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on 15 April 2017
I'm studying for an MBA in the UK at the moment and my first module is Accounting and Finance; the author accurately describes the bizarre nature of that particular subject. It's no surprise to me that people can launder their criminal gains with impunity after reading and experiencing this subject.

The fact that no-one can agree on the same final figures despite working from the same set of figures and what is most incredulous is the idea that although Harvard accepts people working together in small groups to share information, they don't like the idea of the entire class sharing notes to make things easier. What do they think 'best practice' in companies revolves around?

The gaming of the financial aid system is disgusting but this is the place which produced almost the entire senior management echelon of Enron.

If you don't come from a finance background like te author you'll love this book; if you do it'll provide less insight for you.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 June 2012
As an account of life at Harvard Business School, an outline of what is taught there, and a pen portrait of the class, this is enjoyable reading. As someone who has also been incredibly fortunate to go there, even although just for one week, there was much i recognised. Harvard for me was a wonderful experience - , very hard work certainly, the case study learning is transformational and i found world class teaching and facilities, and incredibly talented class mates. This book reflects all of that, but it is also a little preachy at times about the lives of Harvard graduates- and in a way i didn't relate to. The author went to Harvard it seems, seeing himself as an outsider, and maintained a slightly cynical approach throughout. He was the only member of his class not to get or take a summer job, and one of tiny few not to be employed after he graduated. His gripes seem to be more to do with capitalism itself than HBS. He seems to think being successful must make you unhappy

HBS is what is described - it is fascinating, it does build confidence, it can be exhausting, and it is ethical in its approach to business. It does stimulate ambition and focus - but is it a factory for unhappy people as the author suggests - i don't think so - certainly not what i observed or felt there.

A good enough read though - if you approach the author's cynicism with some scepticism of your own
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on 14 August 2008
Very dry and witty - Delves Broughton brings alive all the madness and hype of the American MBA system. He half makes you want to enrol, and half to avoid the place for the rest of your life.

What is particularly good is that it is full of interesting business theory from the MBA course, which is very stimulating.

No doubt this book will make HBS very irritated - which is a good reason to buy it, I think!!
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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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I really enjoyed this book. It was very well written and easy to read. Good descriptive prose, interspersed with insights and clear explanations of one or two key concepts, and a fair amount of humour. It was an easy read and I thoroughly recommend it.
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on 21 August 2008
As a Harvard graduate (not HBS) I loved this book. Fantastic writing, lots of anecdotes, and very clear explanations of what they really teach at Havard Business School. But it's more than that. It's a trip through one man's attempt to find what he wants to do with his life. Delves Broughton was a very successful journalist, and he walked away to spend two years doing an MBA, which cost him $170,000. He finds that he isn't like most of his fellow students, who are obsessed with money. When the author goes to cover an anti-globalisation march, he sympathises with the protestors. Instead of writing an analysis of Time Warner, he choses a organic blueberry farmer. When his fellow students are off working over Spring break, he's at home in Boston working on a novel. It made me wonder: why did he go to business school? Ultimately, Delves Broughton is critical of the school, and gives good reasons for being so.
In response, the school has been mildly critical of the book, apparently arguing class-room conversations should be private. I think this probably stems from him revealing some of school's rorts, including one relating to financial aid. In all, the book is a 300-page ad for HBS and can only drive up applications.
But Delves Broughton's experience punctures one of the myths about HBS: that it creates business leaders. (STORY DISCLOSURE HERE.) He is the only member of his class not to get a job, mainly because he doesn't have any experience in finance or consulting, even though his grades were good and he clearly he could cut it in the classroom (although he is unlucky to miss out on a markeing job at Google.) It seems that no matter how many brilliant classes they have at Harvard, business recruiters want people with business experience.
It will be interesting to see if HBS admits many more journalists in the future.
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on 28 August 2008
This book comes across as an honest account of Delves Broughton's experience of, and reaction to, the Harvard Business School MBA course. Delves Broughton highlights well some of the strengths and weaknesses of the institution and the course, though the recent departure of the Dean (Kim Clark) will probably already have lead to changes in the mix.

I would particularly recommend the book to UK readers considering applying to a 'top-tier' US business school, not least because the author highlights some of the cultural differences that hit a British student most forcefully and can come as a bit of a surprise. Delves Broughton's experience also provides a useful reality check. Contrary to the author's apparent expectations, graduation from a business school of this type does not guarantee entree into the well-paid specialised world of hedge funds, private equity, investment banking or consulting. Many of the businesses in these industries have built into their business models recruitment from HBS and other similar schools, but they are looking for a very particular profile and the MBA badge is only one small component. If you don't fit more broadly you probably won't get the job. The author's criticisms of the cost to personal lives entailed in careers of this type are also worth thinking about hard.

For the general reader, Delves Broughton provides a useful flavour of the mindset and approach taught at these kinds of institution. Don't expect to come away with more than a vague impression though - this is not a primer of what they teach at Harvard Business School (title notwithstanding). He raises concerns that this 'business' mindset leads to problems when applied to other arenas of life, particularly if used naively or by people lacking decent ethical standards. (If HBS alumnus George W. Bush had shown any inclination to use this kind of approach in his decision-making, he would have made an easy stick with which to beat the institution). Whatever the merits of his argument, it's something that the HBS faculty (and many companies) worry about a lot, even if their attempts to discuss such ethical issues lead to stomach churning management-speak. Encouragingly, most of his fellow students seemed to take the point, though, even at this early stage in their careers.

