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Ahead of the Curve
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In the century since its founding, Harvard Business School has become the single most influential institution in global business. Twenty percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are HBS graduates, as are many of our savviest entrepreneurs (e.g., Michael Bloomberg) and canniest felons (e.g., Jeffrey Skilling). The top investment banks and brokerage houses routinely send their brightest young stars to HBS to groom them for future power. To these people and many others, a Harvard MBA is a golden ticket to the Olympian heights of American business. In 2004, Philip Delves Broughton abandoned a postas Paris bureau chief of the London Daily Telegraph to join nine hundred other would-be tycoons on HBS's plush campus. Over the next two years, he and his classmates would be inundated with the best and the rest of American business culture that HBS epitomizes. The core of the school's curriculum is the "case": an analysis of a real business situation from which the students must, with a professor's guidance, tease lessons. Delves Broughton studied more than five hundred cases and recounts the most revelatory ones here. He also learns the surprising pleasures of accounting, the allure of "beta," the ingenious chicanery of leveraging, and innumerable other hidden workings of the business world, all of which he limns with a wry clarity reminiscent of Liar's Poker. He also exposes the less savory trappings of b-school culture, from the "booze luge" to the pandemic obsession with PowerPoint to the specter of depression that stalks too many overburdened students. With acute and often uproarious candor, he assesses the school's success at teaching the traits it extols as most important in business leadership, decisiveness, ethical behavior, work/life balance. Published during the one hundredth anniversary of Harvard Business School, Ahead of the Curve offers a richly detailed and revealing you-are-there account of the institution that has, for good or ill, made American business what it is today.

Customer Reviews:

  • well written book, but I have doubts ...
    The book is well written, as befits someone who had a career as a journalist prior to business school. The scenes are captured wonderfully, dialogue skillfully rendered, the portraits of places make them seem almost palpable.

    And yet... whenever he writes about something I know about, he is DEAD wrong. Since I was never a Harvard MBA student I wonder whether his depictions of places and events of which he is supposed to be more familiar are any more accurate.

    Let me give 3 examples. In his dismissive account of a visit to Silicon Valley (pp 120-21) he writes "Up in the hills were town such as Palo Alto, Woodside, and Atherton..." The housing in Palo Alto & Atherton is not up in hills. It's on the flatlands skirting the San Francisco Bay, at most 100 feet above the water. In fact the city data at has it located 23 feet above sea level, hardly "up in the hills".

    Of his visit to Google he writes "Google's headquarters was a sprawling glass and metal complex originally built for Netscape" (pp 219). No, it wasn't. It's previous tenant was Silicon Graphics (SGI). Netscape was never in the building. There is a *tenuous* connection -- Jim Clarke, a founder of SGI, left and later founded Netscape among other companies. But Clarke left SGI long before SGI even erected the complex (and then immediately cratered as a going business). But if this sentence exemplifies the depth of his research and the accuracy of his reporting, what in the book can you trust?

    In recounting a talk by Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, he writes that Dan recommended they ditch their copies of books about entrepreneurs recommended by the faculty and "read 'One Smart Cookie', the biography of Debbi Fields, the founder of Mrs. Fields cookies (pp 238). She was a single mother, had three children by the age of twenty-one, and loved cookies. She know nothing about finance or business." Uh, no. Not a single sentence he remembers is true. She was married, her husband a wealthy stockbroker working in Palo Alto (not in the "hills", but on University Ave). The "little Missus" liked to bake, so as an indulgence he spotted her a store in a food mall down the block from his job. The very 1st Mrs. Fields store was right in pricy downtown Palo Alto (inside a mall later razed and now hosting a Z-Gallerie store). And if she knew nothing about finance, her husband (now ex) certainly did.

    I was never in the classes the author attended. Maybe those accounts are accurate. But every time I ran across something in this book I know about, his story is just plain wrong and/or shows he didn't bother spending even a few minutes to check his account is correct. So I'm skeptical, to say the least, about the rest of the book....more info
  • Worth Buying!
    My local libraries have both the PDF and audiobook format editions via Overdrive, of this book, and I have consumed both. I might have even bought it here given the necessity, in retrospect! In addition to Amazon's HQ, the Seattle area has good library systems!

    What did I miss by not being at HBS? I have a few inclinations here. However, the way things are done there makes me glad I am back on the West or Left Coast, despite having spent 2/3 of my life on the East after being born in California.

    I hope the author is earning enough to pay down his self-reported loan debt of $175,000.00 he obtained to attend the grand institution....more info
  • A disappointment
    Having gone to an Ivy League business school myself and later turned to journalism, I find this book a huge disappointment.

    The rigor of the program, the competition amongst the peers were exhausted to death, but even more so were the different lessons and takeaways from various core classes. I mean what's the point of explaining the "efficient frontier" in such detail, taking up several paragraphs, for example.

