My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What They Teach You at Harvard Business School: My Two Years Inside the Cauldron of Capitalism (2008) by Philip Delves Broughton was originally published without a Postscript and under the American title Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School (not to be mistaken for Brian Kenny’s 2016 book for baseball lovers called Ahead of the Curve).
The Postscript for Philip’s book was added in 2009, after the economic catastrophe, and the title was changed in the United Kingdom and elsewhere outside of the United States.
Harvard Business School (HBS) was established in 1908 with its Roman motto “Veritas,” Latin for “Truth” and represented by a young virgin in white.
HBS has, however, had its problems with the truth and was criticized in the Bloomberg article called “A Harsh View of Harvard Business School” (July 11, 2017) written by Barry Ritholtz, who cites Duff McDonald, author of The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite (2017), who explained: “One of the most vaunted institutions in America—Harvard Business School—is not only a ‘failure’ but positively ‘dangerous.’”Philip also has something important and damning to say about Harvard Business School (HBS) and he says it defiantly in the Postscript of his book:
“A financial era ended in the summer of 2008, one built on the availability of credit and the ability of an ingenious elite to exploit it. This elite consisted of investment banks, private equity firms and hedge funds…
Philip Delves Broughton
“Throughout these weeks and months of crisis, the Harvard Business School’s alumni were exactly where the school wanted them to be: in positions of leadership. They were the President of the United States [George W. Bush, class of 1975], Treasury Secretary [Henry Paulson, class of 1970], head of Securities and Exchange Commission [Charles Christopher Cox, class of 1977], CEOs of banks and senior partners in investment firms.
“Which begs the question: what exactly had Harvard been teaching them?
“I realize now that they should have been unsettling to everyone: the narrow thinking, the greed, the disinterest in politics, the contempt for the non-business world and, most of all, the complete unwillingness to accept responsibility for its mistakes” (p 284-285).
He does, however, provide clues to why he is so critical later on in the Postscript:
“I felt two things,” Philip explains. “The first saw how privileged we were to see the world as Harvard MBAs. The brand was stronger than I had ever imagined. The second was how weird this perspective was…
“Instead of being part of society, the MBA überclass seemed to exist apart from the rest of the world, with its own set of standards. You needed to yank hard to get its attention” (p 120).
Philip is not alone when he calls HBS a place disconnected from the rest of the world, one that is pure and good and honest and forthright:
“A friend who had visited Baghdad’s Green Zone said that Harvard Business School felt eerily familiar. Whatever hell befell the rest of Iraq, the Green Zone was made luxurious with palm trees, swimming pools, and functioning electricity. Its occupants cocooned themselves from the unfolding horror so that they could focus on the broader mission of rebuilding a country. So, too, HBS smacks of an ivory tower, cut off from the world outside” (p 50).
One commenter named “Adam,” however, wrote about Philip’s book at Goodreads.com on September 15, 2008:
“If I didn’t work at HBS I wouldn’t have touched this book with a 10 foot pole. But I do work at HBS and I know many of the players mentioned in this book and I was there for the stir this book created when it was released. Needless to say the institution was less than thrilled…
“Also involved in the clash of world views is the idea of ‘selling out’, sacrificing your personal life to make huge money. This is probably the true crux of the book… This theme came up again and again and the author clearly fell in the minority as he struggled to find a path that would allow him to use the business education he was getting while also being a visible father and husband.”
Recruiters also share Philip’s assessment of the low quality produced by Harvard and HBS:
“A Wall Street Journal poll had just come out ranking Harvard number thirteen. Numbers one and two were the business schools at the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon, respectively. Harvard’s low rank was in large part due to the negative opinions of recruiters, who had told the newspaper that HBS MBAs were ‘arrogant,’ with a ‘sense of entitlement’ and ‘ego problems’” (p 85).
The negative opinion of Harvard students, MBAs or otherwise, is no surprise to anyone who has ever met someone who graduated from Harvard—the real pretentious type who fail to listen closely to the conversation and ends up saying she’s never heard of the University of Southern California (Yes, that happened).
A graduate of Harvard University and a nonfiction professor in the Writing Program at Columbia University, this same woman wore fishnet stockings and a tight miniskirt the night New York Times Bestselling novelist Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog (1999), came to visit the hotel (the young woman later became a columnist for the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Coincidence?).
She’s also the daughter of a respected economist who teaches at the University of California, San Francisco (the irony is too rich sometimes), and the father is also a Harvard alumni, having received his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University under Kenneth Arrow; the father also has a sister who taught at Harvard University in 2002. As they say, “Keep it in the family.”
Nepotism and the lack of a moral compass run wild among the Harvard alumni. Empathy, to say the least, is a byword for these Harvard pseudo-intellectuals who attend the university more for the “brand” and for the “networking” the university offers than for a real, honest education.
