Rebecca McCarron Greenhalgh is no stranger to smart wordsmithing, so it was unusual when she was suddenly speechless during an important Zoom meeting.
After receiving some surprising news, she fell silent for so long that she was sure the woman on the other side of the screen, Janine Tangney, was feeling a bit uncomfortable.
The news? Tangney had offered Greenhalgh a content developer position with Harvard Business School Online. “I didn’t know how to respond because I wasn’t expecting that,” Greenhalgh says. “I just stared at her. She was probably thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, what have we done?’”
But Tangney felt far from awkward. “We were all impressed by Becky throughout the interview process—her professionalism, experience working with faculty, and writing skills—so it was funny that she was so surprised that she got the job,” says Tangney, director of content development at Harvard Business School Online.
Of course, Greenhalgh quickly recovered from her surprise and gratefully accepted the position. The 1991 BYU Marriott alumna knew her new post would have a steep learning curve, but the prospect didn’t deter her—rather, that was one of the biggest draws. “I’m passionate about learning and pushing through your fears,” she says.
Faced with this challenge, she leaned on her degree in business management with an emphasis in marketing–international business, her enthusiasm for education, and an attitude she’d started cultivating years before.
That can-do attitude emerged when Greenhalgh, as a BYU freshman, received a finals week survival kit from her parents that contained, among other goodies, an information booklet about BYU. It was there that she first learned about the university’s study abroad program in London, and she was immediately hooked.
“I was so excited about the possibility,” she recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Go. Zero to go.’ I knew that was what I was going to do.”
Since that time, Greenhalgh has only continued to accelerate in her career, love of learning, and passion for increasing others’ access to education.
Taking It to the Next Level
A London study abroad wasn’t Greenhalgh’s first experience with international travel. At 14, she spent time in Ireland with her father, a native Irishman, as he scouted possible locations for the expansion of his manufacturing firm, McCarron Electric Company, which was based in Monterey Park, California.
“Ireland was eye-opening,” Greenhalgh says. “It was the first time I had really traveled anywhere. I got this sense that the world is so extraordinary, and I wanted to see as much of it as possible.”
During her sophomore year at BYU, she met her finals-week goal of participating in BYU’s six-month London study abroad. The experience led her to earn a minor in English, but it wasn’t until she began her BYU Marriott coursework that she felt that she’d finally found her place.
“You can’t go wrong with business. That is my firm belief,” Greenhalgh says. She remembers her professors “kicking it up to the next level,” challenging her in ways that have helped her more effectively approach problems in her career. “They did not shy away from making the coursework difficult and pushing you to grow. That allowed me to accomplish many of the things I’ve done in my life, especially when I’ve needed to simply push ahead and make things happen,” she says.
Shortly before graduating, Greenhalgh met her future husband, Bryce, who earned a degree in electrical engineering from BYU in 1992. The couple married and then settled in the Seattle area a few months later, where Greenhalgh prepared to take the GMAT and apply to MBA programs, headed full tilt toward a career in business. But some unexpected events brought her up short—both figuratively and literally.
Navigating the Bumps in the Road
First, Bryce was accepted into Boston University’s master’s in biomedical engineering program. Greenhalgh was nervous, but the couple packed up their belongings and drove across the country, a small travel trailer bouncing along behind their Ford Bronco.
Then came the second blow: shortly after arriving in Boston, with their trailer tucked away at a friend’s house, the Greenhalghs were combing the city for a place to live when they got into a wreck. Their car was totaled.
“It felt like everything was falling apart around us,” Greenhalgh says. They had no car and no apartment and were in a city where—at that moment—she didn’t want to be. They reached out to a local Church leader for assistance, and he and his wife offered the couple a room at their house until they could find a place of their own.
Years later, Greenhalgh still feels the potency of that act of kindness. “It was one of those things that probably wasn’t a big deal to them, but just to be able to stay there and have them wrap their arms around us was fantastic,” she explains. “It was a game changer for us.”
It wasn’t long before the couple secured an apartment, and Greenhalgh began checking the want ads. She was working for a temp agency when she applied for a part-time editorial coordinator opening at Harvard Business Publishing, which transitioned to a full-time position shortly after she started.
Greenhalgh was overjoyed.
“In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined myself working at Harvard Business School,” she says. “But I don’t believe in coincidence or luck. I feel like I was guided to be there.”
Jumping at the Chance
A short while after the birth of their first son, Camden, and Bryce’s graduation in 1996, the couple decided it was time to return to Washington. They settled in Woodinville, just outside of Seattle. Greenhalgh soon took another position within Harvard Business School (HBS): contract copyeditor with the Division of Research and Faculty Development. The position combined her love of language and business; her responsibilities included copyediting a wide variety of publications, including books, articles, case studies, and other materials.
