The Ten Best & Worst Things About HBS In The Golden Passport

8. What of the contributions by faculty stars Michael Porter and Clay Christensen?

“First and foremost, Michael Porter broke new ground in the field of strategy. With the possible exception of his colleague Clay Christensen, who can be credited with popularizing the concept of ‘disruptive innovation,’ Porter’s work represents the high-water mark of intellectual influence at HBS, at least in terms of having some influence over the language that decision makers use as they go about their business. That his signature insight was as simple as the inversion of an already extant field of economic analysis doesn’t take away from the fact that he has achieved an astounding level of influence, both for himself and for HBS.”

9. What role did Harvard Business School play in helping the Allied effort in World War II?

“HBS effectively became a school of accounting and statistics during World War II, and (HBS Instructor) Robert McNamara was right in the center of the action. The thousands of officers trained in the “Harvard Method” of analysis rationalized the management of hundreds of thousands of aircraft and an equal number of air force personnel by “[imposing] order on the chaotic accounting systems in the Air Corps.” In 1943, McNamara and (HBS Professor Myles) Mace were commissioned as Stat Control captains in the Army Air Forces in England, where they worked on projects such as establishing inventory systems in airplane maintenance depots. McNamara was later credited with helping the air force get 30 percent more flying hours out of its B-29 bombers by scheduling them more efficiently. About this, there is no debate: Robert McNamara and his colleagues at HBS played an important role in helping the United States win World War II.”

10. Why are Alfred Chandler and Georges Doriot two of the heroes in HBS’ long history?

“Alfred Chandler was not the first person to study a large-scale diversified manufacturing enterprise. Credit for that goes to Peter Drucker and his 1946 book, Concept of the Corporation, which later functioned as a kind of blueprint for modern corporate organization. Nor was Chandler the first business historian at HBS. Norman S. B. Gras had been lured to the School in 1927 with the nation’s first chair in business history. Chandler didn’t land at HBS until 1970, nearly fifty years after Gras. But Chandler did what Gras had never been able to do—he made the study of business history sexy, both at HBS and elsewhere.

“Georges Doriot was also one of a long string of HBS professors who stressed the importance of understanding everything about a company. Whereas later generations of Harvard MBAs emerged from the School understanding little more than their desire to use financial engineering in order to become rich, Doriot demanded that his students study not just a company’s inputs and outputs, but the relationships that made it work as well. ‘He had more influence on what has happened in American business than the rest of the Harvard faculty put together,’ said Zalman Bernstein, founder and chairman of Sanford Bernstein & Company.”

Then, the bad stuff:

1. Did HBS contribute to the 2008 economic collapse that led to the Great Recession?

“Its graduates had played leadership roles in almost every institution that had made the mistakes of judgment that had brought the global financial system to the brink…Not too long after the turn of the century, HBS graduates were pretty much running the whole economic show in the United States. But the crisis still happened. Why on earth should they be the ones to whom we look for a way forward? The last time we put them in charge, it blew up in the world’s face. One reason those at or from HBS did not comprehend the increasing fragility of the financial system was that they had been enthusiastic supporters of many of the factors that had made it so: efficient markets theory, shareholder capitalism, the perverse incentives of Michael Jensen-inspired compensation packages, ‘innovation spirals’ at the likes of Enron, and HBS-endorsed ‘risk management’ systems at giant financial organizations that were nothing of the sort.”

2. Do Harvard Business School faculty really come up with ground-breaking ideas?

“The school threw its lot with cynics like Michael Jensen, dispensed with its central tenet that judgment is of utmost importance, and walked the country down the path of share price maximization. Everything that’s come since, including Norhia’s supposedly valuable ‘background’ in leadership, pretty much follows. Instead of developing the all-important theory of the firm, and by extension, of general management, HBS has frittered away the intellectual caliber of a world-class faculty with unrivaled resources in pursuit of such inferior (and arguably empty) concepts as a theory of leadership and a theory of entrepreneurship. Not only that, but that same faculty has engaged in an academic conspiracy of sorts, filling the emptiness of the intellectual space surrounding them with consulting contracts, speaking engagements, and all the gravitas that can be brought to a discussion of how being confident can make you excellent.”

3. Is HBS intoxicated with its own importance?

“The Harvard Business School became (and remains) so intoxicated with its own importance that it blithely assumed away one of the most important questions it could ask, which was whether the capitalist system it was uniquely positioned to help improve was designed properly in the long term. Today, in 2016, with economic inequality at a hundred-year high and meaningful progress on climate change and other social and environmental issues embarrassingly paltry, the answer to that question is obvious. It is not.”

4. Is gender bias still an issue at Harvard Business School?

“The fact of the matter is that HBS suffered from ingrained sexism on the part of the faculty, which, while not as rare as one might hope, is hardly the status quo at universities and other professional schools around the country. And they didn’t really solve the problem by forcing the faculty to pay more attention to the contributions of their female students by inserting another person–a ‘scribe’–into the room. They simply corrected for it after the fact. Was it any wonder that (New York Times reporter) Jodi Kantor called bullshit on their claim, as (HBS professor) Frances Frei said, to be leading the world on such matters?”

5. How valuable is the case method in teaching business to MBA students?

“HBS will admit that they don’t conduct traditional academic research, but what they won’t admit is that they care more about sophistry than actual knowledge. They promote an image of rigor, a concomitance of rigor, and every class ends with the professor drenched in sweat and blackboards covered in words. They all feel they’ve really accomplished something, but it’s ludicrous on the face of it that this would be good training for anything but being glib.”

6. How independent is the research of Harvard Business School’s faculty?

“The school has trumpeted the ‘independence’ of its research, but that’s also a crock. The faculty is obliged to be not only respectful but also groveling toward its corporate constituency, whereas tenured professors elsewhere are free to treat their subjects with skepticism. A professor at Yale Law School, for example, is not required to suck up to the lawyers at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. But when you’re not much more than a courtier, you have to be careful that others don’t suspect you of subversion. Even Shakespeare was respectful of the illegitimate Tudors, masking his political criticism in stories of kingdoms far away or long gone. But Shakespeare wasn’t consulting for the Tudors, either.”

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.