How is it like to attend Harvard Business School ?

The question !

Today I was with one of my Vietnamese ex-student, a young successful man, and he asked me a strange, unexpected question: ” Did you ever regret anything about getting an MBA at Harvard ?” I was surprised and I replied “never” without hesitation. Then he asked me why ! It’s always hard to answer such question on the spot because it leads to a number of thoughts. So, this is for him ! And for you !

First of all, this was a dream coming true at a young age. I was 25 at the time and my dream was to study in the US in a prestigious university. It could have been Stanford or MIT but then, Harvard was some kind of myth. When you’re offered a ticket entrance for theirMBA, it’s hard to say no. But actually, I only realized the value of the journey after going through it.

First of all, I went through “experiential learning” before the word was invented. Solving cases, day after day, for two years, was quite an experience. Eighty students in a classroom, trying to get a minute or two to talk and get a point to their peers and their prof, teaches you the importance of self expression. If you never talk, you’re frustrated and never get recognized. If you say some platitude, you feel others looking at you with some kind of pity and the prof ignoring you ! You learn humility and the value of words.

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Secondly, I gradually built my selfconfidence. This is a key point in all strong MBA programs. People enter fresh, either underconfident or overconfident, and the confrontation with others is balancing all that. You quickly see where you stand. In class discussions and through the tests. Being in a group of very smart individuals leads you toward excellence. It’s like playing in Champions League. At the end, you get out of that experience with an exceptional level of confidence in your skills and, if you’re lucky, you are balancing that happy feeling with a high degree of humility. That’s the top !

Thirdly, I was taught by great profs. I had had good and some very good teachers in my life so far but i was amazed by the enthusiasm and the professionalism of Harvard profs. I got interested in marketing when following Hiro Takeushi, http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?facId=6563, a young Japanese guy, now a famous professor who was just stunning ! A real show ! I learned strategy with Malcolm Salter http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?facId=6545 and Joe Bower http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?facId=6426. Their techniques of teaching inspired me so much that I decided that I’d be a prof of strategy some day. Which I became. They were fun, but tough. Friendly with students but incredibly respected. So inspiring that we were waiting impatiently for the next class session.

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There are many other things that made this MBA the experience of the life. A wonderful campus, the legacy of heritage, sport and fun, and a number of anecdotes that we like to remember. But basically, it gave to my life a dimension that is still guiding me today.

Harvard is not the only place where you can experience all this. In any great MBA, including the one I’m now teaching in, the journey is more important than the knowledge. Today it’s easy to get the knowledge: you click and it’s there !   Giving sense to knowledge is the trick !

I wish you can all, “ride high”, as rangers say in the wild West. As high as you can. And still higher !

Be inspired !

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