We Need a Field Manual for Business
When this Harvard MBA’s graduation speech went viral, he found a new career mission.
As co-founder of MBAs Across America, Casey Gerald traveled the nation to discover how mission-driven entrepreneurs, far from Wall St. or Silicon Valley, were tackling the biggest challenges facing our communities. To hear him speak is to hear a leading voice of his generation—a remarkable orator who riveted audiences as the closing speaker at TED2016 and Barack Obama’s opener at SXSW2016.
Casey Gerald has witnessed every facet of the American Dream: from his harrowing Texas childhood, to the heights of America’s institutions—as a student at Yale and Harvard; on Wall Street and in Washington—to his journeys through the American heartland, where he spent his recent years as cofounder and CEO of MBAs Across America (MBAx). His talk “The Gospel of Doubt” is considered one of the all-time best TED talks. He is currently writing his first book, There Will Be No Miracles Here, to be published by Riverhead Books.
“Casey Gerald’s north star is not anchored in the opinions of others or the appearance of power. He is anchored in values that cannot be constructed, but can be demonstrated — truth, freedom and courage.”— Vogue
MBAx began with four friends and a simple question: what if we used our education not just to make a buck, but to make a difference? That question led Gerald and his three Harvard Business School classmates to trade their classrooms and cubicles for an RV, traveling 8,000 miles across America in the summer of 2013 to work hand-in-hand with purpose-driven entrepreneurs. That first journey was just the beginning. Over three summers, 68 students from the nation’s top business schools traveled over 50,000 miles into 41 cities and towns—from Detroit and New Orleans to rural Montana and Appalachia—working with 73 entrepreneurs and small business owners who were not only creating jobs, but also solving some of the biggest challenges facing their communities.
This work made MBAx one of the most sought-after experiences for top graduate students and small business owners across the country. The program was featured in The New York Times, Financial Times, NPR, Forbes, and elsewhere. It was also the basis of the HLN docu-series Growing America.
But the mission of MBAx was never about elite schools or a selective application process. It was shaped by a belief that each of us has the power to roll up our sleeves and transform our communities, country, and generation—without waiting for anyone’s permission. So in 2016, Gerald and his co-founder decided to put MBAx out of business and share the model freely, through MBAx Open Road, a toolkit that has already been put to use by students around the world. Gerald also helped turn MBAx into a program at Harvard Business School, the HBS Neighborhood Business Partnership.
Gerald’s leadership led to his selection as the 2014 Class Day Speaker at Harvard Business School, where he gave a speech that was hailed as the greatest speech ever by an MBA. Fast Company featured him on the cover of its “Find Your Mission” issue, and named him one of the Most Creative People in Business. He and his work have been written about widely, from Texas Monthly to Italian Vogue, which said that he “just might be the voice of his generation, the answer to a hyperkinetic era.”
In this talk, Casey Gerald unpacks the urgent need and opportunity for us to embrace a “new playbook for change,” challenging existing notions of entrepreneurship, unleashing the power of every individual to make a difference, and making business a true force for good in the world. As Gerald says: “It’s not the what or the how, but it’s the why, that is at the heart of creative entrepreneurs. It’s the why that sparks the revolution.”
Now is the time—when many of our most trusted institutions and deeply-held beliefs are under siege—to embrace uncertainty and make a little room for doubt. In a deeply personal, profoundly moving, surprisingly funny talk (based on his popular TED Talk), Casey Gerald champions the transformative power of doubt, and how it can help us rethink all outworn or unsustainable systems—from business to faith, philanthropy to government,