What Harvard Really Teaches You!
Every problem is a gift
– without problems we would not grow. – Tony Robbins
Chapter 2. STARTING
It is better to dare to do great things,
to win glorious victory,
even through defeat,
than to be weak people who neither enjoy joy nor suffer
because They live in a dark world
that knows neither victory nor defeat.
― Theodore Roosevelt, excerpted from HBS admissions website
When I was a child,
I often heard stories about my great-grandfather.
Daw Ma Ma is Burmese,
lives in Rangoon and is married to an Anglo-French civil servant.
Her husband died
when she was 35 years old,
leaving behind 9 small children and a poor fortune.
With no business experience,
he came up with the idea of bringing Hollywood movies to Burma.
In just a few years,
he became the largest film distributor in the country
and owned the largest Palladium cinema in Rangoon.
One of my mother’s fondest childhood memories is watching
the movie Ben-Hur in the family theater.
Success has helped Daw Ma Ma buy many houses
and land in the affluent neighborhood of Rangoon,
on the banks of Inya Lake.
In this stately chalet,
my mother grew up with 52 cousins.
During these years,
politicians and diplomats have frequented here to please my great-grandfather.
When he died,
the house was filled with flowers from big Hollywood names
and a giant white cake from Rank Organization.
Not long after his death, a military council took over Burma,
the Burmese economy gradually declined.
Businesses were dissolved or nationalized,
the Inya lakefront property was damaged and dilapidated.
Most of my mother’s family members left Burma, some to America,
others to Australia and Scandinavian countries.
My mother met my father, an Englishman, in Bangladesh.
At that time, my mother’s family was trying
to get a passport to immigrate to the US,
and my father was a missionary of the Church of England,
in charge of the Anglican church in Dacca.
They fell in love, got married,
gave birth to me and returned to England to live.
Other branches of my mother’s family remain,
some very prosperous,
but no one will forget what Daw Ma Ma did for us in Burma.
Her success as a businesswoman has brought our family back
to its glory days,
and I’m reminded of that.
If you do what you’ve always done,
you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. – Tony Robbins
People enroll in business school for all sorts of reasons,
but it can often be divided into two main categories:
those who know exactly why they go to school,
and those who know only a little.
The first are those who come from companies
that traditionally send their employees to business school,
such as banks,
consulting firms and large Wall Street corporations,
which require an MBA if they are to succeed
to higher management positions,
or those who want to change careers.
They want to give up their position as an employee in a machine
to become an investment consultant or financial expert.
They know what they need to learn.
The second type is people
who want to change
but don’t know how.
They hope business school will give them answers
or at least some new options.
They also feel that two years at business school is more valuable
than sitting around in the office all day,
vainly hoping that somehow the glacier of their career will break
and take them on an adventure and attractive new.
I belong to the second group.
I want to be in control of my time,
and my life;
I think general business knowledge will be more useful to me.
I took a detour to HBS.
When I was two years old,
after returning to England,
my father took over a parish in Northampton,
an atheistic city famous for its shoe manufacturing.
Throughout my childhood,
conversations at home often revolved around church flower arrangements
and parish church council meetings.
In time, to add to my father’s meager salary,
my parents bought cheap houses
and rented them out to all sorts of people.
We also rent out in the rectory.
During this time, however,
a particular business story caught my attention.
That is the story of British billionaire, James Goldsmith.
He has built a fortune in many ways over the years.
In his youth, he gambled
and was heavily in debt,
his father had to pay the debt on his behalf.
At the age of 20,
he ran away with the 18-year-old daughter of a Bolivian tin tycoon.
The press eagerly covered their adventures.
Goldsmith’s wife died while giving birth to their first child,
and since then he has only focused on work.
He was an opportunist,
and selling pharmaceutical
and food companies,
often in danger of bankruptcy.
His financial activities are often the subject of mass media coverage.
In the 1980s, his time had come.
Using worthless bonds,
he borrowed money,
bought and sold the assets of loss-making companies
to create a huge fortune.
Just before the market crash in October 1987,
Goldsmith sold everything he had,
retired to the Pacific coast mansion of Mexico.
He appeared on the cover of Time magazine with the headline “Lucky Gambler”.
Goldsmith’s life is one big adventure, full of risks,
recklessness and battles of wits.
