Be yourself - Everyone else is already taken. How do you go from humble roots to success in all walks of life? Be true to yourself no matter how intimidating the surroundings and always be willing to expand your world and your reach. Joe O'Donnell grew up in a tough, blue collar town and went on to graduate from Harvard College and Harvard Business School. O’Donnell has become one of Harvard's most devoted and inspiring leaders. He has been recognized as one of the most influential people in Boston. O'Donnell founded the Boston Culinary Group and is owner of Allied Advertising Agency. Of his many philanthropic efforts, the one that is closest to his heart is the Joey Fund, which he and his wife Kathy started to honor the memory of their son Joey who died at the age of 12 from cystic fibrosis.

The Lesson That Changed My Life

Joe: As you get older and you get a reputation for being reasonably candid, reasonably, because often times the danger with that is you end up thinking you know it all, and you're wrong.

I'm Joe O'Donnell and this is a lesson that changed my life.

I grew up in Everett, Mass, which is a blue-collar town. My father was a policeman. He was a professional boxer for a while. So he was a very honest, straight guy. You know, and he understood life. My mother was a homemaker. My mother was a trustee at the library, very bright. Her idea was, "You've got to go to college and do what I didn't get the chance to do." My father got that and basically said, "Well, you're going to go to Harvard.

My father, he arranged an interview at Harvard with a guy named Fred Glimp, the legendary Dean of Admissions. He ended up looking at my father and saying to him, "If he were my son, I would send him to prep school for a year." I almost fell out of my chair. He said, "You know, Exeter might be a nice place to go." And my father looked at me and he said, "Take Monday off. We're going to Exeter." It was 50 miles away. I thought it was in, like, Botswana. I had no idea.

And the first guy I ran into was Craig Stapleton. He is a past ambassador to France and the Czech Republic. And his father owned the Denver Broncos. And a tremendous guy. And he looked at me and he said, "I'm assigned to you." And he had a... He was a cheerleader. And where I come from, the cheerleaders had big haircuts and they're great looking. And I've got a guy cheerleader and I'm like, "What is that all about?" Because he said to me, "You want to play squash?" I'd never heard of squash. I thought you ate squash. And I didn't even like squash. And he's a partner of mine and a very close friend of mine. I talk to him almost every day. And he came from Mars and I came from Venus. I could see how different the world was. And it turned out to be transformational.

My first year at Harvard, the first class I went to, the professor said to the class, he said, "All right, let's go around the room and tell us your name, where you're from, and what your father does for a living." I'm hearing doctor, lawyer, business guy, doctor, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, doctor. And I'm going to say what, "My father's in law enforcement?" I mean, what am I... So I stood up and I said, you know, "I'm Joe O'Donnell, you know, from Everett. And my father is a cop." That was a moment, a defining moment for me, because I made a decision right then that for my time there, I was going to be myself.

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