Alberto de la Rivaherrera has always dreamt of flying airplanes. Despite family assumptions that he would follow their lead and go into medicine, he was fascinated by aviation and wanted to be a pilot. He planned to combine his love of airplanes and the ocean to land planes on aircraft carriers.

Straight Path to the Skies

De la Rivaherrera was raised in Naples, Florida. His dad is an emergency room physician who immigrated from Spain, while his mom is a dentist from Puerto Rico. He grew up with one older sister, and they were raised in a bilingual household, speaking mostly Spanish at home. He describes his childhood as somewhat idyllic.

“I was a good kid and a serious student, and I always wanted to do my best,” de la Rivaherrera says. “I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel quite a bit to see family in Spain and Puerto Rico, but also other parts of the world. I was always interested in learning about other places.”

He decided in high school that the best way to become a pilot and explore the world was to become an officer in the military. His first instinct was to join the Navy, but with flying planes his ultimate goal, he set his sights on the Air Force Academy.

He hit a speedbump in his plan when he went to an Air Force cadet camp during the summer before his senior year. There, he got a glimpse of boot camp and grew scared.

“I told my dad, ‘No way, I’m not doing that,’ but he told me to be careful not to close doors because of fear,” de la Rivaherrera says. “I took his advice and stuck with it. Because of that conversation, I made a major life decision to forge ahead, which is why I am who I am today.”

Inspired by his travels as a child, he majored in international relations with a focus on Europe and Russia and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2016.

Sustainable Business Strategy

Figuring Out His Purpose

After graduating from the Air Force Academy, de la Rivaherrera reported to a pilot training school in Texas that summer. But by spring the following year, he no longer wanted to be a pilot. The training was arduous, long, and no longer excited him. Instead, he decided to pivot to the “business,” or operations, side and help people on the ground.

His next job was in the Airmen Bioengineering Division of the Air Force in Ohio, helping to manage projects to aid airmen in better managing the physical and cognitive stress of long flights.

“Everyone at the Academy was required to take a lot of techie subjects like aeronautical and mechanical engineering,” he says. “I wasn’t super at math and preferred the [humanities] ‘fuzzy’ courses."

De la Rivaherrera was grateful for the technical education that positioned him for a role in the Bioengineering Division, interfacing with scientists daily.

In his third year of a six-year Air Force career, he started to think about life beyond the military. He enjoyed project managing software development and decided he would continue on that path.

An acquaintance, who worked at HBS Online, piqued his interest in taking courses to ensure business was the right path for him. He discovered Sustainable Business Strategy, saying that, during the course, “the lightbulb came on.” He was inspired by HBS Online Professor Rebecca Henderson’s three Ps—Purpose, Planet, and Profit—and asked himself, “What difference can I make, even within a huge government-run bureaucracy?”

Sustainable Business Strategy, followed by HBS Online’s Global Business, helped him chart his career path beyond his Air Force duty. De la Rivaherrera is scheduled to complete his Air Force term in the spring of 2022 and plans to go immediately to business school to earn an MBA.

When asked what he liked best about his HBS Online experience, he says he loved the cohort-based learning model.

“It fostered a community,” he says. “Because you share your answers and insights with the other students, you need to think twice and be thoughtful in your responses. It was way more rewarding than sitting through a lecture because others would challenge or validate your views.”

He adds, “The cases were phenomenal. I got engulfed in the videos; they made you feel like you were in sort of a planetarium, right in the tea fields in Asia, learning about the dangers of palm oil. And hearing from the executives at huge companies about their strategies solving their problems was amazing.”

In the fall of 2019, de la Rivaherrera left Ohio and volunteered to deploy to Honduras as assistant director of operations for a joint mission of humanitarian work focused on strengthening U.S. relations in Central and South America and deterring drug trafficking in the region. What was supposed to be a six-month deployment turned into eight months, because the coronavirus pandemic closed U.S. borders. He was finally airlifted out of Honduras in May 2020, and took a short break before moving to Boston to start his current role at Kessel Run, which he describes as the Silicon Valley startup within the Air Force.

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Bridging to Business

“After I learned about Kessel Run, I was obsessed with getting the job,” de la Rivaherrera says. “It was exactly what I had in mind after taking my HBS Online courses because it was truly a way that I could make a difference in a large, government-run bureaucracy.”

De la Rivaherrera is now a product manager working on, essentially, “map-making” for Air Operations Centers worldwide, planning more efficient and effective missions, which, in turn, curb pollution and save taxpayers money.

He is adjusting to life in Boston. Although he says it was strange moving during a pandemic, he loves the walkability of the city. The Florida native has even recently learned how to surf—of all places—in the frigid waters of Massachusetts’ North Shore.

Up next, he’s considering taking HBS Online’s Credential of Readiness (CORe) program to better prepare for his MBA and plans to begin applying to business schools next year.

“After business school, I’d like to work abroad for a multinational firm and target sustainability through tech,” de la Rivaherrera says. “I’d love to be able to leverage my studies in international relations and global business, and my professional skills in agile software development, to fight the good fight against climate change. I want to be fulfilled in a job that has a purpose bigger than myself.”

Are you interested in learning more about how you can balance doing well in business by doing good? Explore our three-week Sustainable Business Strategy and four-week Global Business courses.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.