Scenes From Harvard’s Super Rich MBAs

by John A. Byrne on

Harvard MBA Michael Hess (center)

Harvard MBA Michael Hess (center)

Michael Hess isn’t an ordinary member of Harvard Business School’s Class of 2013. After all, he’s a legacy graduate of both HBS and Harvard University and the son of John Hess whose net worth is estimated at north of $600 million. His father is chairman and CEO of the Hess Corp. which was founded by Michael’s grandfather, Leon Hess.

Hess also lived the good life at Harvard Business School, spending lavishly to travel to exotic spots around the world and party as if he were an undergraduate while an MBA student.

Indeed, Hess was identified by The New York Times today (Sept. 9) in a follow-up article to its Harvard Business School treatise in Sunday’s Times. That story explored the social class divide at HBS between the very wealthy and the rest of the students.

The newspaper singled out Hess as one of the spoiled rich kids at Harvard and a possible member of Section X, a secret society of HBS students known for their decadent parties and travel.

According to the Times, “In interviews, some students mentioned the Instagram feed of Michael Hess, a member of the class of 2013, who has posted photographs of Mick Jagger close-up in concert, courtside seats at a Knicks game and stops on his trips around the world.”

HBS party-goers under the caption "#nerds by day, #lads by night. Last class and party"

HBS party-goers under the caption “#nerds by day, #lads by night. Last class and party”

Within hours of the article’s publication, the numerous photos in Hess’ Instagram feed–documenting a good deal of excess–went private. Those previously public photos provided an unusual glimpse into what it’s like to attend Harvard Business School when you are filthy rich–photos of trips to hot spots all over the world, photos with beautiful women, and photos of plenty of partying and drinking on yachts, in clubs and bars, and even in a swimming pool for what is called a “customary late night post vodka dip.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being among the wealthiest members of a community. Many people who lack that wealth go to Harvard Business School in the hopes of tapping into the network of power, prestige and money that is part of the Harvard brand. But it’s another thing, say students, to flaunt your family wealth on Instagram or Facebook and use it to isolate you from others. Yet, that’s exactly what a small group of highly privileged students and their minions are apparently doing at Harvard Business School, according to former MBA students who have commented on the Times’ website.

The problem isn’t Harvard’s exclusively. Stanford B-School Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer says he has seen similar behavior at his school and believes it is endemic to most top business schools. “Students from all social backgrounds who gain admission to top schools all have the intellectual horsepower to effectively compete with their classmates in academics,” says Pfeffer in an essay published by Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “Not all students have equal ability to compete when it comes to participating in and throwing lavish parties…Business school has become way more about the parties than about the course work, which has left poorer students at a social—and professional—disadvantage.”

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  • SectionXisEverywhere

    At Michigan Ross – The same dynamic exist. It’s called Hill House, Compound, Rock House and being a member of the infamous “Bus” who look down upon others not in their social-economic status.

  • Paul Schafer

    Lesson #2:

    All HBS graduates are not created equal. There is a difference between an “HBS grad” and a “Harvard MBA”. People coming from money and connections will always walk in where others are uninvited, and merely being an HBS grad does not narrow that gap.

  • heyholetsgo

    Coming from an ivy undergraduate institution, I think it’s unfair to single out HBS or one kid that went there. At any ivy you have those kind of people and frankly, you can find enough high-school seniors at prep-schools living a jet-set life. If people have money, they should be free to spend it on whatever they like. However, I find it extremely repulsive when “the rich” show off on Instagram and feel superior to other classmates…

  • Orange1

    John, why are you even wasting keystrokes on these people? Give us some stories about people who are at that school, or any top-20, who struggled and had to deal with adversity to get in and succeed.

  • Lifeaintfair

    Ain’t that the truth. Nepotism at its finest and HBS pushes it. Don’t blame them but are these people truly leaders or the next wealthy ahole to later commit fraud and adultry

  • Rory

    Yes, please. Everyone loves a fairy tale.

  • Rory

    If they really felt superior there would be no need to show off.

  • LakeWorthCane

    Unrealistic expectations and ideals reflect outrage.

    It’s another dirty story about just one facet of humanity’s seamy underside. Any publication that wants readers can profer a hundred more such stories and likely will do so because readers hungrily devour them like sugar-coated, “hunnee-dipt,” beef/bacon-fat, chicken-cheese housewives of the buck-bucks: sure-fire ad-space sellers.

    It’s because people from lower- and middle-economic classes–the ones who:

    Spend more than they earn;

    Borrow more than they can repay;

    Buy houses they can’t afford, default on the mortgages and then blame the bank;

    Drink too much and use drugs daily;

    Cheat on their spouses, and;

    Steal from their employers–can’t get enough dirty stories about very wealthy people–”and their rich oil buddies”–behaving badly.

    Are you with me so far?

