• Sharebar

"Absurdly profitable company seeks journalist with ten years' experience and a Harvard MBA for extremely highly paid, low stress job in which he can wear nice suits and loaf around in air-conditioned splendor making the very occasional executive decision. Requirements: an acute discomfort in the presence of spreadsheets, inability to play golf, poorly concealed loathing of corporate life, knowledge of ancient Greek." - The Help Wanted Ad I Sought But Never Found

We spend a lot of time on WSO talking about business school, wondering whether it is right for us. And it seems that for most folks, we don't really know whether a business school like Harvard is a smart choice because we are unsure of what we ultimately want out of our careers.

Author Philip Broughton ("P.D. Bizzle" to his b-school friends) was the Paris bureau chief of The Daily Telegraph before he decided to make the jump into this legendary New England institution, and by his own admission he definitely wasn't exactly sure why he was there to begin with. But luckily for us fortunate readers, he had the time to write down his experiences and viewpoints after two years at this most hallowed of elite institutions, so we can see and decide for ourselves.

If there's one word that can describe this memoir, it is "sobering." There are a few funny moments, but overall you wouldn't want to read "Ahead of the Curve" if you don't like having your pre-existing conceptions shattered. Broughton describes the hellishness of recruiting, the surprisingly childish theatrics and arguments that went on in the classroom, and the scathing epidemic of "FOMO" (fear of missing out) that paralyzed and depressed many.

Granted, Broughton is in a different place personally and professionally than most of the student body by the time he arrives at HBS: he is in his 30s, married with a family, and wasn't really gunning for investment banking or consulting (which would form the majority of his class's offers after graduation). But his Wall Street-outsider perspective is one that is so sorely needed for a book like this, because frankly most of his classmates have the blinders on and don't seem to obtain the happiness they seek.

"Harvard is a factory for unhappy people," one of his friends observes.

Granted, it was a different time (before 2008, after all), and don't mistake his observations for nonstop doom and gloom. Treat it as a way to introduce yourself to the questions that you need to answer at some point before you get to business school: what do I want? What kind of life would I be happy with? How much is enough? Yes, these questions are uncomfortable, but better to think about them now than when the recruiting cycle is over and you're pretty much the only student without a full-time offer (as he was).

There are fascinating looks into the classroom discussions, the famed case method, the many startups and small businesses that sprang up, and the prestigious professors and guest speakers that came to campus (including Warren Buffett and Jack Welch). There is also much appreciation shown for the camaraderie and network that he developed with his classmates.

But be aware before you start that this is a questioning, striving kind of memoir. Those who are dead sure that they are exactly where they want to be both personally and professionally, who have no doubts about where they will be over the next few years, and know everything they need to know about the world will probably find it boring.

But for the rest of us human beings, this is a must-read, and not just for HBS hopefuls, for anyone considering business school.

Read up, monkeys, and special thanks to WSO user chicandtoughness for lending me her copy of this book.

Monkey's Review 1: Barbarians At the Gate
Monkey's Review 2: The Financier
Monkey's Review 3: Decision Points
Monkey's Review 4: Debunkery
Monkey's Review 5: When Genius Failed
Monkey's Review 6: Monkey Business
Monkey's Review 7: Death Of The Banker
Monkey's Review 8: A Journey
Monkey's Review 9: Damn It Feels Good To Be A Banker
Monkey's Review 10: The Quants
Monkey's Review 11: All About Hedge Funds
Monkey's Review 12: The Unlikely Disciple
Monkey's Review 13: Adventure Capitalist
Monkey's Review 14: The Hedge Fund Book
Monkey's Review 15: Investing In Hedge Fund of Funds
Monkey's Review 16: Hilarity Ensues
Monkey's Review 17: The Prince
Monkey's Review 18: Markets Never Forget (But People Do)
Monkey's Review 19: The Money Culture
Monkey's Review 20: An Empire of Wealth
Monkey's Review 21: The New Tycoons
Monkey's Review 22: A Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity

2

The WSO Advantage - Land Your Dream Job

Financial Modeling Training

IB Templates, M&A, LBO, Valuation. Learn More.

