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July 21, 2008

Harvard, Exposed

What goes on at one of the most elite B-schools in the world — keg stands and all.

ahead of the curve two years at harvard business school

Ahead of the Curve

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At 31, journalist Philip Delves Broughton was burned out after six years of running the New York and Paris bureaus for the London Daily Telegraph. But while most of us would cope by calling in sick for a few days or vacay-ing someplace with no BlackBerry reception, Broughton (who is married with two children) joined the 2004 class of Harvard Business School (HBS) with dreams of becoming an "entrepreneur." He figured he'd learn how to run a company, then launch one, but he ended up back where he started: as a writer. The two-year MBA adventure led to Broughton's first book, Ahead of the Curve. Here, he shares what goes on at one of the most elite B-schools in the world — keg stands and all.

MC: In the book, you tell some wild stories of bankers behaving badly. Was HBS one big frat party?
PDB: For those who had a guaranteed job after graduation, it was a two-year vacation with hot-tub parties and trips to the Caribbean. Most students were very conscious of building their personal brand and of how they appeared to their future business partners, but come Saturday night you'd see them on all fours, guzzling from the booze luge and getting violently drunk as a result of the stress. And these are not kids — the average age of a master's student is 27.

MC: Where were the female students?
PDB: The financial world is still extremely male-dominated. Women still make up only 35 percent of the student body, and a lot of them had to fight for opportunities. We'd have lectures from so many men in suits, and then Meg Whitman from eBay would come and talk about juggling the roles of perfect wife/mother/businesswoman. The men would roll their eyes at questions about the work-family balance, while the women would be falling out of their seats to hear the answer.

MC: That obnoxious master-of-the-universe mentality — does the school offer classes in it, or what?
PDB: You're paying a lot of money — all told it's around $80,000 a year — to go there, so you want to hear that you're part of a line of great people who have gone on to do amazing things and make lots of money. But it encourages the notion that you have the right to rule, and that's not very healthy. A lot of HBS grads who aren't exactly shrinking violets to start with think they can run companies, when they're just another guy with a degree.

MC: Best piece of advice?
PDB: My entrepreneurship professor said, "There is more money chasing good ideas than there are good ideas chasing money." Which is much more useful than being told, "Live like you're going to die tomorrow," or anything you can find on a needlepoint pillow.

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