. I speak from my personal experiences as well as the experiences of my friends like Lee. Dr. Khan speaks from the perspective of an academic who has interviewed many students attending elite colleges and prep schools.

Lastly, Lee and I agree that having an adult mentor who could have guided us through our college experiences might have been more helpful. Perhaps that’s why both of us have served as mentors during our careers. One small step at a time; you will leave everyone else behind. That’s sage advice, Lee, and I thank you for your note and your friendship.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence