Words of wisdom from US Economist Larry Summers

Its not every day that you get to listen to the former White House economic advisor to President Obama and when you get the chance to listen up, my personal view is that you should take it.

Larry Summers is currently in Ireland for the F.ounders event and meeting various Government Officials and gave a talk in the Citi Building, which is where the City Centre EMBA lectures take place. One of my MBA classmates tipped me off and I decided to drop by before going into our Investment Management lecture on derivatives.

It was interesting to hear Mr. Summers talk about economic policy and afterwards give advice to the audience on career paths and success. He said that you need 3 things to succeed in your career (and maybe life) – ability, work ethic and ….luck – and an equal measure of all three.

Mr. Summers advised the audience to figure out what they like doing – what they are good at and to find out where that overlaps with what the market wants. Once they find that, he advised people to work hard and that having a ‘healthy attitude’ to working was vital. While the third aspect, luck, is a little more intangible and is somewhat out of one’s control, he quoted golfing legend Gary Player who said ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get.’

After the talk ended, I spoke with Mr. Summers and asked him if he had any advice for MBA students given his experience as President of Harvard. He explained the importance of an economic term I had not heard before called ‘fungability’ which relates to interchangeability. He also spoke about the importance of finding a niche area.

Cheryl Sandberg previously worked for Mr. Summers and after consulting with him, decided to leave her secure Government job and join a then unknown start-up called Google. She is now on the Board of Directors of Facebook, Starbucks and Disney – so I’d be inclined to heed his advice!

– Conor O’Donovan, EMBA 2011-13