Friday, November 21, 2008

I'm From Harvard

Yesterday I had a chance to attend a leadership class at Harvard Business School. My son is in the MBA program there and students are encouraged to invite guests. I attended a Leadership course. First, the setting. HBS is on the banks of the Charles, across the river from Cambridge. The buildings are all beautiful and the inside of the classroom was a semi-circle with several rising rows of tables. There are about 90 students in each section and the sections take classes at the same time. And there are 10 sections per year, so HBS graduates around 900 MBA's per year. The classroom was all done in tasteful dark wood with many nice features, such as the ability for each seat to vote, a self-focusing overhead projector, built in video projector, hooked up to the teacher's PC (we used that to see a film from the schools web site). It's very nice and I guess for $90k/year it should be (includes estimates for room and board along with the $44K tuition).

At the beginning of class, guests are introduced and they are given a standing ovation. I must say, as the only guest that day, it was a bit overwhelming to have 90 of our country's best and brightest clapping for me. I haven't had an ovation directed at me since drama club in high school.

The class was doing a case study on Xerox and Anne Mulcahy. All classes are case studies, whether it's leadership or finance or operations. In the late 1990's, early 2000's, Xerox was going under. They had massive debt and their stock price had cratered. There was an ongoing investigation by the SEC on how their income had been stated in Mexico and the investigation was spreading to the US. Mulcahy was an unlikely choice for CEO, having had no financial background. Nevertheless, she was appointed in 2001 and proceeded to engineer a turnaround.

The professor (first year teaching at Harvard, background with McKinsey group) lead the class in discussion, trying to elicit different points of view. Since class participation is 50% of the grade in Leadership, almost everyone had their hand up at every opportunity throughout the hour and 1/2 that the class lasted. It was interesting to listen to (guests are not allowed to participate). Since Leadership is kind of a touchy-feely course, there wasn't really any right or wrong facts, just people's opinion. Because I had researched the situation before class (I did not get to read the case), I felt like the class did a pretty good job of covering the points. I did notice a couple of areas where some of the class members were weak (i.e. in their knowledge of how Chapter 11 bankruptcy works - I have some knowledge because I went through it with a former employer), and I think they missed a few key points, but they are quite smart. Many of them have some business experience, but none of them appeared to be over 30. Lots of women, lots of foreign students (Europe, Asia, India). It felt good to be in a classroom again - it's been a long time. Of course, there was no pressure on me to learn or pay attention because I wasn't being graded.

After class, I went to lunch in Harvard Square with my son while we discussed the class and other topics. We finished with a cup of "Clover" coffee from Starbucks and I was on my way back home to return to the job hunt. It was a nice diversion.

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