Finding the right work/life balance

It is graduation season in Boston, a city that could rightfully claim the title of MBA Mecca because of its large number of good business schools. It is noteworthy this year that two of the best in Boston – Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management – selected women executives as their commencement and Class Day speakers. (Harvard went with Kathy Giusti, founder and chief executive of the Multiple Myeloma Foundation and the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium, while MIT’s speaker was Ursula Burns, chairman and chief executive of Xerox.)

Graduation speeches tend to be full of predictable platitudes: Be bold! Dream big! Find your passion! and so on, and Giusti and Burns’ speeches delivered on that count. (Their audience needed the turbo-charged optimism considering these new MBAs are entering the worst job market since the Great Depression.) But interestingly, both women took the opportunity to speak of the importance of having a life outside of a hard-charging career; the meaning of parenthood, and family; and the value of setting a good example.

Burns urged grads to “have fun, and enjoy life”.

“Surround yourselves with people who make you laugh. People you love and people who are good. I have a great [quote] that hangs on the wall of my office: ‘Don’t do anything that wouldn’t make your Mom proud!’”

Meanwhile Guisti, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer that her oncologist told her was “100 per cent fatal”, 15 years ago, she told her audience:

“I wake up every day normal, and then it always hits me. I have cancer. It is fatal….During those moments of intense uncertainty, the same two questions emerge. Have I made a difference? Have I been a great mom, a great role model? I can answer both with a resounding yes.”

Would the tone and substance of these speeches been different had the speakers been men? Hard to say. And it’s almost irrelevant. Here are two women who have risen to the top of their professions reminding the next generation of business leaders that it is not all about work.

Rebecca Knight is a regular contributor to the Financial Times

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Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.