“Harvard was a brand as much as a school,” writes Philip, “and by attending, we were associating ourselves with one of the greatest brands in business. We were now part of an elite, and we should get used to it. I struggled with this idea. It seemed so arrogant on the part of the school, and somehow demeaning to those of us who had just arrived. Regardless of who we were when we arrived, or what we might learn or become over the next two years, simply by being accepted by HBS, we had entered an überclass. It was HBS, not anything that came before it, that conferred the ‘winner’ tag on all of us…
“They would even help our children get into HBS, if needed. It was a brutal acknowledgment of the legacy admissions system, whereby the children of alumni are preferred, and it immediately set me thinking: How many in this room were here simply because someone had pulled strings?” (p 20)
As you read you will begin to see a pattern of corrupted ideology forming, and it isn’t the good kind. It’s the kind that believes in the saying, “the second mouse gets the cheese,” meaning: have others work hard while one person reaps the rewards and fruits of labor (i.e., steal from those who do honest work). The kind of ideology that says, “Ask for forgiveness. Don’t ask for permission.”
One day at Harvard Business School (which seems to be taught mostly be immigrants from countries like Australia, India, Turkey, etc.), Philip encounters the following scene:
“During coffee breaks from Crimson Greetings, I had noticed how many of the class seemed to know one another or at least know people in common. The networks of certain universities and companies ran very deep. For those like me, who knew no one, it was a question of drifting through the crowds” (p 24).
Philip has more to say on the “networks” (i.e., favoritism through personal connections and not through merit or hard work) at HBS:
“I also met up with Vera, a Chinese woman who had emigrated with her husband to Silicon Valley and had worked for a large technology firm… ‘I hate all this stuff about the network and relationships and being able to bullshit in front of other people,’ she said. ‘That’s what we’re being trained to do. That’s not what Chinese immigrants think business is. We think it’s about good ideas and hard work’” (p 116-117).
“For some companies, especially the top-tier banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds, if you did not spend the summer with them you had no chance of working for them later” (p 132).
“His story was one of seizing opportunity, gathering resources, and deploying them. He knew the right people to finance him and help create and sell the game… We were taught to organize our thinking according to POCD, people, opportunity, context, deal” (p 177).
It is Einstein and Gandhi, in the end, who have the most to say about education and learning:
“At the end of our course, [Paul A.] Gompers presented us with two quotations, the first from Einstein: ‘One should guard against preaching to young people success in the customary form as the main aim in life. The most important motive for work in school and in life is pleasure in work, pleasure in its result, and the knowledge of the value to the rest of the community.’ The second was from Gandhi: ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever’” (p 177).
Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi.
Yes, they knew a thing or two, and neither one graduated from Harvard.
American Novelist CG FEWSTON
CG FEWSTON was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong. He is the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son, The New America: A Collection, Vanity of Vanities, A Time to Love in Tehran, and (forthcoming) Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being, and (also forthcoming) Little Hometown, America: A Look Back.
Over the years, CG FEWSTON has had the pleasure of listening to and meeting best-selling novelists and poets such as Walt McDonald (Poet Laureate of Texas in 2001), Tim O’Brien (author of The Things They Carried), Richard Adams Carey, Craig Childs, Sy Montgomery, Robert J. Begiebing, Mark Sundeen, Chris Bohjalian, Matt Bondurant, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Jessica Anthony, Benjamin Nugent, Diane Les Becquets, Ann Garvin, Jo Knowles, Ravi Shankar, Richard Blanco, Wiley Cash, Justin Hill, Xu Xi, Madeleine Thien, Andre Dubus III, & Bob Shacochis.
CG FEWSTON is a member of Club Med, AWP, Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world. CG FEWSTON has emerged as a leader in literature with a seasoned voice of reason, fairness and truth while becoming your American novelist for the 21st century.
His novel, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under “Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience” and has been called a “cerebral, fast-paced thriller” by Kirkus Reviews, where it gained over 10,000 shares.
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN was also nominated for (& lost) the following 2016 book contests: the PEN/Faulkner Award, the John Gardner Fiction Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Hammett Prize, and the Pushcart Prize. Heartbreaking, lyrical and eloquent, this remarkable novel confirms CG FEWSTON’s place among America’s finest novelists.
CG FEWSTON has travelled the world visiting Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei & Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and in China: Guilin, Shenzhen, Sanya on Hainan Island, Zhuhai and Beijing. He has spent several years living in South Korea, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned a B.A. in English & American Literature from HPU in Texas, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors) from JIU in Colorado, an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University in New York, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists like Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014). While at SNHU, CG FEWSTON also participated in writing workshops ran by Mark Sundeen, Ann Garvin, Jo Knowles, Diane Les Becquets, and Benjamin Nugent (all brave, enthusiastic and talented writers).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in The Penmen Review (“The Old Man in Beijing: A Christmas Carol”), Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Polychrome Ink Literary Magazine, Contemporary Literary Review India (“The Girl on the River Kwai”), Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
FEWSTON “delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5
CG FEWSTON and AXTON