Bookcase : What They Teach You at Harvard Business School

• Philip Delves Broughton
• Penguin
• RRP $37.00

After few months at Harvard Business School, Philip Delves Broughton was torn between conviction that business had “become its own freak show” and his deepening understanding and sympathy for what business people do.
It was an ambivalence that persisted – perhaps not unsurprisingly after his first year at what is regarded as possibly the most elite factory for top business leaders ended with Broughton “bare chested, handcuffed to muscular bond trader and surrounded by my braying peers”. For this he had abandoned post as Paris bureau chief for The Daily Telegraph?
Exactly why he’d chosen this particular career leap and how it might benefit either himself, his family or the world in general is theme Broughton returns to explore like pesky tooth cavity in between grappling with the intricacies of finance, analytics, or strategy, being introduced to the booze luge and discovering that OCRA is not necessarily vegetable. His two-year US$175,000 odyssey through the cauldron of capitalism is tackled with intelligent curiosity, keen observation, healthy dose of scepticism and often very humorous analysis.
Totally prepared to learn but not to be brainwashed, delighted by the privilege of access to so many of the world’s top business minds but never so overawed that he loses his critical faculties, Broughton provides some great insights into current business and management trends. He enjoys strategy, admires Michael Porter, ponders the obsession with “passion” at work and whether companies use the world so freely because it sets loftier goal for their activities than mere profits. And what, he wonders, lies beyond passion? One recruiter described its analysts as sharing “knee-trembling, quivering orgasmic degree of focus” on company fundamentals!
“What would sound like the ravings of madman coming from say Kim Jong-Il had become perfectly commonplace coming from business leaders,” observes Broughton.
Despite his growing respect for business process and management, he never really rids himself of the quiet voice telling him that “making money is ridiculous way to spend your life”. Why do so many “successful” MBA graduates seem to fail on the family front? And Broughton takes issue with Jack Welch’s assertion that business is the most important institution in our society.
Although happy with his career choice, Broughton believes business needs to relearn its limits. The HBS mission to “educate leaders who make difference in the world” supposes that business leadership is the kind the world needs – and “after two years there I was not convinced”.
It all adds up to an absorbing read – blessed with surprising number of laugh-out-loud moments and some delightful descriptions. Likening Myer-Briggs testing as the “closest business gets to issuing barcodes for personalities” was just one favourite.

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