Love, Sex & Money: A Revealing Class Portrait of The Lives of Harvard MBAs

by John A. Byrne on

Can an MBA from a top school make a big difference in your life?

Just about all the applicants to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and other top business schools in the world believe that’s the case. Otherwise, they wouldn’t quit their jobs and attend a prestigious school in a two-year MBA program that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the research largely conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council shows that the vast majority of MBAs have no regrets. GMAC’s 2012 survey showed that 95% of MBAs and business school alumni rated the value of their degree as outstanding, excellent, or good. Nine out of 10 alumni say their graduate management education prepared them for their chosen careers.

Aside from such vague macro data, however, there’s generally little information that reveals what really happens to those who earn an MBA from a top school years after they’ve entered the workforce—until now. Poets&Quants obtained the results of a survey of Harvard Business School’s Class of 1986 that was done for its 25th reunion last year.

Members of the class were asked 85 questions that yielded revealing answers about their professional and personal lives at mid-life. Alums were asked if their lives have been easier or harder than expected, whether they believe America is a better place to live and work now, and if they ever had to hire a defense attorney. They were asked how they met their life’s partners, whether they divorced or stayed married, how much money they make, and what their personal net worth is.

A CLASS PROFILE THAT IS RICH IN DETAIL AND EXTRAORDINARY FOR ITS CANDOR 

Because the answers were only intended for the class and not the public, the results are extraordinarily candid and frank. Some 271 members of the class responded to the survey, representing 35% of the total class and 42% of the alums for which Harvard had current street or e-mail addresses.

This is a class that has endured three recessions, including the recent economic collapse that has been the most severe downturn since the Great Depression. It is also a class that has seen vast changes in the world of work, from the sizable impact of international competition to the growing use of technology in every aspect of life. The class has seen dramatic upheavals in societal and cultural norms, from marriage and divorce to the decline of Corporate Elite and the rise of the entrepreneur.

In the year the class graduated, Ronald Reagan was President and Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history. A gallon of gas cost 89 cents and the average income in the U.S. was $22,400. A Tandy 600 portable computer cost $1,594 (Apple had only introduced the first Macintosh computer a year earlier). Computers “were so heavy we all needed help getting them into our dorm rooms and since we were the first class in the history of HBS to have computers, the spreadsheets were incredibly buggy,” recalls Pamela Meyer, one of the ’86 women who made up 24% of the class.

SOME 47% OF THE CLASS HAS BEEN FIRED FROM A JOB, 14% HAVE BEEN DIVORCED

The result of the reunion survey is a fascinating profile of a class, a rich mosaic with both substantive and frivolous facts. Some of the more telling tidbits:

    • Even Harvard alums are not immune from downsizings and firings. Some 47% of the class said they had been involuntarily dismissed from a job, while 13% said they have been fired twice and 4% reported having lost a job three times in their 25 years since graduation.
    • Sex isn’t a very high priority for the Class of 1986–at least not that they are 53 to 55 years of age. Just 3% of the alums say they want more sex. The highest priorities? Time (31%), health (18%), and peace of mind (13%).
    • More members of the class have hired personal trainers (43%) than therapists (41%) or cosmetic surgeons (7%).
    • Slightly more than one in four alums have gained 11 to 20 pounds since they wore their cap and gown. Some 15% put on 21 to 30 pounds, while 5% tip the scales with weight gains of 31 to 50 pounds.
    • A third of the class (33%) admitted to having slept with someone whose last name they didn’t know (37% for men, 17% for women).

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  • Interesting, but unethical

    Very interesting read, one thing that I found extremely disconcerting is the fact that the school tricked the alums into thinking their responses would not be shared publicly whereas, in reality, they were. So much for teaching students to be ethical! lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=25503923 Bruce Vann

    How much sex do you have to have to not want more sex?? 

  • JohnAByrne

    Let me correct a misimpression you have. The school didn’t trick alums into anything because this was not shared by the school. I came across the survey doing independent research. This was not intended for publication and no one at Harvard “gave” the presentation to me.

  • Redford

    I am shocked the low divorce rate and also marathon rate. Both very impressive!

  • Interesting, but unethical

    Thanks for the clarification John. That is definitely helpful and makes me feel a lot better. 

  • Matthew

    John, why did you publish which is something very personal and meant only for the Class. Not your kind.

  • JohnAByrne

    Matthew,

    First off, thanks very much for your question. While many would consider it somewhat naive, I think it goes to the heart of why journalism exists and is an important aspect of an open and Democratic society.

    What Poets&Quants is trying to do is to bring greater depth and understanding to the world of graduate business education. So we do many stories that you can’t find anywhere else, and most of the original reporting and writing of those stories is not based on news releases from schools. It’s based on good, old fashioned journalism: challenging assumptions, creative story generation, digging up hard-to-get information and fact, thoughtful analysis. and an overall approach that informs as much as it entertains.

    One of the most important issues we frequently address on the site is the value of the degree. Getting an MBA is a huge personal investment. For most people, entering a full-time, two-year MBA program in their late 20s is the most expensive purchase they will make, other than to buy a house. Putting that investment into perspective by showing how it can impact one’s professional and personal life is an important and vital topic of exploration at Poets&Quants. 

    The story does exactly that. It gives applicants and others a rare view of what happens to people who make that investment. The publication of the survey’s results violates no one’s personal privacy because it is a group portrait. And, I might add, it is a highly positive portrait. Some 25 years after getting an MBA, this class is overwhelmingly grateful to Harvard for the experience; attributes a good part of their overall success to HBS and the degree; and is doing quite well with median income of $350K and personal net worth of $6 million–showing that the return on their MBA investment is very high indeed.

    I think the detailed insights provided in this story are invaluable to people who are struggling with an important decision in their lives–whether to quit a good job, set aside two full years of their lives, and spend well over a quarter of a million dollars to get the degree. If I could get my hands on similar data for 50 other schools, I would publish all of it.

    Best,
    John

  • Naveen

    thanks John. I personally found this survey to be one of the more fascinating ones I have read in a while. A median net worth of $6 million, a majority supporting both Reagan and Obama, low divorce rates…it’s a complex picture that’s painted.

    One mistake is that you said “Nearly one in eight (77%) owned a second car”. I think you mean “nearly eight in ten….”

  • JohnAByrne

    Yes. Thanks for catching that. It’s fixed now.

  • forel

    Fascinating reading! A sincere statement from such alumni worth much more than the schools publications and statistics.
    as the guy below me, I’m also amazed by the low divorce rate and marathon rate…

  • llavelle

    Awesome story, John. Nice going!
    Louis Lavelle
    Associate Editor
    Bloomberg Businessweek

  • Lblankfein

    Fired?! I’ve never been fired. What a bunch of losers. Won’t be hiring from there- guess they steal on the job or somethin’…

  • Guest

    Very insightful and interesting

  • http://twitter.com/BankerGolfer BankerGolfer

    Dumbest profile of a business school class I’ve ever seen. Weight gain/loss? Sex? This type of exposition belongs in the National Enquirer.

  • Albert

    I guess they really like you there in the McDonald’s’s Kitchen

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