How Much Has HBS Changed Since Bannon Went There In 1983?

Steve Bannon at the age of 29 in a Harvard Business School classroom in 1983

Steve Bannon at the age of 29 in a Harvard Business School classroom in 1983

The Steve Bannon portrayed as a right-wing provocateur is at odds with the MBA student who was at Harvard Business School in the early-to-mid-1980s. At least that’s the conclusion of a detailed profile of Bannon, named senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist by Trump, published today by The Boston Globe.

Earlier this month, more than than 650 women who are graduates or current students of Harvard Business School signed a letter condemning Bannon, a 1985 graduate of the school, for being described “as one of the chief architects of the alt-right movement, a movement that preaches white nationalism, racism, misogyny and hatred.the newly named chief strategist for President-elect Donald Trump.”

In the article, based on interviews with more than two dozen former HBS classmates, Bannon comes across as a rather typical Harvard MBA: smart, ambitious, quick on his feet, and well-liked by virtually everyone. Even though he was working class and older than most of his classmates, arriving on campus after a military stint at the age of 29 and married, he came across as preppy.

“He was fit and trim, always clean-shaven, and naturally tan,” wrote Matt Viser, a reporter for the Globe. “His posture was ramrod straight, and his handshake firm. He was almost always in khakis, a pressed shirt, and a sweater. He reminded some classmates of Robert Redford.”


Some classmates even suggest that his detour into right wing politics is more opportunistic than real. The article notes that “they believe he is simply doing what he was taught more than three decades ago: exploiting a business opportunity, this time in the furious, neglected legions of the white middle class. He saw a market in their sense of alienation, and Trump’s election suggests that his forecast was truer than most.”

“If you were asking me about some of the articles published and things clearly intended to be lightning rod, I’m not sure Steve subscribes to those beliefs,” a former classmate, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Globe. “But there’s a strong argument to be made that he was doing whatever any good business leader would do, which is serving his customers and providing a product.”

Among the article’s insights:


“He was not a rebel looking for a cause,” Scot Vorse, a member of Bannon’s first-year study group, told the Globe.“You don’t go to Harvard Business School to be a rebel and cause problems. You go to Harvard Business School because it was the most prestigious school to get in at the time.”


“In my view, Steve was certainly top three in intellectual horsepower in our class — perhaps the smartest,” said David Allen, who sat with Bannon in the skydeck during classes. “But he combined horsepower with logical, well-structured arguments. Whenever Steve spoke, my advice was to ‘listen for understanding.’ That is what I am doing today.”


At the time Bannon went to HBS, it was known that up to 7% of the students in a course would fail it.


Bannon recounted last year to Bloomberg Businessweek that his age and Navy background made it difficult to get many places interested. But he was invited by a Goldman Sachs representative to a campus recruiting party.

“I get there, and there’s like 700 people jammed into this tent,” he said. “I said, ‘F— it. There’s no chance.’ So I stood off on the side with a drink and these two other schmendricks standing next to me. And I talk to these guys.’’

“We have the greatest conversation about baseball, and I find out after half an hour it was John Weinberg Jr., whose dad runs the firm, and a guy named Rob Kaplan, who became a senior partner,” Bannon recalled.

Bannon told the magazine that Goldman executives gathered that night to discuss prospects, and one of the recruiters later told him how the conversation went.

“They said, ‘Well, Bannon, I guess we’re gonna reject him. He’s too old for a summer job,’ ” Bannon said. “And these guys say, ‘Oh no, we talked to him. He’s terrific.’ Literally, a complete crapshoot. But I got a job.”

Steve Bannon hamming it up in class

Steve Bannon hamming it up in class


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