People love to knock Harvard. Why not? The school sets the bar, always has. In graduate business education, Harvard is the biggest and the best. The name carries the brand equity of Disney, conveying influence, affluence, authority, and prestige. Even more, it possesses a Google-like omnipresence; with faculty who’ve shaped thought for generations and alumni who’ve held top posts everywhere from the Fortune 500 to the body politic.
So you’d expect the Class of 2019 to be filled with the sons and daughters of the well-heeled and well-connected, right? Think again. Take Darrin Rahn, who describes himself as an “extrovert, passionate marketer, proud LGBT advocate, curious traveler, retail/CPG enthusiast, popcorn lover, and unapologetically myself.” He grew up on a family farm near tiny Chadwick, Illinois. Exposed to crops and livestock as a young man, he became “fascinated” with how food fosters community. This “farm-to-fork” perspective eventually led him to Iowa State University, where he studied agricultural economics, marketing, and entrepreneurship before landing at Target and General Mills.
How did Rahn get into HBS? Simple: He sent in an application. “I was initially unsure about applying to HBS,” he admits, “but a close work mentor and proud HBS alum insisted I apply. My big lesson here: never self-select out and limit yourself from opportunities, have the courage to take the first step.”
A WEALTH OF RICHES AND RESOURCES
You won’t regret it. Harvard Business School has the best of everything: a roster of teaching royalty, an exhaustive menu of courses, and a wealth of opportunities that only come with deep pockets and raw power. This mystique – coupled with a wealth of riches and resources – is why HBS draws the best students and the best companies to campus.
It is a campus unto itself, with 37 buildings sprawled across 40 acres – making it larger than many universities. The same is true of its endowment — $3.3 billion dollars at last count – which enables the school to quickly scale up for when the next Blockchain rolls around. Despite being a luxury brand, HBS is very generous with financial aid. Each year, it doles out $35 million dollars to its first and second years, a bonus reaped by half of each class to the tune of $37,000 a year.
Such abundance also enables the school to attract a hall of fame faculty, master teachers who enjoy the privilege of teaching top minds along with the time for introspection and research. As a result, HBS students have always been exposed to the very best new ideas. It is the home of Porter’s Five Forces and Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation. It is the place where management became a profession and leadership was turned into a science. Here, the faculty honed concepts like shareholder value and globalization, all while the Socratic Method was elevated to heights unseen since Classical times.
JUST TOO GOOD TO PASS UP
Not surprisingly, HBS has produced rock star alumni like Jamie Dimon, Michael Bloomberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and Salman Khan – not to mention CEOs at firms ranging from BCG to GE. More important, HBS boasts over 80,000 alumni living in 171 countries. Translation: Students can find support in nearly every role, industry, or region imaginable.
For the Class of 2019, this total package was hard to pass up. Rahn, who plans to pursue product strategy and branding in the food and beverage industry, touts HBS’ “brilliant faculty,” “globally diverse perspectives,” and expansive “extracurriculars and travel immersions.” Mike Young, a Bain and Facebook alum, found it equally difficult to center on just one reason to attend the school.
“I think it will give me the best opportunity to learn and grow as a person, through a combination of 1) a rigorous academic curriculum that combines breadth and depth and pushes me to think about problems and areas of business that are outside my comfort zone; 2) endless conversations and vigorous debates with new friends, especially those I meet in my 90-person section, facilitated by Harvard’s use of the case method to structure classroom discussion; and 3) the vast pool of resources Harvard provides, including an unmatched global alumni network and more extracurricular and research opportunities than I can count.”
BAIN CONSULTANT SINGS A CAPPELLA ON GLEE
Such resources has enabled the school to attract one of the most diverse classes you’ll find anywhere. Kenya Hunt, an Alabama native and self-described “crime novel connoisseur” and “beauty product hoarder,” earned a chemical engineering degree before spending her days “200 miles off the coast of Louisiana” on a floating oil rig. Anirudh Banarji wrote his first line of code when he was just eight years old. Think Rahn comes from the rural heartland? Let me introduce you to Australia’s Jonathon McCarthy, who grew up in Arnhem Land, “a region larger than the state of Maine with a population of only 16,000 people but over 40,000 saltwater crocodiles!” When Rahn wasn’t tending to chores, he was donning a top hat and waving a magician’s wand. “I perfected all the classics – card tricks, linking rings, rope tricks, you name it! I was never successful in convincing my parents to let me buy multiple live doves.”
Yes, the class even includes a token Yalie in Young, who once made a pitch perfect entrance into Hollywood. “As a member of the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the oldest collegiate a cappella singing group, I took a year off during college to perform in 40 countries across six continents,” he explains. “One of the highlights of the year was flying to LA to film a cameo appearance on the season four finale of the US TV show Glee. We play a rival singing group competing against the show’s main characters at “Regionals” (Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t end well for us).”
Luckily, Young fared far better in his externship at Facebook. He was part of the team that launched a tool targeted to 70 million businesses to help them find job candidates through Facebook. The results stunned him. “We met small business owners who had previously struggled to find the right job candidates, but had used our tool to hire more than a dozen new employees,” he relays. “We even met someone who had been unemployed for over a year before successfully finding a new job with our product. It was inspiring to experience first-hand the positive impact that a new technology can have on people’s lives.”
CONTRIBUTIONS FELT IN MINING, RETAIL, AND FOOD AND BEVERAGE
Young wasn’t the only member of the 2019 Class to make an impact before they re-located to Boston. As a business unit head for TerraComm, an Australian mining company, McCarthy worked closely with officials in Alberta, Canada to open a large mining project. Aside from the financial benefits to his firm and the local economy, McCarthy’s approach to reducing environment risk also provided regulators with a “benchmark for the mining designs and processing techniques that could be used in Alberta to safely and successfully deliver other mining projects.”
Rahn was equally adept at running high profile projects. At Target, he was involved in managing “limited time fashion collaborations” with brands like TOMS and Lilly Pulitzer. From there, he moved to General Mills, where he developed growth strategy for the company’s marquee brands like Betty Crocker, Bisquick, and Gold Medal Flour, even signing licensing agreements with partners like Hershey’s, Cinnabon, and Nickelodeon. At the same time, he championed LGBT causes inside these landmark firms.
“At Target, I helped develop merchandising and marketing initiatives aimed at improving the LGBTA experience for Target’s consumers, including the launch of Target’s first LGBTA Pride assortment (apparel, accessories, décor, etc.), the introduction of same-sex greeting cards nationally, and the overhaul of Target’s wedding registry,” he says.
CLASS EERILY SIMILAR TO ITS PREDECESSORS
Consistent excellence is the hallmark of any great MBA program. The 2016-2017 application cycle at HBS maintained this standard…and then some. 10,351 candidates applied to be part of the Class of 2019, up 6% over the previous year. In fact, this represents a 15.5% improvement over the past five years, another indication of the school’s ever-growing cachet. Overall, the class boasts 941 students who beat the 1-in-10 odds of being accepted into the program. 91% of accepted candidates ultimately enrolled at the “West Point of Capitalism” in 2017 as well, the same as the year before.
Academically, the class arrives with a blistering 730 median GMAT – for the eighth consecutive year. Average GPAs rose slightly, however, from 3.67 to 3.71. In terms of majors, the class is relatively similar to its second year peers, though slightly more business-oriented. The percentage of business and economics majors climbed from 41% to 45% with the 2019 Class. At the same time, STEM and humanities and social sciences majors each slipped by 2%, coming in at 36% and 19% respectively. Among the 302 higher education institution represented in the class, just 146 are found on American soil.
Go to page 2 to see in-depth profiles of incoming Harvard Business School students.