Tag Archives: Harvard Business School

Can Business Schools Tackle Poverty?

The Stanford Graduate School of Business recently announced that, with a $150 million donation, it will launch a new institute that will help alleviate poverty. Called the “Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies,” its aim is to develop research that can help business leaders innovate products and services that will build infrastructure and economic growth, which, according to the school’s website, will help relieve poverty in developing countries.

While relieving poverty may seem like a lofty goal, it might also be based on good business sense. Globalization and increased economic activity in developing countries have created and expanded markets for international business in ways that will play out for years to come. For example, a recent population report released by Goldman Sachs speculated that, because of explosive growth and continuing development in China, the Chinese middle class may be four times as large as America’s by 2030, and will undoubtedly represent a huge business market. It would be logical to assume that efforts to minimize or alleviate poverty elsewhere could generate a whole new class of consumers and associated business opportunities.

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The Evolving Role of the Business School Dean

Over the past few years, business school deans have come under the scrutinizing eye of the media, as some schools have been actively recruiting new deans while getting rid of old ones. How important are deans to their schools? Can a good dean champion an MBA program to success? Let’s have a look at what deans actually do.

One of the main functions of a dean is to provide guidance, steering their school in specific academic and philosophical directions. A dean’s direction should ultimately provide a mission – and he or she should implement programs to meet goals. Last year, the business school world watched a shift in philosophy at Harvard when its business school named Nitin Nohria as its new dean. Nohria, who has long-developed interests in both business conduct and corporate transformation (he authored a great, forward-thinking book called Changing Fortunes: Remaking the Industrial Corporation,) quickly moved to integrate business ethics and a focus on teamwork into the school’s revamped curriculum. Although this shift can be seen as reactionary – many critics of HBS are quick to point out that some of their MBAs like Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling acted rather unethically in their business dealings – it also represents a legitimate commitment to curtail these moral lapses. At the very least, Nohria’s appointment demonstrates a continued transition away from an era of American exceptionalism: Jay Light, Harvard’s previous dean, had made strides to re-brand Harvard as a global school, strides that Nohria will undoubtedly lengthen with his international focus.

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Interview: Philip Delves Broughton

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.

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Book Review: An Outsider at Harvard

Philip Delves Broughton
Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School
Penguin, 2008

Ahead of the Curve is a first-hand account of how a relative outsider – a British journalist named Philip Delves Broughton – got into and graduated from Harvard Business School. It is a quick and amusing read that will be of interest to people considering business school, particularly those without the “conventional” MBA resumé.

At HBS, Delves Broughton’s resumé probably qualifies as unconventional. In 2004, he quit his job as Paris bureau chief of the Daily Telegraph. His experience at the paper – including leading the coverage of the September 11 attacks in New York – combined with good GMAT scores helped get him into HBS, probably the most famous business school in the world.

For much of the first half of the book, Delves Broughton plays catch up to the jargon and spreadsheet wizardry of his business-seasoned classmates. Eventually he does catch up, showing that with some hard work, there is hope – even someone who spent their university years reading Greek classics rather than macroeconomics.

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