Wall St. Interview Secrets Revealed

30,000+ sold & REAL questions. Learn More.

Resume Help from Finance Pros

Land More Interviews. Learn More.

Find Your Mentor

Realistic Mock Interviews. Learn More.

Comments (29)

  • Amphipathic's picture
  • mbavsmfin's picture

    I read the book a while back and thought it was well-written and mildly entertaining. I recently met a HBS alum who was in the same section as Broughton. He told me that him and most of his classmates thought Broughton wrote the book out of frustration and bitterness since he was pretty much the only person in his section who did not have a full-time job lined up when graduating. Keep in mind that this was 2006, one of the most bullish job markets in modern U.S. history. One does wonder whether he would have written this exact same book or a book at all, if he had received offers from top firms.

  • In reply to mbavsmfin
    CaR's picture

    mbavsmfin:
    I recently met a HBS alum who was in the same section as Broughton. He told me that him and most of his classmates thought Broughton wrote the book out of frustration and bitterness since he was pretty much the only person in his section who did not have a full-time job lined up when graduating. Keep in mind that this was 2006, one of the most bullish job markets in modern U.S. history. One does wonder whether he would have written this exact same book or a book at all, if he had received offers from top firms.

    Considering he began writing the book--or at least announced he was writing it--before he arrived at HBS, that sounds a little apologetic to me. Haven't read it though, and my HBS buddies rave about the place, so that is an interesting thought.

  • In reply to CaR
    mbavsmfin's picture

    CaR:
    mbavsmfin:
    I recently met a HBS alum who was in the same section as Broughton. He told me that him and most of his classmates thought Broughton wrote the book out of frustration and bitterness since he was pretty much the only person in his section who did not have a full-time job lined up when graduating. Keep in mind that this was 2006, one of the most bullish job markets in modern U.S. history. One does wonder whether he would have written this exact same book or a book at all, if he had received offers from top firms.

    Considering he began writing the book--or at least announced he was writing it--before he arrived at HBS, that sounds a little apologetic to me. Haven't read it though, and my HBS buddies rave about the place, so that is an interesting thought.

    Sure. He may have planned on writing it all along, but i don't think he wrote the bulk of it until he was out of school. Anyways I'm just reporting what this one guy told me. And from reading the book, Broughton sounds bitter about getting dinged after interviews.

    HBS is great, but so are a lot of other top schools. I also think current students and alums VASTLY hype how much fun they're having in b-school and the quality of the overall experience.

  • In reply to mbavsmfin
    SlikRick's picture

    mbavsmfin:
    HBS is great, but so are a lot of other top schools. I also think current students and alums VASTLY hype how much fun they're having in b-school and the quality of the overall experience.

    Wait, you mean a stint at HBS isn't the best life-changing, mind-altering, pussy-slaying years of one's life? That's not what my sources tell me...

  • In reply to SlikRick
    mbavsmfin's picture

    SlikRick:
    mbavsmfin:
    HBS is great, but so are a lot of other top schools. I also think current students and alums VASTLY hype how much fun they're having in b-school and the quality of the overall experience.

    Wait, you mean a stint at HBS isn't the best life-changing, mind-altering, pussy-slaying years of one's life? That's not what my sources tell me...

    Um, not sure if you're being facetious. 2 of my best friends from college are first-years there right now. They like it, mostly because they're not working full-time and had a chance to meet some really cool people. But I wouldn't say they're going crazy socially or doing things you can't do if you're not in b-school.

  • In reply to mbavsmfin
    ladubs111's picture

    mbavsmfin:
    SlikRick:
    mbavsmfin:
    HBS is great, but so are a lot of other top schools. I also think current students and alums VASTLY hype how much fun they're having in b-school and the quality of the overall experience.

    Wait, you mean a stint at HBS isn't the best life-changing, mind-altering, pussy-slaying years of one's life? That's not what my sources tell me...

    Um, not sure if you're being facetious. 2 of my best friends from college are first-years there right now. They like it, mostly because they're not working full-time and had a chance to meet some really cool people. But I wouldn't say they're going crazy socially or doing things you can't do if you're not in b-school.

