A LOVE OF COUNTRY
At HBS, those bonds are intensified by trademark events like International Flag Day. The Class of 2019 alone boasted 69 countries, with each section classroom including roughly 30 different countries. To honor such a diverse heritage, students hold a ceremony on International Flag Day. Here, a student (or more) from each country will stand before their section-mates and explain why they love their country.
“It creates this initial dialogue that then carries on around the rest of the year,” Francis observes. “People are so passionate about sharing their culture. Students will often host classmates. I’ve had classmates hosting in Argentina, Israel, and Kenya. One guy took 30 members of our section to Kenya for a week-long trip over the break. We went to his home and met his family and all of his friends from back home. We were incredibly grateful to him for sharing this experience with us.”
HBS even sponsors a variation of Stanford’s TALK, which is called My Take. Held in front of section-mates, students will divulge their personal stories. Francis and Mohammed add that Dean Nohria has described My Take as ‘one of the most impactful things that has happened on HBS’ campus for driving inclusion.’ Even faculty members attend these presentations.
“It’s a way of genuinely getting to know people,” Francis adds.
WHY THE CASE METHOD MATTERS
While some business schools teach through data sets and lecture, HBS takes a more old-world tact: Storytelling. Indeed, the school’s most hallowed tradition is the case method, which is applied across the curriculum. Cases are narratives that enable students to play the role of decision-maker, confronting the same uncertainties and constraints and weighing the same tradeoffs and alternatives. The goal, of course, is to reinforce a thought process that enables them to ask the right questions and defend their positions. According to Francis, the case method is invaluable because students are continually practicing two key elements of leadership: educating and persuading.
“The case method is the most impactful way of educating somebody because you are proactively thinking and structuring thoughts and then communicating them to your classmates on a regular basis,” Francis explains. “I think that is what really allows you to develop mastery. We do in the ballpark of 500-600 cases over your two years at HBS. It leaves you incredibly able to effectively communicate concepts that are very complex.”
Mohammed views the case method as part of a broader theme: students co-create the culture at HBS. Even more, it taps into the wide array of student backgrounds to push them to think wider and deeper. “To me, HBS has been like, ‘This is my tiny world view before I came here and now the door has been blown wide open.’ That’s not just from a career perspective, but also the perspective you get from different countries and backgrounds. The case method does that too. You could read a case and have a very myopic view because of the background you come from, but the class discussion really expands the way you think.”
HBS SCALES YOUR INFLUENCE
The case method wasn’t the only cultural aspect of Harvard life that Triston Francis relished. He likens the program to a magnifying glass – “Whatever impact you are going to have, the scale and the platform allow you to take that even further.” This point was hammered home even before he applied to business school. Back then, he hosted events for New York City college students from non-Ivies like Queens College and Bronx College to broaden their horizons. He would gather a small circle of friends to outline what it was like to work at a McKinsey and Goldman Sachs. Even more, they’d share what these students needed to do to get an audience with such companies. After he was admitted to HBS, he invited future classmates in the New York metro to participate in his events. The ‘magnifying’ response caught him off guard.
“58 of these classmates ended up speaking at one of these events,” he recalls. “HBS immediately gave me this broad group of people with this incredible breadth of experience to pull from in terms of speakers. It is now something, through the student association, we’ve been able to scale that and host several events for students in the Boston area. After graduation, I’ll be moving to Singapore, and there is a number of students from Singapore who are going to help me get a similar speaker series off the ground there.”
While the program offers lifetime benefits like free coaching, Francis returns to his classmates as HBS’ biggest value. “I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that you don’t have to accomplish all of your goals in a very defined window of time. HBS is a life-long experience as opposed to a two-year experience. Even after we leave, we’re still connected to this institution for a lifetime.”
‘I LOVE THE PEOPLE’
Stanford GSB grads hold that same expectation; they are a community and not just a network – and one that will stand the test of time because of culture. Make no mistake: creating this culture isn’t easy. It is a long process that takes a lot of work.
“It’s not something you just drop into and it’s a joy,” Yossi Feinberg admits. “I would say the first quarter here at the GSB is the hardest for people. Not because of the academics or being in a new place – those are places where we can support them a lot. It’s the quarter where you use the community to figure out how to adopt this culture. It’s work and stressful, especially since the expectations are high. It takes time to feel comfortable being open and vulnerable. People who have been high achievers coming in and not been in that environment struggle sometimes.”
Of course, GSB 1st-Years are arriving on campus with a head start. Two years ago, for example, incoming students organized a class trip to Tahoe, where they practiced some of the school’s interpersonal exercises on their own. That new tradition garners more students every year, says Feinberg. In the end, it is students like these who fuel and sustain Stanford’s culture.
“Our students and community love what we stand for,” he adds. “There is a joint feeling that even when people disagree, it comes from a place of caring about the success of our mission and continuing it. I don’t take that for granted. It is something that you communicate and demonstrate every day. When everyone does that, together, you get this wonderful culture.”