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The Citizen

HKS Citizen Q&A with Brian Henderson

20120830_154839 20130206_134050 20131004_180815 bh henderson pic IMG_2385 P1010486*what did you do before you came to the Kennedy School?

Right before school, I helped my friends launch an airline in California called Surf Air. If you ever get a chance to work on a startup with your friends, do it. Before that, I worked on Governor Mitt Romney’s finance team for his two presidential campaigns. I raised money from the western states and had the time of my life. There’s nothing quite like the energy and urgency of a national campaign.

*what did you do and whom did you tell first when you got accepted to HKS? 

The email caught me by surprise. I was in Kansas City, Missouri for work. I called my dad right away. He sacrificed a lot for me as a single teenage father, so we had a nice moment talking about how far we had both come. I also called my mom, my grandmother, and a few friends who all helped me get to this opportunity.

*what’s something new and adventurous you want to experience?

I’d love to rocket through the Alps in one of those wing suits, but I don’t think my insurance covers broken necks from leaping off of mountains. I’d also love to cross the Pacific Ocean in a boat one day. I’m not picky about it either. It can have a motor, GPS, and a crew. For now though, I’ll settle for the exhilaration of J-Term. Looking forward to that rush!

*what’s the best thing about Cambridge? 

I quite like that we have an unofficial mascot turkey popping up all over town. Have you seen it around? Given the battle between Cambridge pedestrians and drivers, I admire its survival skills. Seriously though, I enjoy living in the heart of Harvard Square. It’s hard to beat a five-minute walk to campus. I’ve also enjoyed the local food haunts. Can I recommend the nacho plate from Felipe’s? Take a friend, though, because you shouldn’t try climbing that mountain of chips, cheese, pico, and guacamole goodness alone.

*what do you miss most about your hometown? 

I miss living near an NBA playoff contender in Salt Lake City, where I grew up. Wait. Not this year. As a Utah Jazz fan lately, like Bono said, sometimes it’s the dark before the dawn. I miss the energy of BYU football and basketball games. I miss my “Babushka”—my grandmother, who is a hero to me. She’s not Russian. I just heard the term on a TV commercial once and the nickname stuck. I also miss the 80-degree “winters” in Phoenix, where I lived before school.

*what are your 3 proudest achievements (other than being interviewed here of course)? 

Professionally, though we came up short, I’m proud of my contribution to our unprecedented fundraising success that allowed Mitt—a man of extraordinary capacity and integrity—to share his vision with the American people. Personally, I’m proud of my commitment to higher education, and the professional and public service doors it has opened to me. Finally, serving a two-year mission in France for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) remains a defining accomplishment in my life. It taught me the importance of serving others, and gave me some of my dearest friendships in return.

*Bieber or GAGA? 

I’m more of a Coldplay and U2 guy. A few years ago, one of my best friends and I flew to London to see Coldplay at Wembley Stadium. Two nights in a row, we ended up ten feet from the band for part of the show. If you’ve never had an acoustic sing along with 80,000 people and your favorite band, I highly recommend it. I’ll also never forget seeing U2 in Salt Lake City after 9/11. Bono, the Edge, Larry and Adam delivered a masterful performance that lifted our spirits. Nobody wanted to leave, not even the band. I’ll always get goose bumps thinking about that show.

*in your experience, are public figures more fascinating in real life? Can you give an example? 

Public figures don’t mesmerize me. They have strengths and weaknesses like the rest of us. What I admire is their courage to say, “I will take the risk of this campaign or this public effort.” I look forward to seeing how my classmates will carry that torch. HKS is an ideal place to prepare for that. I recommend Professor Frank Hartmann’s advice: Spend some time alone this year walking along the Charles, asking yourself what you really believe and why, and what you’re going to do about it. Then get to work on it.

* what one item is essential to your everyday life and why? 

A man I admire once said, “Remembrance is the seed of gratitude which is the seed of generosity.” I’m trying to cultivate that in my life, so a year ago I started writing myself a quick note of gratitude every evening for something I experienced that day. It’s become an indispensible daily routine, and has helped me become more aware of the massive amount of good experiences and people in my life.

*what are you hoping to do once you graduate?

I care deeply about my country and the direction of our foreign and domestic policy agenda. I want to help shape that conversation. I want to be involved in job creation and economic development through entrepreneurship, and to wrestle with the big questions around national security and energy issues. I’ll go in one of those directions, wherever I can put my strengths to their best use. If all that fails, I’m going to try and pull a Mark Cuban—build a billion dollar company, sell it, buy an NBA team, and win a championship. When I do, I’ll hook you up with tickets!