Beauty Brands and B-School: How I’m Thriving at Harvard Business School
By: Day Rankin
Nicole Clay calls herself an MLT-Lifer. The Career Prep, MBA Prep, and MBA PD Alumna jokingly says, “If MLT has a parenting prep or buying your first house seminar, I’ll be there.”
Nicole’s career path has spanned from working at L’Oréal USA to attending Harvard Business School where she’s currently Co-President of the African-American Student Union. This year, she also started an entrepreneurial journey as the co-founder of Hue Beauty, a beauty-meets-tech company that’s helping people find makeup products that match their skin tone.
Thank you for joining me today to talk about your experience ahead of MLT’s 2021 Pre-App Seminar. Can you please share where you were in your career when you decided to apply to business school?
Sure. I had been at L’Oreal for about four years before I decided to apply to business school. I worked my way up the ladder and reached a point where I was a bit fatigued with what I was doing. I wanted to challenge myself, and take time to self-reflect and become a better, more intentional leader as I grew from the junior level to a mid-level role. I saw going to business school as a way to pivot outside of my comfort zone.
Please describe MLT’s impact on your personal and professional success.
MLT has supported me in every single way. I came into HBS knowing at least 15 people. It made it easy to not have imposter syndrome because I saw people reflected on campus who had the same background, had just gone through the same experience, and knew me pretty intimately. I felt like I belonged immediately. It’s given me a lot of freedom and confidence to essentially be myself, whether I’m with other MLTers or not.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to stand out in the MBA application process?
If you want to stand out in your business school application, be authentic. That’s my biggest advice. Don’t write the essay that you think they want to hear. Write about your own experience, because no one else has lived your experience. If you want a unique perspective, your lived experience is a unique perspective. No one else can recreate that.
What is the best part about attending Harvard Business School?
The best part about Harvard is the people. There are so many incredible, talented and awe-inspiring people here. I’ve had conversations with people whom I would have never had conversations with before, because it’s such an international school. They attract such a diverse group of people.
Also, the faculty are so inspiring and willing to help from an entrepreneurial standpoint. We have professors and faculty on staff who reach out to us like, “Hey, I heard what you ladies are working on. I know someone…” Most of the connections we’ve made for our startups have come through the faculty. I did not expect that coming in.
For minorities, being one of few can feel isolating. How does Harvard support inclusivity, diversity, and belonging?
I feel like I have a community of people here whom I trust and that I can be myself with…But, I still felt isolated at times—especially during COVID. You’re taking classes, sitting in your room, or at your desk. It’s hard to reach out and hard to ask for help. I, luckily, had a roommate who is also an MLT powerhouse. Having her as an accountability buddy was great.
I’ve also taken advantage of Harvard’s mental health services. They’re very open and available for students. At an MLT seminar, there was a panel and someone asked, “What advice do you have for incoming business school students?” I’ll never forget this girl at Kellogg who said, “Find a therapist before you even get on campus.” The entire room laughed. But I was like, “Yeah, she’s right…” I took that to heart.
How do you hope to pay it forward after finishing business school, and what are your post-MBA goals?
After graduation, I’m going to pursue entrepreneurship full steam ahead. I believe that representation is really important. If I’m walking around my old neighborhood in Detroit and there’s a young girl who sees me pumping gas with my Harvard cap on, that means so much.
I also feel the same way about the lack of representation with Black women in entrepreneurship. I was hesitant to go full steam ahead because of financial reasons. If my startup fails or if I don’t have an income, I don’t feel comfortable leaning on my family for that. I have to support myself. It’s a risk that I’m taking, and I am really excited to do it. To see a Black woman fully pursuing her own startup and working for herself, supported by other women—I think that is really important.