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Part II of MBA Mission’s Interview with the Author of “Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School”

Yesterday, we posted the first part of a two part interview with Philip Delves Broughton, an HBS graduate (’06) who wrote the controversial book, “Ahead of the Curve.”  We interviewed Delves Broughton to better understand his intentions and motivations as well as others’ reactions to his book and are publishing the second part of the interview below:

PART II

MBA Mission: You poke fun at a few characters who take the HBS experience quite seriously.  Is there room at HBS for such people?

Delves Broughton: Yes, of course. Business needs people who make things go. It can’t be run by a lot of cynical, artsy types. Business is serious and needs hard-driving, committed types. But I also think it needs people with perspective, who perceive the true nature of what it is they are doing, people who are capable of taking the right things seriously and possessing a complete sense of their responsibilities. When this is lacking, businesses can become alienating places both for employees and for the rest of society who must suffer the consequences of business’ excessively blinkered behavior.
 
MBA Mission: Should HBS have more Arthur Harveys (Note: Harvey is put forth as an incorruptible, anti-capitalist foil)?

Delves Broughton: I doubt Arthur would ever have cared to go to HBS. But yes, HBS could certainly use more people who see the way business operates from multiple perspectives, not just that of senior management. What does it mean when big food companies lobby government to loosen organic food regulations? It may be good news for food companies trying to exploit consumer interest in organic. But is it honest? Is it helpful to society? Is this even a decent long term business strategy? Or is it self-defeating? Businesses these days like to talk about listening to multiple stakeholders, but you wonder, do they really give a damn? Men like Harvey bring these issues into their proper perspective.

MBA Mission: What more would you like to have gotten out of Harvard Business School?

Well, the problem is that business people think that their way of doing things is best way. This message is a pretty strong one at Harvard Business School. When I went to business school, I went to learn about business. I didn’t want to be taught that it is my duty to go out and run the world. I wanted to be taught to run a business, which I think is perfectly worthwhile to do, and I wish they would have just stuck to that.

MBA Mission:  When Harbus critiqued your book, the BMW line and the booze luge seemed to really draw their ire. (Note: Delves Broughton tells the story of a student who suggests that many students manipulate financial aid to buy luxury cars and also reveals a hard partying lifestyle via a “booze luge” at a party).

Delves Broughton: Well, it’s two pages of a 300 page book… I feel they’re being slightly Orwellian about this and it’s almost like a political campaign where you focus on minutiae to avoid discussing big issues. If you want to make a fuss about the BWW and the booze luge, which they’ve chosen to do, I include those things as part of the experience, which they were.

But you know no one wants to talk to me about Arthur, you’re the first person who’s asked me about Arthur Harvey. Or, you know, my discussion of Michal Porter’s 5 horses, [or] how business can be used in government and all these things, which the book is full of. Half of them never bothered to. . .they’ve never been in touch with me. Which, I don’t mind, but they’ve never bothered to engage on these things.

They never want to talk about work-life balance, they put out this message that I’m a sort of bitter grad of the school, you know, that I’m full of sour grapes. I’m absolutely not. I very much enjoyed, I’ve given money to the school in the past since graduating. I’m merely trying to do my own thing. I think it’s something they feel very uncomfortable with…. I think that an institution of that power and influence merits discussion and criticism and praise and all these things…

MBA Mission: So, HBS focuses too closely on these two sections and possibly shoots the messenger?

Delves Broughton: I’ve been a journalist, I know the way these things work… This is the truth: that they like to think it is a book about Harvard Business School, it has Harvard Business School on the cover, you can’t get away from that. But, you know what’s really interesting is when I’m talking to people for whom it’s just a name, they just couldn’t care less about the booze luge and the BMW. What they want to talk about is work-life balance, entrepreneurial living….They want to talk about the big things which really keep you going. How can I make buck and still see the people I love? How can I do something interesting in my life and not drop dead having bored myself to tears so I can pay the rent. There are the big things, and that’s what the book is really about…




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