One point of criticism of this book (and others of its kind). By publishing it Delves Broughton has arguably betrayed a tacit contract of confidentiality that exists between participants (faculty and students) in such institutions. 'Betrayals' of this kind are an everyday occurrence for daily newspaper journalists and this is perhaps why Delves Broughton seems unaware of this aspect; a couple of the professors in particular might feel justifiably aggrieved.
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on 21 March 2016
An assortment of villains have been identified as being to blame for the recent recession: greed, irresponsibility, blindness, incompetence, ignorance and stupidity on the part of banks, central banks, regulators, rating agencies, and government watchdogs.

But where did they all learn to be so greedy? Who taught them? Was the message of greed that they absorbed implicit or explicit? I found one answer in Philip Delves Broughton’s What they teach you at Harvard Business School – my two years inside the cauldron of capitalism. In 2004, after concluding that the School’s alumni seemed to run the world, Broughton abandoned his job as Paris bureau chief of London's Daily Telegraph newspaper, and joined 900 other would-be tycoons at Harvard Business School. Within the pages of this witty account of his time at the School, Broughton reveals some real insights into what the financial elite actually learn at HBS.

As Broughton describes it, one day he needed to get to college quickly. So instead of cycling, as he usually did, he drove his beat-up $2,000 used Toyota to the college and parked in the student car park. To his amazement, the garage was filled with sparkling new BMWs, Lexuses, Mini Coopers, Porsches, Lincoln Navigators, and other luxury cars. When he asked a savvy colleague to explain the phenomenon, he received this answer: “Lots of people buy them when they get into HBS and want to get financial aid.” Broughton couldn’t believe his ears. By what possible logic could buying a BMW help you get financial aid?

His friend patiently explained that when HBS candidates for financial aid list their assets, they don’t have to mention a car, but they do have to mention bank accounts and property. So if you wipe out your bank account and use the proceeds to purchase a $20,000 car, you will benefit from an extra $20,000 in financial aid. Which means that Harvard Business School basically buys you a BMW. If you hadn’t bought the car, you’d have had to pay the $20,000 fees out of your savings.

Broughton was dumfounded at this explanation. “Isn’t this lying?” he asked. No, replied his friend. Lots of people empty their bank accounts and park the money with their parents while they apply for financial aid. And that’s not all. Everyone – apart from Broughton, apparently – who joins the School from Wall Street knows about this bending of the rules. Broughton was appalled. In a chapter entitled Ethical Jihadists, he ruminates: “…the idea of these twenty-five-year-old Wall Street jerks fiddling with their financial aid forms, with the connivance of their parents and the local BMW dealerships, ruined my morning.”

Bending the rules is one of the prime lessons that Harvard teaches MBA students, says Broughton. Harvard’s response to the book was predictable. Instead of addressing the real message, Carl Kester, Deputy Dean for Academic Affairs, attacked Broughton. “I have been surprised and disappointed to see that in interviews conducted as part of a promotional tour, Mr. Broughton has elected to focus almost exclusively on the negative aspects of his time at HBS with remarks that seem carefully crafted to shock and provoke.” Well, yes, Dean Kester. That’s what you do on promotional tours!
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on 2 January 2014
I bought this book after browsing the few reviews of it that were on the Amazon site.
As someone who finds many business books rather dull and not a lot fun to read I was pleased to find this one was bordering on being a "page-turner".
PDB is an excellent (if somewhat self-deprecating) writer and he makes his tale of two years at HBS very readable. There were quite a few times when I found myself laughing out loud at some of the amusing instances he recounts.
PDB asks some very good questions about HBS's teaching and the people it has turned out - George W Bush being the most notable. He asks if HBS is so good then why were so many of its alumni playing such key parts in running much of the developed world's financial system at the time of the financial meltdown in 2008. He further asks why did HBS itself not even see the crisis coming. More crucially he asks why have none of these elite who were running the show been held accountable for their part in what happened. There are some notable HBS alumni who have been held accountable for other financial crimes. Notable among these is Jeffrey Skilling who graduated in the top 5% of his 1979 class as a Baker Scholar. He went on to join McKinsey before then becoming CEO of Enron. In 2006 he was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his part in its collapse - fraud and insider trading being just two of the many charges.
It was interesting to note that many HBS students were former bankers or consultants trying to make a break from careers they were not enjoying but on graduating most seemed to have been lured straight back into them by the money. One startling statistic was how long graduates remained in their first job after leaving HBS. You would have thought that two years there would have enabled them to choose more wisely.
This book is well written and I have recommended it to friends as a good and informative read.
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on 18 November 2010
I thought this was an excellent overview of the MBA process at Harvard, well written, easy to read and reasonably light-hearted. I think it's a real eye-opener about what this type of course is like day to day, and also that types of people that you would encounter. However, it is told with such enthusiasm and optimism that it made me wish I was going to Harvard to do an MBA - I wouldn't want to do it anywhere else after reading this! Great read for City types.
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