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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

on 27 November 2008
Having done a business degree I picked this book up out of curiosity more than anything... is the much-vaunted HBS really all its cracked up to be? Having read this brilliantly written and perceptive book I was left half-wanting to enroll tomorrow and half-hoping to never set foot near the place.

Broughton gives a candid and insightful eyewitness account of what HBS is really like. He paints a vividly beautiful picture of Harvard itself, making it sound more like a high-end country club cum boutique hotel than a university. His stories of the people he comes across there are often funny, sometimes sad and occasionally acerbic. I suppose its to be expected that the place where "W" did his MBA would be a machismo-fuelled goldfish bowl full of Spring Break jocks chasing big money careers. But what struck me beyond this is how the individuals who didn't want to drink vodka from an ice luge or go into investment banking were somehow made to feel like outsiders - a pointer perhaps towards why Wall Street is currently eating itself.

However the expose of HBS is only partly what this book gives its reader as reward....

Firstly, if you're new to business then by reading this book you'll get a crash course into how industries and economies work, written in an easily accessible style which reflects the authors journalist background and his own lack of business knowledge prior to enrolling. The famous HBS technique of teaching through case studies does indeed provide a powerful vehicle for learning and Broughton shares much of what he himself studied during his time there.

On top of that what I found most rewarding about Ahead of the Curve is that without overtly trying it made me think long and hard about what I want from my own career and by extension of that my own life. By following the author's own journey of career discovery you find yourself asking the same questions. In a world where its all too easy to become consumed by chasing your ambitions (and the cash that comes with them) it was refreshing to be able to reflect on this using the non-judgemental perspective that Broughton offers. To hear that the leaders of E-Bay, Google as well as numerous investment banks and law firms have taken decisions to the benefit of their careers but to a cost in other areas of their lives requires pause for thought. They didn't always regret the trade-offs (although I got the distinct impression that Meg Whitman did) but the fact they were aware of them was probably enough

Broughton leaves you having made choices about his own life that he probably didn't forsee when he started out at HBS. On balance I felt that his time at HBS had been a good thing, in part because of the knowledge and skills he acquired around business. However this was all-the-more enriched by the perspective it had given him and for the subsequent choices he made when, having finished his MBA, he largely turns his back on the direction that the majority of his fellow students choose. I haven't changed own my life as a result of reading this book but I maybe now go to the office everyday with a slightly healthier perspective on who works for who.
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on 11 August 2008
Philip Broughton went into the Harvard MBA like an anthroplogist goes to live with an obscure jungle tribe - this book works on the same principle of outsider wisdom, of the newcomer able to see just how strange the social norms of these hard-to-access cultures can be. Marvel at these elite MBA-ers and their language of "creating a developmental agenda for leveraging their reflected best-self"! Puzzle at the strong emphasis on business integrity and moral judgment, when fact is everyone's really there to learn how to make a lot of money. But, however odd, the Harvard MBA programme indubitably produces global business & economic leaders who shape a substantial portion of our lives, and so it's in everyone's interests to understand how this elite are taught to think.

'What They Teach You At Harvard Business School' is not just a guide to the economic and management concepts the MBA students study. Broughton does talk about these topics, giving examples of the Harvard study system of analysing hundreds of case studies. This method seeks to teach the students how to handle the chief challenge in business: making good decisions with inadequate information. It's no substitute for the actual course, largely because none of the examples' statistics are published in this book, but as a non-economist I definitely learnt a lot regardless.

But of wider relevance is Broughton's discussion of the 'hidden curriculum' of Harvard Business School, the assumptions it inculcates in its students and the distorted beliefs they already hold about work & the economy. What do they think is the value of the money they'll be earning, when will they know that they've made enough? "When you've got your own jet." Even the pre-arrival guide says, "Don't bring that guitar... Don't bring any books from literature or history classes... Don't bring your cynicism. Do bring all the diverse rest of you." Interesting notion of diversity, right? The idea that future business leaders are being trained to dismiss history and cynical judgments is telling, and Broughton, a former journalist with the Telegraph, is never able to buy in to this culture. Instead of getting a high-flying job like his coursemates, he remains a writer - but the strength of this book is that he's not bitter about this. It's not a rant, not really an expose (no truly horrific secrets are uncovered) - just an insider's look into a world most of us won't enter.

The compelling narrative is Broughton's own decision-making about his future career: Harvard forces him to confront the values that really matter to him, makes him question deeply what it is that he really wants out of life. This is something a lot of university graduates and prospective MBAs could benefit from reading - I know I was fascinated.
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VINE VOICEon 22 September 2008
Philip Delves Broughton was on top of the journalism world as the Paris bureau chief for The Daily Telegraph of London when he got itchy feet and decided he wanted to go to business school. Setting his sights on Harvard, he was pleased to get in. The book's title refers to the grading system at Harvard and alludes to the competition to get a leg up on other MBA students in gaining a lucrative job.

I attended Harvard Business School while in law school many years ago. I was surprised to find out how many things are similar to when I attended. The student complaints were similar, too.

I thought that Mr. Broughton did an excellent job of explaining what the case system is all about and what occurs in preparing for and during a class. If you've always wanted to go to HBS, here's a chance to take a peek.

The book's strength is in exposing the values behind HBS, people seeking the highest-paying jobs despite the personal cost to family life and one's own soul. Mr. Broughton made some half-hearted attempts to seek out such opportunities, but ended his two years at Harvard with a large loan to show for the experience . . . and no job.

The book's weakness comes in Mr. Broughton's desire to teach you some of the basic concepts about business management. I doubt if you are interested. He doesn't always get it right, either.

I found myself comparing Ahead of the Curve to One L, Scott Turow's brilliant description of the bad old days of being a first-year law student at Harvard. One L is a better book. But both are powerful in explaining what it feels like to be a student in the middle of the gigantic forces moving to shape you like a vise into a new form that will be attractive to employers.
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on 26 April 2015
This book has provided me with lots of interesting insights on the University.
I have enjoyed it a lot.
I am going to attend HBS next year.
I am curious to see how my experience will be similar to Philip and how the university has changed in these years.
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on 21 September 2008
Be warned any prospective applicant of Harvard Business School that P.D Broughton's publication "Ahead of the Curve" may put you off pursuing one of the most prestigious accolades in higher education.

While his commentary is interesting and the dry British wit effectively used to undermine some of P.D. Broughton's more mercantile peers, this book was a disappointing account of one man's frustrated efforts to establish clear career objectives, deliver on said objectives and integrate effectively within the HBS cadre.

What is perhaps most surprising about the work is that Broughton fails to fully explore the motives of his peer group who choose highly lucrative careers. In some ways, he is a true outside in the entire experience and his commentary with one of his taller peers is comparable with Steinbeck's George and Lenny characters in "Of Mice and Men". His age and unorthodox background make it hard for any real empathy with those around him.

Although he claims not to have any major gripes bout the experience, the tone of the book is bitter and highly self absorbent - to the point where you begin to feel sorry for some of the classmates he has passed judgement on.

This is not one for the bookshelf...
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on 16 May 2015
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on 7 July 2011
I enjoyed reading this book.. Gives a real picture of the Harvard years, the struggle and the emotions that goes with it.. I would definately recommend this book.
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