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Reservist earns MBA from Harvard

SCHREIVER AFB, Colo. -- Bill Gates dropped out of college and never earned one. President Bush got his in 1975. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s helped him lead the Ford Motor Co. after World War II and negotiate through the Bay of Pigs Crisis.

“It” is a master of business administration degree from Harvard University, and Maj. Brett J. B. Rota earned his in June. Major Rota is a traditional Reservist assigned to the 26th Space Aggressors Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo.

While more than 700 schools across the globe offer an MBA program, Harvard’s is considered the pinnacle by many. Only 900 attend per class. Fewer graduate. Still fewer use their degrees for application in military service as Major Rota is doing.

Major Rota said the journey through Harvard’s curriculum taught him an important lesson.

“Humility,” he said. “You are exposed to a remarkable group of individuals who help you to respect and appreciate the complexities in the world. You walk away humbled by the extraordinary people — from those at the Harvard Business School to those serving our country in the Air Force — who make profound contributions to the global community.”
Throughout the journey to earn the master’s degree, Major Rota discovered more about himself.

“It really made me appreciate the educational opportunity,” he said.

According to Harvard, about 8,500 people applied for 900 slots in the 2005 class. For an unmarried student to attend would cost about $61,000, according to the school, while a married student pays about $70,000 in tuition.

More than 70 chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies have MBAs. Those with Harvard MBAs include the CEOs of eBay, Federal Express and Nike. The mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, earned his Harvard MBA in 1966. Secretary of the Air Force James Roche earned his doctorate in business administration from Harvard in 1972.

Harvard’s online admission pamphlet offers this advice to prospective applicants: “Since our mission is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world, we are keenly interested in how you have demonstrated leadership, formally and informally, in college, in your extracurricular interests, and in the workplace.” Major Rota came prepared.

A third-generation Air Force pilot, Major Rota’s father, Capt. Jerry Bolt, flew F-4s, had 189 combat missions in Vietnam and died flying a test mission for the Air Force aerial demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, four days before Christmas in 1972.

His paternal grandfather flew B-17s and was killed in action during World War II. When his grandmother remarried, she found a B-24 pilot who later spent nine months as a prisoner of war in Germany. His maternal grandfather was also shot down as a B-17 pilot during the war; he later led his crew to successfully evade the enemy and escape capture.

After graduation as a member of the ROTC unit at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1993, Major Rota joined the Army. There, he led 30 people and managed eight UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters as a 22-year-old lieutenant.

“The Army leadership model is so much different than the Air Force’s,” the major said. “It’s a very different environment, and it helped develop my people skills.”

After five years in the Army, the major traded green for blue, becoming an Air Force combat search-and-rescue pilot. After four years active duty in the Air Force, he became a traditional Reservist. His first Reserve job was a tour at the Pentagon working as an individual mobilization augmentee for the Office of Legislative Liaison.

Now the major is being asked to apply his newly honed business skills. In both his work at a civilian management consulting firm and with the Air Force Reserve, Major Rota’s knowledge will be tested.

Lt. Col. Guy Morley, 26th Space Aggressors Squadron commander, hired Major Rota as a politico-military officer helping analyze and stop space threats.

“Brett is a tremendous asset to this organization,” Colonel Morley said. “His educational background and his work on active duty both in the Army and Air Force are tremendous assets as we fight space-based threats.”

The major is also excited about the opportunity to ply his skills, coupling what he calls a “tremendous sense of duty” with an excitement for what he’s doing. And while he may never deal with an incident like the Bay of Pigs or build a software giant, he said he will continue to serve.

“Earning the MBA education reinforced my belief that every group — NCOs, officers and civilians — is critical to what we do,” Major Rota concluded. “While earning the degree, I learned that success has very little to do with how smart you are but rather how well you work as a member of a team. That’s what counts.”

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