There’s nothing like the business I’ve ever known.
It made me think.
In the summer, after graduating from college,
I just hung around my parents’ house all day,
reading guidebooks and dreaming of a poet’s life on a Greek island:
a stone bed, honey and yoghurt breakfast,
some old books on a bookshelf carved into the wall,
evenings in the harbour’s pubs.
It was only when I recognized my father’s reproachful look
that I got a job in a telemarketing company in London,
arranged by my friend William.
In a room on Lots Street,
our job was to sell advertising
for a new publication called The Truck Driver’s Hand Book.
We only get paid 20% commission for an ad.
William displayed an innate ability to do this and also
because of the financial pressures of his growing habit of using opium.
He laughed when he saw me staring at the phone.
“Do your best, buddy.
Very easy. Check it out!”
He dialed the number of an engine parts supplier in Watford,
flattered the secretary,
chatted with the boss,
and ended the call with a guaranteed sale.
“Now, try again.”
I dialed the number slowly,
agonizingly pressing down on the phone as if it were broken.
On the other end of the line,
the secretary asked me to repeat what I just said.
“The truck driver’s what?
No, he’s not here. No, not soon. No.
Until next week or next week. No.
We do not advertise.” Chach.
By the 10th day, I was also able to sell ads.
In theory, I made £600.
But I celebrated this success by quitting my job two days later.
The boss, a tough alcoholic,
withheld my commission and fired me.
Obviously I’m not the right fit for the business.
I switched to journalism.
I wrote to the editor of the Daily Telegraph
and was tasked with the gleaning section.
It turns out I’m good at going to parties
and bringing back short tidbits of how the Prime Minister’s dog peed
on the duchess’s rosebush,
or a writer finding inspiration for his latest book
while what it’s like to go on a sailboat with the Archbishop of York.
I worked as a journalist for 10 years,
10 years of moderate work,
including 6 years as a foreign reporter.
My first overseas assignment was New York.
I am 25 years old and carry all my possessions in one suitcase.
For two years,
I traveled across the United States and Latin American countries to Terre Haute,
Indiana when Timothy McVeigh,
who confessed to bombing Oklahoma,
was executed; to Florida during the presidential election recount;
to the North Pole to interview Inuit;
and traveled to Tijuana (Mexico) to interview policemen
and journalists bravely confronting local drug cartels.
It is a vibrant and reckless life.
Sometimes from dawn
I am dispatched to the scene of a plane crash,
an important arrest,
or an unexpected political event.
I was in Chile for six weeks when General Pinochet was arrested in London,
flew all night to the Galapagos Island after an oil tanker sank,
interviewed Panama’s first female President about a military helicopter
that crashed in the jungle.
and a terrifying week in the violently ravaged Port-au-Prince.
But then in London,
the readership of the newspaper I worked for was dwindling
and the publishers refused to invest.
Feeling frustrated at having to endure long flights,
waiting hours in sticky airport lounges,
breathing in the noxious smell of fast food,
I started looking for a way out.
People who fail focus on what they have to go through;
people who succeed focus on what
it will feel like at the end. – Tony Robbins
I was sent to interview Gustavo Cisnerous,
a Venezuelan billionaire and friend of Conrad Black,
editor of the Daily Telegraph. Early in New York,
I interviewed TV presenters Barbara Walters
or Henry Kissinger in his office on Park Evenue.
Cisnerous’s office is located in a modern Upper East Side building
and is decorated in the style of a Latin American tycoon:
dark wood paneling,
oil paintings of conquistadors on horseback,
deep and comfortable armchair, good coffee.
Cisnerous is a small person.
He wore a light gray suit,
white shirt, and patterned blue tie.
He sat huddled in his chair, gesticulating
to describe acquisitions here,
sales there, sales in new markets elsewhere.
His hair was glossy black
and was combed back so much
that it seemed as though the wrinkles on his forehead were stretched.
His family made money in businesses such as bottling,
shipping and agriculture,
but he has successfully expanded the business into media and technology.
All that hard work, however,
happened thousands of miles away,
on the roads of Latin America and the manufacturing hubs of Miami.
Here, Gustavo and I could sit
and sip coffee and talk about the big picture
of the impact of globalization,
the importance of local brands.