    I think most people like going to b school because its college 2.0 for them. Partying, drinking, no work stress. I can't even hang with my b school buddies at the bars anymore because they developed their college days tolerance back.

  • ozymandias's picture

    The discussion about "financial aid Beamers" was particularly eye-opening. People would drain their bank account by buying a BMW so that they could qualify for financial aid. PDB might have a chip on is shoulder about not getting a FT offer, but he didn't make up his facts about the shenanigans that go on at HBS.

    "It doesn't matter where you are or where you came from: it's about where you're going."

  • In reply to ozymandias
    mbavsmfin's picture

    ozymandias:
    The discussion about "financial aid Beamers" was particularly eye-opening. People would drain their bank account by buying a BMW so that they could qualify for financial aid. PDB might have a chip on is shoulder about not getting a FT offer, but he didn't make up his facts about the shenanigans that go on at HBS.

    Sure. He definitely did not fabricate anything. The guy I talked to confirmed that everything PDB said was accurate. Actually this alumni was mentioned in PDB's book, which was pretty funny.

    The shenanigans that go on at HBS have gotten worse since PDB was there. MUCH worse, or crazy/fun, depending on how you look at it.

  • In reply to mbavsmfin
    In The Flesh's picture

    mbavsmfin:
    One does wonder whether he would have written this exact same book or a book at all, if he had received offers from top firms.

    Probably, but he knew enough about himself that he understood he wouldn't be happy in one of those traditional front office roles. Of course the question then is why he was so upset over why he didn't get one.

    Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

  • In reply to ozymandias
    In The Flesh's picture

    ozymandias:
    The discussion about "financial aid Beamers" was particularly eye-opening. People would drain their bank account by buying a BMW so that they could qualify for financial aid. PDB might have a chip on is shoulder about not getting a FT offer, but he didn't make up his facts about the shenanigans that go on at HBS.

    Disgraceful and wrong. And this coming from an institution with a permanent endowment...

    Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

  • In reply to In The Flesh
    mbavsmfin's picture

    In The Flesh:
    ozymandias:
    The discussion about "financial aid Beamers" was particularly eye-opening. People would drain their bank account by buying a BMW so that they could qualify for financial aid. PDB might have a chip on is shoulder about not getting a FT offer, but he didn't make up his facts about the shenanigans that go on at HBS.

    Disgraceful and wrong. And this coming from an institution with a permanent endowment...

    Oh, there's much worse stuff going on at top b-schools such as rich internationals completely gaming the admissions process and people working at various "startups" and non-profits, grossly exaggerating stuff on their resumes. I could go on and on about these types of cases from people I personally know and hearing stories about their classmates. Although I applied to mba programs, I have very little respect for the admissions process or the culture and academic environment in general.

  • In reply to In The Flesh
    mbavsmfin's picture

    In The Flesh:
    mbavsmfin:
    One does wonder whether he would have written this exact same book or a book at all, if he had received offers from top firms.

    Probably, but he knew enough about himself that he understood he wouldn't be happy in one of those traditional front office roles. Of course the question then is why he was so upset over why he didn't get one.

    I don't buy it. Sounds like a classic defense mechanism to me, similar to when a guy gets dinged by a hot girl, and he tells others that she was not a "good fit" for him.

  • In reply to mbavsmfin
    In The Flesh's picture

    mbavsmfin:
    In The Flesh:
    mbavsmfin:
    One does wonder whether he would have written this exact same book or a book at all, if he had received offers from top firms.

    Probably, but he knew enough about himself that he understood he wouldn't be happy in one of those traditional front office roles. Of course the question then is why he was so upset over why he didn't get one.

    I don't buy it. Sounds like a classic defense mechanism to me, similar to when a guy gets dinged by a hot girl, and he tells others that she was not a "good fit" for him.

    Intense pressure and competition for jobs does things to people. For him, it made him completely forget about why he had come to HBS and what he was looking for in the first place to chase something just because that was what everyone was "expected" to do. Not making excuses, just giving his reasons from the book.

    Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

  • In reply to In The Flesh
    ozymandias's picture

    Re: why he was unhappy with FT recruiting, two words: Social pressure. It's hard to be told "this is what you have to do with your life after HBS," while not actually wanting to do front office work at a bank, PE shop, or consulting firm. Half convincing yourself is really destructive: when you don't get the job, you feel like you failed, and if you do get the job you're left dissatisfied.

    PDB seems to have a new job at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which would definitely be a better fit for someone with his background. Pretty sure that if he writes a new afterword, it would be more charitable to HBS though despite the ridiculousness that's already been mentioned.

    "It doesn't matter where you are or where you came from: it's about where you're going."

  • In reply to ozymandias
    mbavsmfin's picture

    ozymandias:
    Re: why he was unhappy with FT recruiting, two words: Social pressure. It's hard to be told "this is what you have to do with your life after HBS," while not actually wanting to do front office work at a bank, PE shop, or consulting firm. Half convincing yourself is really destructive: when you don't get the job, you feel like you failed, and if you do get the job you're left dissatisfied.

    PDB seems to have a new job at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which would definitely be a better fit for someone with his background. Pretty sure that if he writes a new afterword, it would be more charitable to HBS though despite the ridiculousness that's already been mentioned.

    A friend at HBS is planning on writing a book as well, sort of a response to PDB. He's had the discipline to keep a diary of his time at HBS thus far and plans on using the contents for the book, with names altered to preserve some anonymity. A few publishers have already expressed interest, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how it's received once it comes out.

  • In reply to mbavsmfin
    ozymandias's picture

    mbavsmfin:
    ozymandias:
    Re: why he was unhappy with FT recruiting, two words: Social pressure. It's hard to be told "this is what you have to do with your life after HBS," while not actually wanting to do front office work at a bank, PE shop, or consulting firm. Half convincing yourself is really destructive: when you don't get the job, you feel like you failed, and if you do get the job you're left dissatisfied.

    PDB seems to have a new job at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which would definitely be a better fit for someone with his background. Pretty sure that if he writes a new afterword, it would be more charitable to HBS though despite the ridiculousness that's already been mentioned.

    A friend at HBS is planning on writing a book as well, sort of a response to PDB. He's had the discipline to keep a diary of his time at HBS thus far and plans on using the contents for the book, with names altered to preserve some anonymity. A few publishers have already expressed interest, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how it's received once it comes out.

    Keep me posted on that. Would love to read it.

    "It doesn't matter where you are or where you came from: it's about where you're going."

  • In reply to ozymandias
    mbavsmfin's picture

    ozymandias:
    mbavsmfin:
    ozymandias:
    Re: why he was unhappy with FT recruiting, two words: Social pressure. It's hard to be told "this is what you have to do with your life after HBS," while not actually wanting to do front office work at a bank, PE shop, or consulting firm. Half convincing yourself is really destructive: when you don't get the job, you feel like you failed, and if you do get the job you're left dissatisfied.

    PDB seems to have a new job at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which would definitely be a better fit for someone with his background. Pretty sure that if he writes a new afterword, it would be more charitable to HBS though despite the ridiculousness that's already been mentioned.

    A friend at HBS is planning on writing a book as well, sort of a response to PDB. He's had the discipline to keep a diary of his time at HBS thus far and plans on using the contents for the book, with names altered to preserve some anonymity. A few publishers have already expressed interest, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how it's received once it comes out.

    Keep me posted on that. Would love to read it.

    I will. I've already read a lot of his diary entries, but obviously i'm not going to divulge the content here since that's private stuff. Suffice it to say, he's had some rather interesting and sordid experiences, so i think his book will garner much more notoriety than PDB's. In all fairness though, PDB was married and had a newborn baby when he started HBS; hence, I don't think his personal experience is that indicative of the HBS student body as a whole.

  • In reply to mbavsmfin
    In The Flesh's picture

    mbavsmfin:
    ozymandias:
    mbavsmfin:
    ozymandias:
    Re: why he was unhappy with FT recruiting, two words: Social pressure. It's hard to be told "this is what you have to do with your life after HBS," while not actually wanting to do front office work at a bank, PE shop, or consulting firm. Half convincing yourself is really destructive: when you don't get the job, you feel like you failed, and if you do get the job you're left dissatisfied.

