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What They Teach You at Harvard Business School, Executive Summary


June 2, 2019


Josh Jones

Our assistant also wrote the following executive summary.  Who knows? You may not even need to go to business school after reading it ; )

Just kidding.  But seriously, have a look. Chapters and summaries:

  1. “Let’s Get Retarded”
    1. Harvard’s model intends to teach a way of thinking and approaching situations, rather than facts alone
    2. Overview of the importance of ratios in business (supply:demand, inventory:sales, etc)
    3. Anecdotes about classmates and starting at HBS
  2. “Starting over”
    1. Anecdote about Burmese great-grandmother, a successful film distributor and entrepreneur
    2. Description of jobs pre-MBA (worked in journalism) and decision to attend HBS
  3. “A Place Apart”
    1. Brief overview of the history of Harvard and his first impressions of it
  4. “Riding the Booze Luge”
    1. Told to memorize two conceptual equations:
      1. Assets=liabilities+equity
      2. Accounting=economic truth+measurement error+bias
    2. Discussion of whether accounting is useful
    3. Class on human behavior in business contexts, taught to expect and account for human error and irrational behavior
    4. Anecdotes about the people in his class and party culture–as an older student, felt socially disengaged from many of his peers
  5. “Who Am I”
    1. Discussion of the author’s own strengths and weaknesses in the context of having been required to take the Meyers-Briggs test for a class
  6. “Formin’, Stormin’, Normin’, Performin’”
    1. “Funding gap” a common problem in new businesses (having more inventory than needed and/or not making enough from sales to pay suppliers and profit)
    2. Importance of prioritizing long-term over short-term profit
    3. Anecdotes about interpersonal drama in classes
  7. “To Beta and Beyond”
    1. Chapter primarily about balancing risk and reward, especially in the stock market
    2. Beta = the ratio of an individual stock’s percent increase/decrease to that of the market (beta of 1 = the same, beta of 2 = stock increases/decreases by 2x the increase/decrease of market)
    3. Alpha = the difference between the market’s increase and that of one person’s portfolio (someone with an alpha of 2 will see their portfolio go up 5% if market goes up 3%, 10% if market goes up 8%, etc.)
    4. Briefs of several alumni who guest lectured and discussed importance of work-life balance–difficulty prioritizing and balancing different facets of life becomes a recurring theme
    5. Mentions Toyota as an example of an efficient company, because factory employees are able to report any concerns at any time, therefore eliminating problems early on
      1. Importance of making employees feel valued/necessary
  8. “The Risk Master”
    1. Anecdotes about meeting CEOs and their different personality quirks
  9. “Insecure Overachievers”
    1. Anecdotes about the stressful and competitive culture of business school, looking for jobs, and networking
  10. “Ethical Jihadists”
    1. Marketing classes–“a good product alone won’t get you there”
    2. Vertical vs. horizontal differentiation (vertical = one product is superior in quality to another (designer vs. knockoff handbags), horizontal = same product quality, but appeal to different demographics (women’s vs. men’s shampoo))
    3. Discussion of the ethical issues inherent to business and when it is/isn’t acceptable to compromise one’s moral compass
  11. “Extreme Leverage”
    1. Idea of “debt as discipline” because it forces you to focus only on the money and motivates you to work harder and smarter
    2. Visited by Rubenstein, a lawyer turned Carlyle founder—when asked about what he looked for in an employee, said “a reasonable degree of intelligence, a strong work ethic, the ability to get along with others, a desire to build something important, and the ability to keep your ego in check.” Also, “Be a decision maker, not a service provider.”
    3. Tries to start a business, similar to a prototypical podcast library
      1. Discussion of the importance of selling oneself as well as product
      2. His business flopped
  12. “Chasing the Curve”
    1. Marketing to “visionaries” who want newest & highest status of everything vs to “pragmatists” who want reliability and are more conformist (Tesla vs. Ford)
    2. Marketing cross culturally—US likes bravado and individual success, Europe likes modesty and “show, don’t tell” competence
    3. Calculating risk in terms of probability—50% chance of moderate gain = 1% chance of massive gain
    4. “Graduate degrees are no guarantee of business smarts”
  13. “Big Hairy Goals”
    1. More anecdotes about pressure of corporate culture and struggle of job search
    2. Series of interviews with Google, which asked for “big hairy audacious goals,” and decision not to work for Google
  14. “Watching My Children Grow Longer”
    1. Took a class with 50% MBAs & 50% Kennedy School of Government students on “developing business interests in social progress”
      1. Differences in approaches between schools–KSG students were more focused on issues of the big picture & humanity, HSB students were more interested in details & potential for profit
    2. Author’s realization that he is becoming so mathematical in his analyses of economic situations to the point of neglecting interpersonal factors
    3. Anecdote about pre-MBA work as a journalist covering G8 summit protests—enjoyed protesters because “the forces of capitalism needed scaring now and again. who else would keep them honest?”
    4. Wrote term paper about visiting Harvey, a farmer living in an off the grid commune in Maine
  15. “Graduation”
    1. More anecdotes about difficulties with job search, advised to prioritize family and not settle for a position he doesn’t want just to have a job
    2. Graduation, given advice over several speeches:
      1. “1. When we look back, the big things will look small and the small things will look big.
      2. 2. Comparison is the death of happiness.
      3. 3. We are all we have; no one will rescue us.”
    3. and
      1. “1. Resist the temptation to be a short termist.
      2. 2. Be honest with yourself about what jobs are the right ones for you.
      3. 3. Keep your moral compass.
      4. 4. Maintain the proper balance between your professional career and your personal life.”
  16. “A Factory For Unhappy People”
    1. Reconnecting with some classmates, where they ended up working and how their lives turned out
    2. Reflections on how HBS produces people who want to quantify success and therefore prioritize salary over values

If you found the summary useful, you might be interested in buying the full book.


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