As the secretary saw me off,
a creaking wooden door opened
and I caught a glimpse of a small meeting room,
in which a man and a woman were sitting behind laptops and chatting,
both bright and well-groomed.
They looked at me, smiled,
and continued to talk.
“Mr. Cisnerous only hires Harvard MBAs to work in his own office,”
the secretary said.
Some of my friends have MBAs,
most of them at INSEAD,
a school in the suburbs of Paris,
and they all rave about it.
Some people who have been to HBS criticized it.
They mocked its pomp,
the excessive seriousness of the students,
which contrasted sharply with the British carelessness.
However, all said that an MBA taught them the language of business.
They are very grateful for that.
So, in August 2001,
in a windowless gray room in an office building near New York City’s Central Station,
I took the GMAT,
the standardized math and English test
for graduate school in business.
My score is 730/800.
The average score to get into Harvard is 700. I can get in.
The 11th of the 9th has led me astray.
The press seems to have become important again.
Over the course of a few weeks,
I worked hard,
writing and managing a team of reporters
and photographers from London,
everyone jostling to cover the event.
Then, one evening,
I went to a basement bar to have a drink
with other Englishmen in New York.
Christmas lights hung all over the room,
making faces already heavy
with drunkenness look even redder.
“Shocking event,” said one,
holding up a beer bottle.
“I have never made so much money
from an event in my life.”
It was the emotionless,
indifferent reaction I often hear
whenever a major event,
a political scandal,
a celebrity trial,
even a terrorist attack occurs killed thousands of people.
The indifference that once attracted me
to journalism now disgusts me.
Besides, standing under the twin towers just before it collapsed,
seeing everyone jump to their deaths,
made me think of a question like many others.
If everything for you ended right now,
would you be happy with your life right now?
I have never felt the pressure of the above question
as clearly as I do now.
For several weeks on end,
I always felt as if I had been pressed into a corner
with a knife to my neck,
forcing an answer.
Did you live the way you were supposed to live?
Did you do everything possible?
Have you done that yet?
I was promoted to chief representative in Paris
as a reward for my work in New York.
I had met Margret 18 months earlier
and got married shortly before arriving in Paris.
Marriage and Paris distract me
from my desire to change careers.
There was a tumultuous presidential election to be covered,
a whole France to explore,
and a year after we were married,
our first son,
But that question still torments me.
A diplomat from the British Embassy in Paris told me that
whenever the ambassador invited the British press in France to lunch,
he found them rude.
The next time I had lunch at the embassy,
I looked around the table for writers
who had stayed in Paris long after their assignment was over.
After each month,
they seem to fall lower on the freelance ladder,
darker lips with cheap red wines.
Someone has only one question,
but he uses it on every subject:
what does all this mean for Europe?”
The ambassador pulled down his sleeve
and politely replied across the ornate table.
After long evenings drinking red wine
and chatting with friends,
I lay in bed, looking up at the ceiling,
my mind confused with vague dreams and fears.
I fear being called back to London.
So I jot down how I feel.
I write that I feel exhausted thinking about such things,
constantly thinking about change.
I am 31 years old, have a dream job
and a happy family.
I was torn between surrender to fate
worried that if I let my career change happen,
instead of changing it myself,
I would regret it immensely.
I write about Daw Ma Ma,
how the memory of
what she built has increased my family’s sense of loss,
now 50 years later,
evokes in me nostalgia for the past.
Business is his salvation,
and I feel that after avoiding it for so long,
business can also be my own salvation.
Goals are like magnets.
They’ll attract the things that make them come true. – Tony Robbins
HBS’s website is full of attractive “baits”.
US President Theodore Roosevelt’s challenge
“Dare to do great things” stands out in large red letters.
Phrases like passion and leadership come up all the time.
Photographs of enthusiastic students
and bespectacled instructors,
lecturing, exude wisdom and energy.
There, on the banks of the Charles River,
people were bold, creative and purposeful.
I am attracted
I went to Harvard for two reasons.
Firstly, because of the name.
Harvard is already very popular in the US,
but abroad, it is even more famous.
For better or for worse,
it remains the most prestigious university in America.
The second reason is its special education.
Although most business schools teach the same things,
there are different methods and focus.
