Monday, August 18, 2008

A journalist in B-School wonderland - critique of Havard Business School students' values

Harry Hurt III reviews a book written by Phillip Broughton, which asks what kind of values are being instilled in business leaders.

This is why I chose public health instead.

So who are these future leaders and where do they come from? Although Mr. Broughton changes names and biographical details in describing his 895 classmates, he pulls no punches in his characterizations. Many of his peers, he says, hailed from one of the “three M” backgrounds: Mormons, former military officers, and former McKinsey & Company consultants. There was also a large contingent of so-called “international” students — Indians, other Asians, South Americans — most of whom had actually gone to colleges and/or high schools in the United States.

A second-year student who delivered a welcoming speech “told us that simply by getting into H.B.S., ‘You’ve won,’ ” Mr. Broughton reports. “From now on it was all about how we decided to govern our lives. There was something creepy about his Kennedyesque cadences and his well-practiced call to arms. But what he said would be repeated throughout my time at Harvard. H.B.S. was a brand as much as a school, and by attending, we were associating ourselves with one of the greatest brands in business.”

Mr. Broughton stresses that “in many ways, I loved my two years at Harvard.” His teachers were, “for the most part, inspiring and committed,” he says, and “smart and considerate” is how he describes his classmates.

“For me, and everyone I knew, Harvard changed the view of our futures and the possibilities available to us through business,” he observes. Yet among his fellow students, he also saw evidence of “arrogance” and an obnoxious “sense of entitlement.”


Along the way, Mr. Broughton says, he discovered that his classmates generally operated in only two modes: “deadly serious” and “frat boy.” He describes parties at which students slurped vodka poured down a channel in a block of ice called “the booze luge.” He recounts serving as the auctioneer at a charity fund-raiser during which he obligingly stripped off his shirt and tie and allowed himself to be handcuffed to a “muscular bond trader” as his classmates brayed with delight.

Mr. Broughton also details a scheme for acquiring “financial aid BMWs”: Upon being accepted at the business school, some students deliberately emptied their bank accounts to buy BMWs for themselves. Since they were not required to list vehicles among assets on their financial aid applications, they often qualified for extra financial aid. “So basically, Harvard buys you a BMW,” a classmate informed Mr. Broughton.


Mr. Broughton says he was glad to have learned “the language of business, the modes of thinking.” But he also contends that “business needs to relearn its limits” and that the business school should revise its stated mission of educating leaders for the world at large.

“H.B.S. need only promise to educate students in the process and management of business,” he says. “It would be a noble and accommodating goal and would dilute the perception of the school and its graduates as a megalomaniacal, self-sustaining elite.”

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