Did Harvard really reject Jay-Z as a business role model? I sincerely hope not

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

But in Jay-Z’s defense, I must say that any business school professor who doesn’t believe that students can learn from him is DEAD WRONG.

Maria Lloyd recently wrote an article in which it was claimed that the rapper Jay-Z was rejected by a career counselor at Harvard University as an appropriate business role model.   I am not sure of the exact circumstances of the student’s allegation, and I am not sure if other Harvard faculty agreed.   All I know is that a young woman said that she admired Jay-Z for what he’s achieved in the business world, and she was shot down faster than an unidentified single engine plane flying over the White House.  In other words, she was told to find a more suitable business role model.

When I read the article, it made me sad and a little bit disgusted.  I don’t like Jay-Z very much, to be honest.  Although he is nothing short of a lyrical genius, I am deeply concerned about any man who earns over $60 million dollars in a year and only gives $6,000 to charity.  I had to agree with Harry Belafonte when he said that today’s leading black artists, namely Jay-Z and Beyonce, are ignoring their social responsibility by refusing to fight on the issues affecting black America, including violence, poverty, unemployment and mass incarceration. Also, the idea of making millions of dollars by promoting yourself as a “Nigga in Paris” to white people around the world is the epitome of a modern day minstrel show.

But in Jay-Z’s defense, I must say that any business school professor who doesn’t believe that students can learn from him is DEAD WRONG.

I’ve taught in various business schools over the last 19 years.  One of the most interesting things about teaching in a school of business is that you quickly find that most business school professors don’t know how to go out and actually make money. Sure, they’re experts at producing highly-complicated research papers that no one is ever going to read. But when asked to go into the real world to show that they can do the things they’re teaching students to do, most of them fail the test.

Another thing that most business school faculty don’t understand is struggle.  They have no idea what it’s like to be a black man, living in a housing project, surrounded by violence, joblessness and inadequate educational systems.  Most of the faculty at Harvard University or any other business school would not have been able to start where Jay-Z began and make it to adulthood as a healthy individual who wasn’t either dead or in jail.

Jay-Z (whose real name is Sean Carter) admits that he started off as a crack dealer.  But this makes him no worse than many of the other original gangsters who bullied their way to the top, especially around the turn of the century.  It is well-known that the Kennedy family built its original wealth  by engaging in as much illegal activity as Sean Carter.   This doesn’t include the massive wealth accumulated by white America for oppressing minorities and keeping them out of the economic system.

What makes Jay-Z special as a businessman is his ability to “flip” his wealth into the massive fortune that he has today.  He and his wife Beyonce have done a masterful job of managing their careers, making wise investments and avoiding many of the mistakes being made by other people in the music industry.  Jay-Z is not just a rapper, he’s an actual owner of valuable assets that will take good care of Blue Ivy Carter’s (his daughter) grandchildren.  So, while we can certainly critique Jay-Z for not giving a damn about anyone but himself, we must give him credit for his tremendous economic success.

I certainly hope that the faculty at Harvard are not elitist enough to ignore the impact that a man like Jay-Z has had on the business community.  The student was allegedly shunned back in 2005, which seems to be eons ago.   But one unmistakable fact is that whether you love him or hate him (I personally feel he has fallen short of his potential), Jay-Z is a force in the business community and he didn’t get that way by being stupid.

Perhaps the black students at Harvard can learn from Jay-Z’s swag, take it to the next level and mix it with a bit of social responsibility. That’s how we can use the power of money to do something truly great.  In fact, Oprah is already doing it.


Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He is also the creator of the Building Outstanding Men and Boys Family Empowerment Series.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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