    PDB seems to have a new job at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which would definitely be a better fit for someone with his background. Pretty sure that if he writes a new afterword, it would be more charitable to HBS though despite the ridiculousness that's already been mentioned.

    A friend at HBS is planning on writing a book as well, sort of a response to PDB. He's had the discipline to keep a diary of his time at HBS thus far and plans on using the contents for the book, with names altered to preserve some anonymity. A few publishers have already expressed interest, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how it's received once it comes out.

    Keep me posted on that. Would love to read it.

    I will. I've already read a lot of his diary entries, but obviously i'm not going to divulge the content here since that's private stuff. Suffice it to say, he's had some rather interesting and sordid experiences, so i think his book will garner much more notoriety than PDB's. In all fairness though, PDB was married and had a newborn baby when he started HBS; hence, I don't think his personal experience is that indicative of the HBS student body as a whole.

    Would like to do a review of that one as well! Sounds like it'll be a good counterpoint.

    Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

  • Amphipathic's picture

    I read (well, skimmed a lot) this book after finding this thread. I wouldn't recommend it to WSOers, with the main reason being that roughly 70% of the book is about his courses and descriptions of basic finance and business concepts. He does a very good job of introducing this material for the lay person, and describing HBS case studies delivers the info in an interesting way. However, this is not new material for the folks on this site. '

    The first third of the book is interesting, dealing with his arrival in Cambridge and descriptions of how HBS is run. After that it gets dull very quickly. The fact that he is married and with 2 kids is prob the reason why there are few interesting anecdotes in this book. A lot of this book is his whining about his classmate's obsession with money, his dislike of corporate culture, and his desire to spend a lot of time with his family in the future. Well why the hell did you go to HBS in the first place? Like a vegan hitting up mcdonalds (spending 175k in the process) and then being disappointed with the results. Seeing as he didn't get any SA position (instead writing a novel during the summer and calling it entrepreneurship?!) and was the only one in his section of 90 to leave without a job, this is not the person I want to be getting advice from...

  • CompBanker's picture

    I read the book while I was in banking and I found it a worthwhile read. The comments above are valid, so at least set expectations appropriately. Believe it or not, this book came up in one of my PE interviews (the interviewer was an HBS alum) and was probably partially responsible for me getting my first PE job. So while it isn't the best book in the world, it holds a special place in my heart. I didn't know it at the time, but years later I would get rejected by HBS!

    CompBanker

  • APAE's picture

    I enjoyed the book. I took its message with a grain of salt, knowing that his 'failure' to secure full-time employment as one of the most ostensibly employable people during one of the hottest hiring sprees ever would certainly tinge his perspective and that his marital/parental status would certainly give him a different student experience than his peers. That being said, I loved his writing style, his candid exposure of all things HBS (the financial aid process, the dining halls, recruiting, discussion groups, case method, classes, registration ... the banalities of life that would intrigue any would-be HBS student.

    In disclosure, I'm an alum of the SVMP program at HBS, so for me the book was right up my alley, but I don't think it merits as much flak as it's receiving here.

    Most people do things to add days to their life. I do things to add life to my days.

    Browse my blog as a WSO contributing author

  • guyfromct's picture

    My only comment on the book is that he didn't seem to fit the Harvard mold. There is something to be said for lifestyle, the happiest guys I know work in either lifestyle groups think pub fin or lifestyle oriented bank. I certainly understand his perspective. That said he did seem a bit bitter.

  • DBCooper's picture

    To unlock this content for free, please login / register below.

    Connecting helps us build a vibrant community. We'll never share your info without your permission. Sign up with email or if you are already a member, login here Bonus: Also get 6 free financial modeling lessons for free ($200+ value) when you register!

    Please don't quote Patrick Bateman.

  • In reply to DCDepository
    mbavsmfin's picture
  • In reply to DBCooper
    In The Flesh's picture

    Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com