What They Teach You At Harvard Business School - Philip Delves Broughton

I've been a manager for a while, and although I've been studying the theory of team management for a while, I recently decided to learn a bit more about the theory of business generally. So, when I saw this on a recent charity shop book dept. run, I snapped it up!

Some of the book skims over the contents of the course. It's interesting to see what goes into the a modern MBA. The book describes HBS's case-study-driven approach, and how lectures are organised. There's also a fair amount of coverage of, well, the marketing around the course. There's a lot of "you've won in life just because you've been accepted into HBS". There's a lot of being proud of famous alumni, with the possible exceptions of G.W. Bush and Jeff Skilling.

The book also describes the stereotypical career path of an HBS grad, as seen in the peer group of the author. There's a lot of private equity, hedge funds and investment banks, despite the claims that HBS develops leaders who work in all areas - not just in business, but bringing the light of a business mind to all humanity's greatest challenges.

The author himself makes an interesting character. He's an Oxford grad who went into journalism, and was quite successful at it - becoming an overseas bureau chief for a major newspaper. He could see the impending decline of journalism in the internet age, and decided to try business. It wasn't super-successful (after all, here he's still writing non-fiction rather than starting a business), but I think he's now a business journalist/author.

On the other hand, many on the course are pretty young, with very little practical business experience. It seems weird to structure the course like this, so the content is purely theoretical to so many. Having said that, I look back on my PhD and think a couple of years industry experience wouldn't have gone amiss before starting that.

The book's not a damning indictment, but it doesn't paint the place in a super-rosy light either. I was disappointed by the superficial stuff - the way the place seems to have such a juvenile drinking culture, for a place where apparently world leaders are being created. Philip's main complaint seems to be rather more philosophical: that HBS believes it's creating world leaders, but it's creating business leaders that apply a reductionist business mindset in situations where they should not.

Posted 2019-08-16.