By Lillian Lambert
A few years ago, I spoke at a conference of the African American Student Union, Harvard University. During the question and answer session a young man asked: “Why would someone with a Harvard MBA choose to go into the janitorial business instead of a more sophisticated profession?”
After taking a deep breath I responded. “I admit there is nothing glamorous about my industry. You’re right, it is not an industry where you will find many MBAs, much less a Harvard MBA. But I’ll let you in on a secret: It’s better to own the mop than to push the mop.”
As youngsters, many future entrepreneurs have vivid dreams of being business owners. They envision their product or service and sometimes try their hands as entrepreneurs by creating childish items to sell.
Such was not the case for me. Growing up in a sleepy farming village in Virginia, I never dreamed of being an entrepreneur. Everyone I knew worked for someone else. My unexpected entry into the world of entrepreneurship happened years later, after graduate school.
Getting my MBA from Harvard Business School, I anticipated becoming a corporate executive. Little did I know that corporate America was not breathlessly awaiting the arrival of a young black woman with a Harvard MBA, even if she was the first black woman to get such a degree. Not one corporation recruited me, and I did not rush to seek them out. During the six years after graduation, I held four jobs. From time to time I wondered, “When will I get to use this MBA?”