My dear sister-in-law, not an economist at all, heartily recommended to me What They Teach You At Harvard Business School, by Philip Delves Broughton. Finally I got around to it – this is a 2 or 3 commute book. It’s a very well written description of the author’s MBA course in the mid-2000s, and a mixture of compelling and repelling.
Compelling because the book is extremely well written and it’s also interesting to find out what they do teach at HBS. Repelling because this was the height of the boom and the ethos of many of the author’s classmates is rather shocking. Most wanted nothing more than to make money – jobs are ranked by remuneration, with venture capital firms at the top, followed by investment banking. I must be naive, but was terribly shocked – as was this book’s author – to learn that many students maximise the financial aid they get from HBS by buying an expensive car and parking their savings with their parents in order to minimise their apparent assets when applying.
HBS is famous for its case study method, and for the intensity with which students have to work. It emerges on the whole pretty well from this book, trying to instil business ethics and teaching entrepreneurship, although the book ends with a series of suggested changes ranging from barring professors with no business experience from teaching entrepreneurship to ending the brutal and counterproductive grading system.
On the other hand, the student body, at least in those boom years, seems very unappealing even seen through the diplomacy of the author. As one student puts it pithily: “If you want to change the world, get on a plane to fucking Darfur.” The MBA course is about money.
This book was published in mid-2008. There was clearly a kind of collective madness earlier in the noughties, facilitated by the tax code making debt interest tax deductible. I know that now, wearing my hindsight spectacles. But what, I wonder, do today’s Harvard MBA students aspire to?
What They Teach You at Harvard Business School: My Two Years Inside the Cauldron of Capitalism