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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  • 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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