Rutherfurd on Rutherfurd


Q. But then you went to California, to Stanford. How did that come about?

A. Thanks to my other mentor, Val Lewthwaite. He had an MBA from Stanford and he'd been trying to raise the standard of business education in WHSmith, and persuade them to put myself and several other colleagues through business school. While I was still working for him in England, he'd taken me to California and sent me to several US campuses. In fact, I'd already been accepted for two or three MBA courses before the chance to take the New York job had arisen. So now he called me up to tell me he'd enrolled me in the Sloan course at Stanford. It's a wonderful course, like a one-year MBA for people who are already some way along in their careers.

Q. So the future novelist went to Stanford Business School. That's a little unusual.

A. It made sense at the time. Remember, I didn't think I could make it as a writer. My future looked to be in the book business. Although my company had hit trouble, there weren't many people around with the sort of transatlantic experience I'd gained. My hope was to qualify myself to go further in books, and maybe set up some kind of publishing business of my own one day.

Q. You seem to hold Stanford, and California, in special affection. I assume the course impressed you.

A. Beyond my wildest expectations. Firstly, it was highly liberal. We covered finance to psychology, entrepreneurship to ethics, accounting to international relations. For economics, we had the privilege of being the last class ever taught by the great Professor Lee Bach - one of the most beautiful socratic minds of his generation. The group was remarkable, forty-two of us I think, from all over the world. We had big and small business executives, bankers, people from the military and government agencies, entrepreneurs, people from the big charities, an ecologist, a research scientist, a doctor, you name it. As for the Stanford campus, between Palo Alto, San Francisco and the Napa Valley, life doesn't get much better. It was one of the happiest and most intellectually challenging years of my life.

Q. I still think it's strange for a novelist to go to business school.

A. Well, I disagree with you. Business, and all that goes with it, forms a huge part of contemporary life. In my opinion, the more a writer understands about the way things work - politics, the law, business, the military, the arts and the natural sciences - the better. Some of the best writers - Chekhov, Somerset Maughan, Conan Doyle - have been doctors, for instance.

Q. But it was nevertheless at Stanford that you decided to write again. What happened?

A. Case studies. A lot of the teaching is by case study. We did several a week. And every time, I kept thinking: Hey, I could really make a story out of this. Both the human drama and the technical situation described - the interaction of the two - were fascinating to me. And this perception and this feeling just grew stronger and stronger as the year went on until it became an imperative.

Q. Not what's supposed to happen at Stanford Business School.

A. Are you sure? For many people, a course of this kind also becomes a period of personal reevaluation. I knew several cases where people changed their lives. Indeed one of our professors would frequently remind us that success in any field comes not from your qualifications but from your inborn talent and the skills you develop from them. That's why I tell my own kids now: "Follow a career where what you do comes naturally. At least you'll be happy; and you'll never succeed at anything else because you won't be good enough."

Q. Did any one class at Stanford particularly affect this decision?

A. One of the classes was in entrepreneurship. We learned about making a business plan, how venture capital works, and all that. But the whole message of the final class was: Follow your dream, follow your heart; without that you have nothing. So that's what I did.

Q. You were what age?

A. Almost thirty-six. As a cousin of mine cheerfully remarked to me: "Good age to succeed. Bad age to fail."

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