    I wished Broughton would've spent more time analysing the characters of his classmates and faculty members and really make these people come alive, and delve further into their lives, rather than making one or two sentence comments on these colorful people, or taking a simple quote here and there.

    Also, HBS is a legacy, he should immerse more into the lives, ambitions, disappointments, change of events of his colleagues. What brought them there, and what are the events which fostered such a group of Type A personalities.

    It is interesting in and of itself to following the careers of his classmates. Rather than just pointing out the consulting guy is ambition, the military guy is methodical, or the investment banker unbearable. I wanted to read more, but Broughton's work really disappointed me.

    It's realy a sophomoric attempt at exposing HBS.
    ...more info
  • So That's What I Missed At Harvard
    I thoroughly enjoyed this account of the Harvard MBA experience. I definitely recommend this book to any student considering their career options whether in business or any other field since the author's reflections are worth considering no matter what field one is considering.

    The book is also a fun read for anyone with an MBA from a school other than Harvard - especially if you have ever been curious about how your MBA program compares to a school like Harvard.
    ...more info
  • Dissecting the HBS brand, with love
    The most influencial academic institution whose alums control the flow of billions (trillions, as corrected by one HBS student) of dollars in the global economy, has many faces. The author takes us through a campus tour and tells us a story. A story about the wild parties, the academic rigor, the intellectual stimulants. Also the moral dilemma, insecurity, mindless rat race and a quest for self discovery. Getting into HBS is hard, but harder is to stay true to one's primal instincts and beliefs once inside the system. HBS claims to explain 'how the world works', but we learn that at times it probably couldn't be farther away from the world outside. It is a witty, thought provoking account of soul-searching. If you are considering applying to HBS, read it to get an idea of the curriculum, the professors and the cases - if nothing else. Because chances are, HBS would soon strip you of your inner emotions and turn you into a conformist foot-soldier of American capitalism, no matter how hard you were warned before....more info
  • it's about life, stupid.
    As the father of a recent HBS graduate, I was drawn into the book to understand more about the inside workings of Harvard. As a graduate of a community college in New York, and the father of eight children, and owner of a 30 year successful technology business, I quickly realized that this book was about true success. The balance of family, love of work, and of course, making a living. The chapters replayed much of what my daughter talked about, but I could now truly understand the life and pressure of those embarking on this trip. It was amazing to hear from somebody almost half my age that he truly understood what most people didn't.He heard of the loss by those that did not follow their hearts, but allowed the brand they wore to set their direction in life. The guilt I sometimes feel for being a parent that pushed their child to fufill their own dreams is now diminished, since I know, just like Philip chose to stay true to his heart, my child may elect to do the same. This book is not about Harvard, it is about life. I want to thank him. Although many books have talked about life-work balance, "ahead of the curve" shows us what we need to consider when raising our children, and helping them in their life choices....more info
  • Recommended at a personal and professional level
    Harvard Business School is a mystery for anyone outside of that exclusive and influential club, until now. Ahead of the Curve provides an intimate, detailed and comprehensive look inside an experience that influences businesses and government around the world. Philip Delves Broughton achieves a unique balance of personal diary, travel log review, and business book in this book one that makes it highly recommended. Ahead of the Curve can be read from each of these perspectives with the reader gaining different lessons from the author's experience.

    From a personal perspective, Broughton continually highlights the struggle between work and family throughout the book. It seems like everyone at HBS is locked into a struggle between being successful at work and having some semblance of a home life. As I recall, not one person had a balanced life where they were described as having both a strong position home life and a successful career. The extremes of either multiple divorces or putting their life on hold is a theme many will resonate with and use as a reason to explain their current situation.

    From the travel log perspective, the book gives you a Fodor's view of what it feels to be two years in the pressure cooker of HBS. The layout of the classroom, the structure of the sections, the top flight facilities, living in Cambridge, the John Jakes style encounters with HBS professors and titans of business all are strong points of the book. This travel log perspective gives the book a sense of reality and its more novelistic touches. These also make the book very readable and plausible. This was the color and contrast that turned what could have been a binary morality play about work and personal life into something that was real.

    The gem of this book however is in its explanation of the core business concepts that are the foundation of HBS. Broughton effortlessly puts concepts like Porter's four forces model, corporate finance, and other into prose that is understandable and powerful. While this is not the focus of the book, each chapter contains a few paragraphs or a page that describes what these concepts are, how they fit in the context of the HBS experience, and what they are intended to mean in the larger business world.

    Broughton is a journalist, so some of this was to be expected, but rather than reporting on the concept, he explains it in a way other people can understand not just comprehend. While Broughton did not get a job after his two years at HBS, his ability to make these concepts simple and accessible points to a gift - one that we are in dire need of as business faces tough and complex challenges.

    Overall, highly recommended and I have already passed my copy on to a colleague who hopefully will return it so I can pass it on again....more info