Among the top schools,
Stanford is known
as a location of Silicon Valley businesses.
The Kellogg School,
is famous for its marketing.
The Wharton School,
University of Pennsylvania,
for Wall Street financial professionals.
Columbia studies deeply what happens in New York.
The Sloan School,
located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),
is for engineers
and scientists who want to put their ideas into business.
And Harvard is more about general management.
It prepares you to manage
and lead every department in a business,
not specializing in one area.
During the 2003 Christmas break,
I wrote my application essay to four schools:
Harvard, Kellogg, Stanford,
and Haas in Berkeley.
Since I’m not sure if any schools will choose me,
I’m hoping at least one of them will accept me.
I risked an essay, with utmost honesty.
I do not rely on any form,
nor am I consulted.
In your essay,
you must clarify three issues:
Why do you want to go to business school?
Why do you want to attend this business school?
What have you done so far
that makes you think this business school program will be useful to you?
For example, in terms of leadership experience,
I present running a newspaper representative office
at the time of the September 11, 2001 events.
To illustrate an ethical dilemma,
I describe Describes his difficulty
in maintaining the impartiality of a reporter
when writing about the victims
and supporters of General Pinochet in Chile.
The purpose of business school,
I write, is to one day be able to successfully build
and run a media company,
creating and distributing news
My certifiers were confused
by the forms they had to fill out.
“Philip, you have to help me,”
my editor begged on the phone
from his home in the English countryside on Christmas Eve,
“where should I mark your leadership qualities? five ratings?”
The next step is an interview of the school’s former student.
My interviewer was a large Frenchman
who used to be the owner of a business magazine.
He hobbled to the door of the Place Vauban room to greet me,
his leg in a cast.
By then it was getting dark
and the street lights on the avenue Invalides reflected on the ceiling.
He pulled up an armchair embossed
with the Harvard logo and the year he graduated,
invited me to sit, and returned to his giant desk.
“Why did you choose Harvard?” his voice was low.
“Because it is considered the best school”
“I used to read classical literature at Oxford.
Which author do you like?
“Golden Age Latin Poets like Virgin,
Catullus or Horace”.
“Which Virgil work do you like?”
“Most people like the Aeneid.
A few years ago someone said
that he attended the Lycée Louis le Grand,
Paris, the same school as me.
But I found out on his resume
that he wrote the words le Grand in a row.
We had to learn Latin,
so I asked him about Latin and he couldn’t answer.
Turns out he lied.
So I wanted to double check.”
He asked me why I wanted to quit my job as a journalist,
and then we had a pleasant half-hour conversation
about teaching classical literature in British schools
and our love of English works about France.
He must have been well-intentioned
with me because in April,
I received an email from Harvard accepting me for admission.
It was a warm spring day,
and I was walking my dog, Scarlett,
on Invalides Avenue.
We passed the crowds of tourists looking for the entrance
to the Napoleon memorial and the restaurants.
I wonder why all this beauty,
this civilization is still not enough.
Why do I need to throw everything away again and start over?
Not long after receiving the email,
I received the 2006 HBS Living Guide,
compiled by the student union.
One day, during my lunch break,
I found a chair in the Tuileries garden and read it.
“Welcome to HBS,” the book reads,
“to a rich and diverse community filled with impressive people
who dare to challenge themselves and each other…
and these are the best years of my life”.
Then came a list of book sponsors,
including five management consulting firms,
Gillette, and Wachovia Securities,
a North Carolina-based bank.
In the chapter “What to Bring,” two students wrote:
“Do not bring guitar and piano.
Bring your skis and golf clubs…
Don’t bring any books from the literature
and history courses you took in college…
Don’t bring “I can’t”.
“I will try”. Don’t carry pessimism.
Bring your optimism with you.
We want to share this experience with you.”
On another page titled “What to Expect and How to Prepare,”
I read, “Your calendar will be full of fun and surprises,
you just don’t have enough time to do it all.
It feels like you’ve fallen into a future CEO’s wonderland…
You may not prioritize networking,
but you still end up having a great network of friends.
This is the real power behind HBS’s renowned network of international,
interdisciplinary friendships that will last forever.
