Harvard’s Anita Elberse Teaches Entertainment Ropes To Execs (And Celebrities)

Sir Alex Ferguson with Anita Elberse

Sir Alex Ferguson with Anita Elberse

SUMMER SESSION COMES WITH GUEST CELEBRITY SPEAKER

And the course is anything but MBA Lite. In developing the course, Elberse condensed the 25-30 cases she covers for second years down to 12-14 cases – which she covers in just four days. “Basically, what I’ve done,” Elberse admits, “is that I’ve looked over the entire lineup and I pick what I think are the best ones, the ones that will get to all of the major core concepts that I would cover with my MBA students and would make for a compelling lineup.”

The executive students also enjoy a special treat. Each year, Elberse brings in an industry practitioner to speak to the class. In 2014, Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of the Manchester United Soccer club came to Boston to participate in a case study that was done on him. In 2015, Brandon Marshall, a 2014 participant, returned to share how he applied what he learned (The 2016 guest speaker won’t be announced until the class starts).

“We always do one informal session with the creative talent,” Elberse explains, “so you can imagine the executives have a lot of questions for them. They are very interested in their perspective because usually they don’t have the opportunity – even those who work in the entertainment industry – to ask a Dwyane Wade what he really thinks about things. So we also make it possible through informal panel discussions to do that.”

SUMMER PARTICIPANTS LOOKING FOR RELEVANT TAKEAWAYS

Despite a more compressed schedule, Elberse teaches the course the same way with the summer executives as she does with her second year HBS students. “I don’t have a different plan with the executives. I don’t go in asking different questions. I go where the energy is and sometimes that might be a little different, but it also depends on when we’re teaching the case and maybe some recent developments that might be in the backs of their minds.”

HBS Executive Education

That said, Elberse has noticed some distinct differences between her traditional students and the seasoned executives who populate the summer session. Naturally, the executives’ industry experience gives them a slight edge, Elberse concedes. “When you have executives in the room, they will have been exposed to more situations and have more work experience than [students] so there are certain things that you can cover a lot faster. So I think we make good use of that and some of the discussions are much more interesting because you have people who have actually lived it.”

That’s not a slap at her HBS students, who Elberse sees bringing flexibility and an eye for detail to the table. “They bring in certain things that traditional executives don’t, such as the ability to run numbers back and forth to see what happens when you do it in multiple ways. The executives do more of a back of the envelope translation.”

Their needs are also much different, Elberse adds. “When you’re doing a dozen or so cases, you’re asking at the end of every case: ‘What does this mean for my business when I get back on Monday morning?’ At the end of a discussion, I try to give them a handle on here are what you might think of as takeaways. Obviously, you’ll have your own takeaways, but [I’ll share] what I have found to be

insightful lessons on these cases. So I try to maybe package it a little more on the end to make sure we help our participants to make it relevant to their businesses immediately.”

THE NETWORK IS THE CLINCHER

Beyond the case lessons, executives take home another benefit from the course: A network. When Knaya arrived at Harvard last summer, he only knew a colleague from Twitter. A week later, he came away with a peer group that he could reach out to for advice – or to open doors when he was looking for business partners. In fact, Knaya shares that he keeps in touch with his classmates via social media, particularly the seven countrymen who were part of his class. “We exchange a lot of information,” he gushes.

And such intangibles are perhaps the biggest draw of this course. “Anyone can buy my book,” Elberse concludes, “but I think it really comes alive when you’re here.”

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