“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 Warrenand 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