If I invited you to meet a Harvard Law alumnus who founded and co-manages a global investment firm with $12.6 billion in assets, a man who formerly held executive positions with Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers, the host of Fox Business’s Wall Street Week and a regular contributor on Fox News and CNBC, a man who received a cameo in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and a nickname from President George W. Bush, you would probably expect to get a certain sort of advice.
And you would be dead wrong.
“I have one piece of advice I want all of you to take with you when you leave this school: immediately quit acting like you went to Harvard Law School,” said Anthony Scaramucci, class of ’89, during a 45-minute fireside chat hosted by Alex Rienzie, President of the Harvard Association for Law and Business, on Tuesday, March 22nd. “The sooner you stop acting like a Harvard alumnus, the better off your career will be.”
Atypical advice from an atypical man.
That advice hit home for the attendees because Mr. Scaramucci was so clearly genuine. Though confident and sharply dressed—as befits a man whom President Bush refers to as “Gucci Scaramucci”—he did not try to sell us a bill of goods. In fact, he didn’t sound like a salesman at all. He took pains to avoid truisms, meaningless clichés about getting ahead by working hard, and instead highlighted his mistakes in hopes that we could learn from his experience.
That was how he arrived at his central piece of advice.
To much of the country, he is best known for becoming the punch line of a rant by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show after Mr. Scaramucci appeared on live television in 2010 asking President Obama when he would “stop whacking Wall Street like a piñata.” The media response quickly turned Mr. Scaramucci into something of a piñata himself. He expressed no bitterness, however, saying he quickly “realized that I came off as an elitist, and I regret that.”
The rest of the talk went much the same way. Mr. Scaramucci acknowledged his mistakes as well as his good fortune in ending up where he is, often telling stories in which he was not the hero if he thought we could learn from them. For example, he told his audience about failing the bar exam twice, getting fired from Goldman Sachs and almost losing his entire business after the financial crisis. Throughout his talk, he was unusually humble and almost shockingly candid.
His message, though, was simple, honest, even elegant. He claimed that his early failures were the result of letting his Harvard degree go to his head, and choosing jobs for prestige rather than for goodness of fit.
“From age 12 to age 20,” he said, “there’s something you did that you were passionate about. … Working with your hands, writing, selling, etc. For me, my experience selling motorcycles in my uncle’s shop showed me … my passion [for sales]. So I tapped into that passion, and now I am doing what I love”: managing SkyBridge Capital, a leading fund of hedge funds, and running the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference. He said he wanted us to do the same, encouraging us not to get stuck in the trap of chasing money, power, or prestige. “Think about your passion and find a way to incorporate it into your job.”
In the wake of his Daily Show caricature, Mr. Scaramucci was widely panned as the quintessential self-promoting salesman, an out-of-touch elitist who thought only of himself. That could not have been further from the truth. At the end of his talk, Mr. Scaramucci urged us to stay in touch with him and promised us that he would help us out as much as he could. Many prominent lawyers and businessmen who are Harvard alumni come to campus, but few, if any, make that offer.
Then again, he did tell us to “quit acting like you went to Harvard Law School.”
Harvard students often find themselves awash in advice from successful alumni. It seems that Mr. Scaramucci is perhaps that rarest of all breeds: a man who listens to his own advice.