    Yes, yes, of course it’s true: many–not all, but many–wealthy people are nothing more than mentally unbalanced, doorway-dwelling degenerates with a half-billion dollars, a hot bath, an overpriced car, some high-dollar threads and an ivy-league diploma thrown in. (You can take the bum away from the degeneracy, but . . ..)

    Yes, yes, of course it’s also true: Harvard University and other ivy-league schools as elitist, holy fonts of intellect, wisdom and justice is a myth, likely perpetrated by–you guessed it–ivy-league schools and their esteemed, ambition-obsessed alumni. Like all schools, the ivy leagues have their future greats as well as their . . ..

    “Hey, let’s import another population of ultra-cheap labor and build another transcontinental railroad on Independence Day! Brilliant!”

    Yes, yes, it’s further true: local, state and federal public sectors are heavily–not completely, but heavily–populated with wealthy, ivy-league business and law grads, as are the various “private” industries that shape and control our lives. Read the dirty stories about ivy-league students. A decade later, vote for them because they smile and make promises everybody knows they can’t even understand, let alone keep; hire them for their ivy-league credits (which do not include diplomas).

    This isn’t cynical or hyperbolic: just a Tuesday-morning, two-cent’s worth from an average, middle-aged, 21st-century American who’s occasionally read, watched or listened to “the news”–assuredly a loosely applied term–over the past 50 years . . . and who’s never even heard of this (pretty cool) web site before, but who’s happened to find a link to the above story in a Linked-In email.

    Now that we (yawn) have all that out of the way . . ..

    Texas A&M has a questionable defense, but Alabama has a likewise offense, so it will come down to whether Aggie QB Johnny “Football” Manziel can get the Aggie offense around the ‘Tide’s typically considerable defense. I say yes . . .wait, no . . . wait . . ..

  • Anonymous

    I am from one Asian country and I can say that more than half of the people from my country at HBS are worth more than $30 Million. I even have a friend there who is worth $300 million and live that lifestyle. This doesn’t only happen at HBS, but at every top Ivy League schools (Most of them went to top US Prep schools). I don’t see anything wrong with accepting rich + smart students. They just have more access to better education.

  • Correction

    Could not be further from the truth. Hill House and Rock House are multi-room dilapidated homes filled mostly by MBAs. Occasionally they throw parties with kegs of Miller Lite. The Bus is a football tailgate party that takes place in a lumber yard. The social-economic stratification that you’re referring to at Ross does not exist.

    People who flamboyantly flaunt wealth, status, intellect or any other elitist behavior are labeled a Gunner at Ross and ostracized from the community, which is why that almost never happens.

  • NK

    Has P&Q become a tabloid? I don’t see why this kid needs to be named and shamed like this. As far as I can tell he has done nothing wrong or unethical and frankly his photos don’t even feature anything particularly lavish and crazy. Just pictures of him hanging out with friends and traveling. In one fell swoop, he has now been portrayed as a rich spoiled brat. He could be a smart, hard-working overachiever but we wouldn’t know any of that. We have already been told what to think of him and it’s 100% negative. Not exactly fair.

    I know this should mostly be directed at the Times but obviously P&Q saw fit to follow suit.

  • Shaniqua James

    That’s not an argument. They DO feel superior AND they do make a show. There’s no contradiction.

  • Rossisajoke

    No internationals – Indians or Asians are invited to live there or to the parties. Just upper middle class white kids and slutty Michigan sorority girls.

  • Nana

    He is rich and lives like a rich person. Is this news?

    I might not particularly respect this person for being an elitist twat, but I don’t think he deserves this kind of exposure.

  • SL

    life isn’t fair, time for people to get over it. Nepotism is everywhere and not just at HBS or other elite school. What happens at HBS is merely a microcosm of the larger world. Go into any major top banks / consulting / PE firms the dynamics are mostly the same… maybe with a little more discretion. Instead of complaining that the “cost” of networking with these people are too high… The people that are complaining about the parties and the cost and how “unfair” it is should reflect on the following:
    1. You’re at HBS / SGSB / etc. and among a cohorts of hundreds of the most talented business minds in the world. Many of you will be a business leader in your chosen field someday regardless of your family’s wealth. Complaining about the “lack” of networking opportunity just sounds silly to the other 99.9% of people out there.
    2. That classmate of yours that could afford the crazy parties and lavish trips are probably not the best guy / gal to help you with your career anyway – Point is this: Everyone has different career aspirations and life goals. How will someone who who’s life concern is managing and sustaining their dynastic family wealth will help you in your career / life aspiration? Can you even relate to someone in that situation?
    3. So you missed out on a few parties and trips you can’t afford. Does that take anything away from your GSB / HBS experience?

  • Peter WG86

    who cares?
    the children of the super rich will always be super rich no matter what they do.
    They don’t have to go to school to maintain that privilege.
    The only tragedy in this whole tawdry tale is that they — apparently thanks more to their connections or genes than their merit and talent — will have deprived someone who could really use the education of that slot.
    Good luck to you.
    Thank goodness I am aging and childless.

