After 10 years as a newspaper journalist, Philip Delves Broughton was tired of his colleagues' cynicism and anxious about what seemed to be his industry's inexorable decline. He left his job with the London Daily Telegraph to go to Harvard Business School, seeking more control over his own destiny. It still seems to be an open question whether Delves Broughton will find fulfillment in the world of commerce. But luckily for readers, he has used his writing skills to produce an accessible memoir of his two years at HBS that also serves as a good primer on business.
Delves Broughton, an Englishman with an outsider's perspective, demystifies the school that has produced such varied graduates as George W. Bush, Michael Bloomberg and infamous Enron felon Jeff Skilling. Perhaps surprisingly, the student body has a high proportion of the "three M's": Mormons, military and McKinsey - people who either have worked or want to work at the McKinsey consulting firm on their way to even more lucrative jobs. But the HBS population is also increasingly multinational, and Delves Broughton points out interesting differences between American and non-American attitudes.
There are no true horror stories in Ahead of the Curve. As at any other school, some professors are worse than others, and some students are less than collegial. But overall, HBS comes across as an institution that takes seriously its responsibility to produce ethical, well-balanced leaders. Its "case study" system of teaching - dissecting business situations based on real-life models - provides students an effective way of thinking through problems.
But Delves Broughton raises troubling questions. Most graduates gravitate to well-paid finance and consulting jobs, not to entrepreneurial risks or manufacturing. Many think more about numbers than the people affected by their decisions. Their personal lives suffer as they spend obscene amounts of time at the office. And no one in the class of 2006 seems to anticipate the coming credit crisis - though one 1965 alumnus notes that the exceptionally high percentage of current graduates choosing financial services careers was likely a sign that the markets were about to crash.