I wasn’t asked to speak by the admission committee, and I don’t get a cut if I can get you to attend HBS – I’m just a guy who loves this school and hopes to help you learn exactly what you’re in for.
To start off, let me tell you a bit about myself so you can have some context for my remarks.
o I’m a native of Long Beach CA
o Got tired of all the nice weather and moved to Providence, RI to attend Brown graduating in 1997 with a degree in modern Chinese history
o Upon graduation, I of course took my intimate knowledge of Chinese culture and sociology and became…an investment banker.
o I spent four years in finance in New York, Houston and Chicago, and made my way here.
o My time at HBS has been focused on Heard On the Street Men’s A cappella, the HBS show and Section B. I’ve also gotten very good at the video game Mario Cart.
It’s my impression that my background is sort-of what people normally think about when they think Harvard Business School. And I’d like to spend my time addressing several of the myths that people sometimes associate with HBS. I think there are many well-understood “givens” about the school – there are a ton of smart people here with astonishing backgrounds. HBS has attracted staff who are not only leaders in their field, but talented teachers. And HBS has a world-renowned brand.
But let’s get to the good stuff.
Myth #1. HBS is characterized by a highly competitive environment.This is true – if you play intramural sports. I tell you I’ve seen some crazy things on the basketball courts. I’m convinced that this is the competitive release valve for a group of people who are achievement machines. Because they don’t get it in other places at HBS.
I was so pleasantly surprised to find a spirit of cooperation, not competitiveness, among my classmates. It isn’t that people don’t work hard or try to perform well, but I have never seen someone else’s success come at the expense of my learning or enjoyment. I think it comes down to the fact that a cut-throat environment makes for a lousy learning environment and not a lot of fun.
Besides admitting wholesome, polite, considerate, people (hint, hint!), the HBS administration has a number of structures that foster cooperation rather than competition.
First, there’s the “Section” model. In the first year, as you’ve probably heard a thousand times, you’ll spend the whole time with about 85 people that you’ll get to know very well. This is a great thing because its really hard to claw over a group of people you know and like.
Next there are study groups, which encourage information sharing, learning, through a collaborative effort.
Finally, my personal favorite, grades don’t matter. They really don’t. Recruiters can’t ask for them, so people spend their time learning the material.
o One thing I can say about HBS – meaning the institution of teachers and administrators – is that this is a group of people setting students up for success.
o They want to see us realize our potential and genuinely like HBS. So that we can donate buildings, of course.
Myth # 2. HBS is made up entirely of consultants and investment bankers. This is clearly not true. Although I am an investment banker, I know at least two people who didn’t come from banking or consulting.
In truth, the diversity of HBS is one of the greatest strengths of the school.
o Can’t stress this enough!
And I don’t mean just demographic numbers. You’ve probably already seen the statistics about gender, race, international population, etc.
o I’m talking about diversity of thought, values, work history, and destination.
o Diversity of experience is the foundation of the case method. Because chances are, whatever you’re learning about, 5 people in the room have done it. This is an enormous resource, and also means that your learning experience doesn’t stop when class is over. 24/7 you have access to some of the greatest resources in the business world – and they are your friends.
Myth #3. HBS has a stuffy, old-school, Ivy-League feel to it. This is definitely not true, and I can say this as someone who hails from LA and Brown, the unofficial capital of political correctness.
HBS is a community. Made up of people who like sports, eating, drinking, dancing, charity work, partying, and playing squash.
o Okay – so squash is big here, and that does feel a little snooty, but it’s actually a fun game – like racquetball with a rock, or something. I guess my point is, that it’s all here.
o HBS is a reasonably big school, so chances are that you’ll find
someone to share your interests, no matter how high-or low-brow. For instance my strange fascination with Mario Cart.
I guess my point is, that despite the lofty goals of the students and the
institution, HBS has a great mix of being able to work hard, but not take oneself too seriously.
o This school may have a reputation for being an ivory tower, but we are better characterized by words like – vibrant, extraverted, friendly, engaging, funny, and thoughtful – than by the stuffy reputation it sometimes gets from an outsider’s perspective.
In the end, you’re business school experience is what you make it and will be based primarily on the diversity of people you share your education with.
It’s not fancy buildings or specific programs, or titles of courses, or how many volumes the library holds (that always seemed to be important when I looked at undergraduate studies). You will learn, every day, from your peers, far more than you’ll learn from a case or a professor.
And on a serious note, I have been blown away by the friendship, intellect, experience, and compassion of my classmates. And I don’t think my expectations were too low. I came here, certainly, expecting to build my network. But while I was planning for rolodex people, I met holiday card people – people that you’ll want to know, work with, travel with, you’re whole life. And that has been the secret sauce of my amazing HBS experience.