Columbia Business School Dean Emeritus Shares Lessons Learned

Meyer Feldberg looks back on his distinguished career in “No Finish Line”

Meyer Feldberg holding his diploma as a young man with his father
Meyer and Leon Feldberg at graduation

Meyer Feldberg '65 served as the dean of the Business School from 1989 to 2004, one of the many career experiences he writes about in his new book, No Finish Line: Lessons on Life and Career. In his book, Feldberg takes readers on his life's journey, one lesson learned at a time. From swimming competitively in South Africa at age 15, attending Columbia Business School, and meeting his wife in Israel to returning to the Business School years later as dean, Feldberg weaves an inspiring tale of a successful career and a life well-lived. Read below for an excerpt from No Finish Line, which is available from Columbia University Press.

Excerpt From No Finish Line:

"Is life about judgment or about luck? In my experience, it is about luck and judgment. In 1962, I was a world-class swimmer in Johannesburg. I was looking to go to the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. In 1962, the International Olympic Committee banned South Africa from the Olympics. This was very bad luck for me.

I immediately decided to apply to business schools in the United States. I applied to four schools and elected to go to Columbia Business School in the city of New York. Good judgment.

On my way to Columbia in 1963, I stopped in Israel for a week to visit my sister. A couple of days after arriving in Tel Aviv, I went to a hotel swimming pool for the afternoon. I sat a couple of feet away from a young girl. We started talking. She was from London and was at the hotel with her parents on vacation. That night, Barbara and I had dinner together.

We had dinner for three consecutive nights before she left to go back to London. Meeting her was good luck.

I followed her to London and spent a couple of months in that city before going to Columbia. Good judgment. Barbara got a job with TWA in London and was posted to New York. Both good judgment and good luck.

I graduated in 1965, and we were married in London in August of that year. My parents and my sister, Gaia, as well as Barbara’s family attended the splendid wedding. We have been married fifty-five years; we have two children and six grandchildren. Bad luck followed by good luck followed by good judgment followed by good luck followed by more good judgment. This can only be understood on reflection.

Luck and judgment determine almost all the important decisions we make in life. This doesn’t mean that we must take for granted that we will either have much good luck or good judgment. This means that we need to have a plan, a program, a focus, an objective, a career. We cannot have everything that we wish to have, but we can and we must look to the future as well as the present. We all have a propensity to languish. We tend to take things for granted and assume that it will all work out. We may know what we need to do but procrastinate because it means taking a risk, because we’re not decisive, or because we don’t have the energy—physical or intellectual—to move ahead.

Don’t allow yourself to be bullied to accommodate a bully. Even more important, don’t you ever be a bully. A bully is not confident. A bully is arrogant. Don’t threaten, and don’t be threatened. Be bold. Take risks. Go to new countries and cities in your late teens or early twenties. Leave home. Leave your family and friends behind you. Go to a new world and explore.

Hopefully your life will be long, productive, and happy. There will be bad moments. You can’t plan on everything, but you can have a view of the type of life you want to lead and who your partner will be.

A great life is one in which you are always moving forward. You are looking for variety. You are looking to travel. You are looking to overcome roadblocks. As you move from school to university, from university to a career, from being single to having a partner, you should never leave behind the friends and family you have accumulated over the years. Keep accumulating friends. A successful life means you still have, at the age of seventy-seven, friends with whom you went to school on another continent and close friends you met only a few years ago. Don’t lose friends along the course of your life. Acquire new ones. Bring them all together.

Go through your life giving credit to those who have been helpful, those who have been successful, and those who may fall on hard times. Always try to be generous and agreeable. Keep in mind that we depend on others and that they depend on us."

Excerpted from No Finish Line: Lessons On Life and Career Copyright (c) 2020 Columbia University Press. Used by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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