Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School (Broughton)

Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School

It’s hard for me to decide how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I appreciate its candor and clarity. Broughton spent years in the newspaper business, and he is an engaging writer with an excellent eye for scene-setting and description. His portraits of the characters in his Harvard Business School (HBS) class are sharply drawn, enough so that I felt I was there in the classroom with him at some points.

On the other hand, he essentially enrolled at HBS, going about $175,000 in debt, to see whether business school might afford him some other career opportunities. While most of his other classmates had clear goals (mostly involving the amassing of personal wealth, sadly but unsurprisingly), he seemed to be trying to decide what he wanted to do. In that respect, he was in HBS but not of it; to me that seems like quite a wasted opportunity.

Broughton makes some excellent points about the cultural impact of MBAs, writing that “MBAs determine the lives many of us will lead, the hours we work, the vacations we get, the culture we consume, the health care we receive, and the education provided to our children.” Through that critical lens, he examines what he learned at HBS and finds it somewhat wanting. He cites Andrew Carnegie as an example; Carnegie was perhaps one of the least ethical, even rapacious, businessmen ever to walk the earth, yet he is chiefly remembered for his many good works later in life. Broughton asks the fair question of whether having more Carnegies is on balance a good thing for the US, and by extension the world.

From the perspective of a small business owner, I certainly enjoyed the descriptions of the various HBS classes. Some clearly would be of use to me, while others wouldn’t. As an inducement to attend HBS (which it clearly isn’t intended to be), the book falls short. As a lucid description of the experience, and a thought-provoking reflection on the effects of the business culture driven in large part by HBS graduates and marketing, it succeeds quite well. Highly recommended.

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