Student Spotlight: Steven Sarao


HKS Sarao005 HKS Sarao004 HKS Sarao001 Camelback Mountain behind me during our Arizona Trek.What did you do before you came to the Kennedy School?

That is a short question with a long but very exciting answer.  Before coming to the Kennedy School, I worked for the New York City Police Department (NYPD); my last assignment was the 30th Precinct Detective Bureau as their Executive Officer.  I supervised a group of the most amazing and talented Detectives.  I am continually humbled by the depth of talent within the Detective Bureau of the NYPD; the greatest Detectives in the world.  We handled homicides, armed robberies, grand larcenies, rapes, to name just a few.  Prior to that I spent four dark miserable years assigned to the Internal Affairs Bureau.  Investigating Police corruption cases is what they call a “necessary evil.”  It wasn’t my favorite assignment but I made some very good friends along the way and together we made our work time enjoyable in the midst of investigating some crazy but significant allegations.  Before that I spent the majority of my career working in the Bronx, as a Patrol Sergeant, doing Street Narcotics Enforcement (SNEU) and working in the 48th Precinct Detective Bureau on the investigative track to becoming a Detective.  My days in the 48th Precinct were filled with many valuable lessons from some of the best cops that I have ever been privileged to work with.  There are too many names to mention from the 48th Precinct, they are the best cops I have known.

Prior to the NYPD I ran my own investigations consulting firm, which handled investigations for corporations and law firms from offices in New York and New Jersey with international affiliates.  After 9/11, I really felt that I wanted to serve the public and decided to move my family from New Jersey to join the New York City Police Department.  I believe that I made a great decision, although bold and counter intuitive at that point in my life.

During my time working in the private sector, I was also the founder and President of the Board of Trustees of a progressive Jewish Day School in Paramus, New Jersey called Ben Porat Yosef.  The school opened in September 2001 with just 27 children in a toddler and Pre-Kindergarten Program but this year will graduate its first eighth grade class.  The school has a nationally recognized Hebrew language immersion program that allows the students to gain complete fluency very early on because of the depth of its language immersion.  I am quite proud of the work of Ben Porat Yosef and hope that the school will continue to break new ground in advancements in education and a renaissance approach to living in and viewing the world.

When you knew for certain that you were going to graduate at the end of this month, whom did you tell first and what was the reaction?

I still am not certain that I am going to graduate.  I actually check my email quite regularly and expect Amy Davies to gently break the bad news to me any day now.  I continually look around and am shocked that I am here.  Wait, I think I am getting an email from Amy now…..

Your history of service to New York City is extensive. Can you tell us about your professional experience in the city and a few of your most memorable moments?

I have had a pretty good career thus far in the most amazing city in the world. I don’t think that I am ready to print stories from my career that will shock and awe, hope that doesn’t disappoint.  Suffice to say, I have seen humankind at their worst and it has certainly changed who I am and how I navigate the world around me.  Trust remains an obstacle for all of us, but when you watch people in their darkest moments, facing adversity and truly struggling in their personal life, well, I would say that truth and honesty take on a new meaning when people are fighting for their own survival.  I also have great memories of watching the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, parades of every ethnic and religious group that you can imagine and how the city just seems to come together in such a beautiful way.  New York City is a great place to live and work.

We have to ask, what made Jane Street Seafood Café so special?

Jane Street Seafood was a wonderful restaurant in Greenwich Village, New York.  I tended bar there many moons ago and became close friends with many retired NYPD Detectives who frequented the place and continually suggested that I join the Police Department.  They guided me well.  The food was amazing and my co-workers were lots of fun.  The place has since closed but the memories will remain for a lifetime.

Smart Car or Scion iQ?

Can I Google that question?  I can’t imagine myself getting into any one of those miniature tuna cans.  Do they actually transport people?  I will make you a deal; when the NYPD begins issuing those cars to its officers I will be happy to take a ride in one, is that fair?

Tell us about this HackLab thing and how you got into it. 

I was recommended to the Harvard Innovation Lab from a classmate, Adam LaReau. I have had an amazing time learning code, advising on a few high-tech start-ups and even have begun working on a crime reduction mobile application of my own that received amazing reviews by the iLab panel of judges this past year.  HackLab is a place where anyone can walk in and begin learning and working with code, and essentially building an application in real time.  It is amazing to see what happens when you put bright people from around the Harvard community together.  It’s a little geeky but I’m adjusting.  My kids tell me that geeks are cool but I am still not so convinced.

You’re probably from Galloway, New Jersey, if…?

If you have a Southern New Jersey accent, do your food shopping at Starn’s Shoprite and go to the local gun club for Pancake Breakfasts on Sunday mornings.  I kid you not!

I grew up in Cologne, New Jersey, which is a small town that is part of Galloway Township.  Galloway Township is located in Atlantic County and just minutes from Atlantic City, New Jersey.  It is a rural farm community and quite different from the New York City that I call home today.  Many of my old friends from grade school and even High School reside there.  The area is quiet, tranquil and in the summer you can pick your own blueberries.  I miss playing little league baseball in Galloway Township.  When your team won a game, the Township would buy you a slice of pizza, a small soda and a piece of red licorice.  Best pizza ever.  During football season we won the championship during my final season and I can still remember hanging out on someone’s porch wearing our team jerseys listening to “We are the Champions” by Queen on someone’s huge Boom Box.  I visit Galloway as often as I can and my parents and grandparents still live in the area.

If you were graduating from HKS tomorrow, what is the best memory you’d take away?

I have made some of the most amazing friendships during my time at HKS.  Real friendships that push you to your limits, keep you honest, humble and challenge your thinking at every step of the way.   I have met people from around the globe who have faced challenges far greater than mine and have completed them with poise, dignity and a smile on their face.  My cohorts have inspired me in a deep and meaningful way.

What one item is essential to your everyday life and why?

I have been using the most amazing hair product since moving to Cambridge.  Its called Healthy Sexy Hair and I must admit it has put a bounce back in my step.  If I lost it or misplaced it I don’t know that I would be able to cope.  The soy and cocoa based concoction and I have become very close and have had some very intimate moments here at Harvard.

What are you looking forward to most between now and the day you graduate?

I am looking forward to not saying “pushback”, “echo”, or “building on what was just said” and other ridiculous sounding phrases that seem mandatory here at Harvard.  Do people realize how ridiculous we sound speaking like that?  I’m looking forward to watching some good old-fashioned television, the trashiest kind, which I have refrained from this year.  I’m looking forward to kissing my kids, talking with my kids and celebrating with them on their individual accomplishments.  I hope that my year here will communicate to them that it is never too late to learn, grow and push ourselves towards what we want in this life that we have been given.  I love them very much and look forward to sharing some uninterrupted quality time with each of them.

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