Philip Delves Broughton (Photo: Margaret Delves Broughton)
Last year, Philip Delves Broughton made a big splash with Ahead of the Curve, a candid and entertaining account of his two years doing an MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS). Having read and reviewed the book, we had a couple questions about his experience. He was kind enough to answer them:
As someone without a formal business background, how did you prepare yourself for HBS? Looking back, how might you have done it differently?
I don’t think I did prepare myself. I was too busy with my career as a journalist, which I think perhaps made me interesting to business schools. I had achieved a fair amount as a reporter and foreign correspondent and gained a little management experience. I think this was excellent preparation!
I suppose I could have read more accounting and finance books before arriving on campus or figured out Excel, and this might have helped me in the first semester. But really, there was plenty of time to do all this during a two year MBA. I spent the summer before getting to HBS leaving my job in France and on holiday with my family – and once I was presented with my workload in Boston, I was very happy to have taken a long vacation.
Did you find your unconventional background (for an MBA student) a hurdle, an advantage, or a mix of both? What would you say to prospective MBA students with a similarly a-typical business school resume?
A mix of both, as you’d imagine. The great advantage is that you will stand out among the banking/consulting crowd when you apply. It’s very important to play to your strengths when you apply – emphasize what you have done and don’t try to whitewash your lack of business experience. Another advantage is that what you study at business school will be fresh, and with any luck much more interesting than for those who have been in business jobs.
The hurdle is that you do have some catching up to do. But that just takes a little time. Perhaps the greatest challenge is adapting to the cultural change of moving from a non-business setting to a world of business school students, who may have very different priorities and interests to those you were used to. But if you’re a curious sort, this can be fascinating too. I think what business schools want to know – and what you should have clear in your mind – is how an MBA fits into your ambitions. You don’t need to have some distinct career in mind, but at least some solid thoughts about what you think an MBA will enable you to do which you’d struggle to do without it. Becoming a management consultant does not count.