  • Truthissad

    Hill House, Compound, and Rock House exclude the Indian and Asian international students. Is D.Gerding, T. Werle friends with those who are not fratty white kids looking to smash 19 year old undergrad girls?

  • hbs_alum

    They probably submitted the pictures and story in themselves. P&Q please stop elevating these idiots.

  • vai

    Please John, give us some real inspiring stories that shows hard-working not-so-well off students rising to the top.

  • Ross2015

    As a dual degree candidate at Michigan, I find this comment about the Ross to be completely untrue. I am not a member of the “Bus,” nor do I live in the Compound/Rock House who you claim to “look down on others not in their social-economic status.” I am also a minority student who enjoys academics and does not excessively drink. The Michigan MBA students who live in the “Hill House, Compound, Rock House” are actually very down to earth and incredibly inclusive. They coordinate events- like charity beer pong- and invite the entire student body. All students attend the BUS tailgates. Yes, in business school, many people do drink quite a bit- I am not denying that. However, I do deny that Ross is a school that is exclusive of those of people not in their social-economic status and those who do not drink. I can’t speak for other schools, but I do recommend that people talk to actual students before making claims about a school culture to comment anonymously on what has become an MBA tabloid resource. Ross has been an incredible experience for me and I have never once felt that I am not part of this community because I am not wealthy or I choose not to drink heavily.

  • Wallace Rose Investments, LLC

    Yes and yes. And an address at 740 Park Avenue makes the topic of Section X or what B-school quite irrelevant don’t you think?

  • RefriedBeans

    It’s wrong to anyone who want the U.S. to operate as a meritocracy. We’d like an opportunity for the best of the best to get ahead through intelligence, character, and hard work. That’s the ideal, and of course, reality falls short.

    For better or worse, Harvard and HBS is a cultural institution and powerhouse of influence. Unfortunately, it functions quite poorly as a meritocracy. The Ivies are filled with many “rich + smart” students who are more rich than smart, who have attended the expensive feeder schools and been tutored extensively. Or worse, they get in simply due to legacy status or their families’ charitable donations. This serves not to promote our best and brightest, but to promote the offspring of the richest, who, despite their extensive preparation, are probably not the best or brightest.

    Do you think it’s any coincidence that Harvard gives its students mostly A’s? If it actually graded its students on ability, the students who are there on their merits will outperform those who paid for admission. How do you think the rich parents would like that?

    If you’ve spent time around HBS students, particularly during their social hours in the Boston area, you’ll know that smarts aren’t a defining characteristic as much as an ability to talk about themselves at length and with great enthusiasm. I haven’t figured out if self-importance is a trait HBS selects for, or if it’s a side-effect of attending HBS.

  • Tom Werle

    Thanks for the shout-out! As with the crazies at Occupy Wall Street, your perception is tainted by your distance from and inexperience with those you criticize. I don’t really deserve to be included in an article on super-rich MBAs (I assure you I come from very modest means and, because I’m a white male, I don’t qualify for any financial assistance or diversity-hire benefits). All of my considerable travel and fun during my MBA was paid for out of my own pocket. I don’t begrudge the Harvard wealth though. Matter of fact, had I gone there, I very likely would have been friends with these people. You know why? Because I’m a fun, social person and fun, social people like other fun, social people regardless of personal wealth or race. They especially like it when they don’t have to deal with the smugness of jealousy around them or the pressure to fend off stereotypes developed by people so insulated that they rely on tabloid journalism to fill them in on social events they were too intimidated to attend.

    I paid $850/month to live at a party house at Ross and loved every minute of it. We, along with the other houses you cite, threw a lot of parties, all of which we lost money on and some of which raised money for charity. We invited the entire school to all of them and many international students decided to step outside their comfort zone, attend and have a great time. That requires a level of personal ambition you apparently lack.

    I already have plenty of friends. It is not my responsibility, nor is it the responsibility of these Harvard MBAs, to see if you want to be another one. The notion that this article supports, which deems it morally superior to be uber-inclusive with your social circle is silly. People are different and free to choose who they associate with. Hanging out on the cover of a high school math text book (American culture reference) would diminish the quality of my life, which you have no right to define.

    P.S. I don’t ever read this website, but one of my many friends forwarded it to me.

  • Really?!

    Calling out specific people on a public thread is pretty classless and cowardly. I know both of those people and can speak to their character. As others have mentioned, I’m pretty sure the whole school has been invited to any of the aforementioned houses’ events and whenever I go to one of their events I see plenty of international students having a good time. If you’re a student at Ross and chose not to participate that is on you. In terms of “fratty white kids”, people of various races currently live at these houses and the same was true last year. Also, good luck finding single guys at business school who aren’t interested in 19 year old undergrads…the same could also be said for many single girls I know at Ross so it goes both ways.

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