Though her new role kept her knee-deep in projects, she made a goal to never turn down an assignment. “I think that was good for me, especially when you fast forward to what I’m doing now,” she says. “It gave me a breadth of experience in so many areas.”
Switching to part-time work allowed her more time to raise her son as well as the two children who followed: a daughter, Bryn, and a second son, Ethan. Greenhalgh has been heavily involved in their lives, including homeschooling them for several years.
“Becky has always impressed me with how she tackles challenges with amazing persistence,” says Bryce. He calls Greenhalgh “the core of our family,” in part because of her ability to juggle her work and family responsibilities. “Somehow Becky finds ways to accomplish all these things and do them well. She can handle most anything,” he says.
The rhythm of Greenhalgh’s life picked up when her two youngest children became involved in competitive jump rope, a sport in which participants skip in synchronization at incredible speeds or while doing tricks such as cartwheels or backflips.
Greenhalgh began heading to national and international jump rope competitions with her children and their team, where she shouldered many responsibilities, including judging. She volunteered as a judge for speed and freestyle events and became certified with the World Jump Rope Federation through online training and judges’ workshops.
“Jump rope is still my absolute favorite sport to watch,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, competitions were stressful and a ton of work, but they were so fun. That time in my life was one of my favorites.”
Leading from a Place of Confidence
During what would have been Ethan’s banner year in jump rope, everything came to a screeching halt when the pandemic hit. Not only were competitions canceled and schools closed, but HBS had to let go of all contract employees, Greenhalgh says. She was suddenly out of work.
But after a few months, she received the offer for her current, full-time position from HBS Online, and she was off to the races.
As a content developer, “my job is to take a faculty member's remarkable expertise and bring it into an online format,” she explains. “There are so many moving parts to creating an online course. In this organization, no job is too small. You do whatever is needed to bring the course to life.”
Greenhalgh’s latest project—and her first solo one—was a course titled Business Strategy, which launched in September 2022. Collaborating with Felix Oberholzer-Gee, the HBS Andreas Andresen Professor of Business Administration in the Strategy Unit, Greenhalgh adapted content from
Oberholzer-Gee’s book Better, Simpler Strategy: A Value-Based Guide to Exceptional Performance into a six-module course.
Developing high-quality online classes comes with many challenges, not least of which is making sure the content is clear, cohesive, and accessible, Greenhalgh observes. After all, in an asynchronous remote course, students can’t get real-time answers to their questions.
“This has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life,” Greenhalgh says. “When you’re an editor, you’re the expert; your role is to advise other people on what to change. Now my job is to create content and present it to faculty members, and their job is to tell me what needs to be reworked.
“Initially I compared myself constantly to my coworkers, and when I got difficult feedback, it was easy to take that as evidence that I wasn’t doing my job well,” she continues. “I finally told myself, ‘This is only going to work if I lead from a place of confidence. I have to let go of the side of the pool, stop believing that I’ll only do well if I'm the same as my colleagues, and be authentically me.’ As soon as I did that, I started finding more success.”
Seeking Out the Growth Zone
As a self-described “business nerd,” Greenhalgh loves being part of a process that helps provide an HBS education to anyone who wants to learn. HBS Online courses are open enrollment, and participants can earn certificates in subjects that align with their career goals, she explains
In fact, Greenhalgh believes that if she had to name “one reason why I’m doing what I’m doing, it would be that I’m deeply passionate about education,” she says. “We’re so quick to level ourselves and to put limits on what we can do. But truly, anyone can do anything with right mindset and the right education.”
Though she no longer homeschools her children, Greenhalgh encourages them to keep up their educational momentum by seeking new opportunities. Bryn is currently studying experience design and management at BYU Marriott and working as a trip-leader coordinator at Humanitarian Experience (nicknamed Humanitarian XP or, formerly, HEFY). She recently urged her mother and brother to participate in one of the company’s humanitarian trips, so Greenhalgh and Ethan traveled to Malta for two weeks in June 2022. There they painted walls, helped with landscaping, and taught refugees a class on—of course—jump roping.
The ways her seemingly disparate experiences have interwoven and benefited both her professional and personal lives have led Greenhalgh to conclude that learning opportunities should always be pursued, no matter how difficult they might seem.
“There’s a saying I love: ‘There’s no growth in the comfort zone, and there’s no comfort in the growth zone,’” she says. “Learning and growing aren’t easy, but they’re worth it. There’s never been something I’ve learned or extra work I’ve done that didn’t bounce back and bless me in some way.”
Written by Clarissa McIntire
Photography by Bradley Slade