Joel Podolny

According to one of his blockmates, Joel M. Podolny ’86 was one of the first people in his class to use an Apple desktop computer for school.

“At first, I was a little bit envious but then I realized, ‘Hey, maybe I can get on there sometimes and type a paper instead of traipsing down to the science center,’” says James A. Messina ’86, Podolny’s roommate. “That was certainly a treat.”

Nearly 30 years later, Podolny has come full circle, leaving behind a two-decade career in academia—and a deanship at the Yale School of Management—to head Apple University, the company’s internal training program.

Though Apple has not publicly released specific information about the institution, those who know Podolny have attested that his leadership style and management abilities will be appreciated regardless of whether he works in academia or in private industry.



Podolny, who said he was unable to interview for this story due to Apple policy, came to Harvard from a relatively privileged background, according to Messina.

“I came judging him as a little bit of a rich kid when I first met him,” Messina says, noting that Podolny hailed from an affluent Cincinnati neighborhood and was educated at private school, while Messina came from a public school background.

Nonetheless, Messina says that his friendship with Podolny throughout their college careers reminds him of a John Hughes movie—”The Breakfast Club,” in particular.

Messina’s initial impression quickly faded when Podolny joined the Big Brother/Big Sister program and mentored a teenager named Steve, taking him to professional wrestling matches and out for ice cream.

“It was really neat to see that side of Joel, that he had such a big heart,” Messina says.

Though Podolny took part in community service and joined the crew team, Messina says that Podolny also took on a challenging academic load in Social Studies, and his dedication to his coursework left him extremely stressed.

As sophomores in North House—now Pforzheimer House—Messina says that Podolny was beginning to noticeably struggle and seemed to be an “insomniac” for an entire semester. But despite his troubles, Messina says that Podolny’s commanding intellect developed perceptibly throughout their undergraduate years.

“He was not sleeping at all, but still doing amazing work,” Messina says.

Podolny ended up graduating magna cum laude and returned to Harvard the next year to pursue his Ph.D. in sociology.