The Associate Director of MBA Support Services added a lengthy paragraph
that includes a description of the physical,
cognitive and behavioral signs of stress,
ranging from sweaty hands to nausea to crying
and want to throw things
or hit people.
Almost every page has black-and-white photographs
of students slung over each other’s shoulders,
on top of a mountain, in a pub,
in school uniform,
while holding a surfboard or sitting in dormitories.
The chapter “Boston Nightlife,”
which shows two students sharing an oversized cocktail, reads:
“Twenty years later,
when you look back on your time at HBS,
you won’t remember Go to subjects like operations management
and technology or finance,
but will remember dancing
and drinking with friends at this table in Pravda,
a bottle of Vodka in each hand!” Reading this far,
the student archetype of HBS formed in my mind is a lazy study,
eyes wide open, always stressed
and drinking a lot,
in the future will be a management consultant.
This is odd compared
to what I’ve read about Harvard Values Creation and Leadership.
It had taken me the previous two
and a half years to get used to the unusual language of Le Monde.
Suddenly, it was another language, even stranger.
I read, Leadership and Value Creation will “challenge students
to know their moral compass,
applying rigorous ethical standards
to business and leadership decisions.”
they let the process become instinctive.”
Lynn Paine, a professor of pedagogy,
has been quoted as saying the school needs
to “build a holistic approach to “leadership and values”
that goes beyond legal compliance ordinary punitive”;
“encourage [integrity] strategies
to prevent moral decay;
promote ethical action and thinking”.
I had to re-read it many times to fully understand.
What are integrity strategies?
Know what my moral compass is like?
Does this mean they will teach me how not to be a scammer?
What if the process of not behaving
like a cheat hasn’t become instinctive yet?
What if I don’t have a moral compass?
Or if I start misbehaving after two bottles of vodka in Pravda?
Is Lynn Paine’s opinion the problem or the solution?
Any time you sincerely want to make a change,
the first thing you must do is
to raise your standards. – Tony Robbins
On our last evening in Paris,
Margret and I dined at Maceo,
a restaurant located just behind the Royal Palace.
We started with champagne,
drank a bottle of white wine,
ate grilled yellow snapper and cold tomato soup.
Cigarette smoke hung around the table along
with the noise of the theater and the streets.
Returning to the US dealt me a huge blow.
Like every expats living in France,
our hearts are filled with mixed emotions.
Tonight, Paris takes on an ancient
and romantic air just as poets
and musicians often describe.
What did we learn from this city?
“Patience,” I told my wife.
Nothing can put a Frenchman in a hurry.
The revolutionary spirit lives on
and they do what they want in their own time.
Only charm, not violence,
“I already know what it takes to be happy,”
She’s not talking about the material side,
she’s talking about friends,
a supportive network,
a kind of career support.
“I suddenly realized how much I love this culture,”
I replied. Learning about France
by living here gives me profound satisfaction.
I miss the Anglo-American mass media,
the sense of humor
that I have always taken for granted,
and the tasteless obsession with sport.
Although we complained a little,
Paris was wonderful to us.
We went here in February 2002,
after our honeymoon.
It was one of those rainy and gray days.
The gravel around Place Wagram sparkled
as we drove back from the airport.
On the street, slim, cigarette-smoking people,
both men and women,
strode to work.
The Telegraph’s office is on Rivoli Street.
We gazed at the charmingly tranquil landscape:
two city gardeners were trimming the trees
in the Tuileries gardens
so that they would grow into flat canopy in spring.
We have enjoyed three wonderful springs in Paris.
I was immersed in the politics of this place
and interviewed many people in French scholar.
In the final months,
I was blacklisted by the French Foreign Office
for asking the authoritarian foreign minister Dominique de Villepin insolent questions.
We took the train from Paris to Milan to see Rigoletto
at La Scala and ate the best lunch of our lives at Le Grand Véfour,
the pre-Revolutionary restaurant
that occupies a corner of the Royal Palace.
A few weeks before I left,
during the official reception for the queen at the Elysée Palace,
I sat in front of President Chirac’s chief foreign adviser,
drinking fine wine and discussing France’s position
in the world in international School.
I had a respectable job.
But when I look into the future,
I know I need to change.
I need to go back to school to study accounting.
The only thing that’s keeping you from getting
what you want is the story you keep telling yourself. – Tony Robbins