HBS Difference?

All of us are now seasoned HBS vets. Seems that we tend to take HBS blessings for granted, and that the initial excitement left room for a more complacent attitude. That’s probably why sharing perspectives with future students during the last Admit Weekend was such a refreshing experience. It reminded me of those times of innocence when HBS was still a scary adventure. I really enjoyed the chat… up to the point where an admit asked me the usual dreaded question: “So, what makes HBS special?”

I hate the what-makes-you-different type of questions. When asked during interviews, I just don’t know what to say. Technically, the only correct answer is “my DNA,” but I’m not sure it would be effective. So no wonder I struggled a little bit to define HBS true differentiation.

At first, I wanted to advertise the case method or the study groups, do the “you know, we had this amazing Finance professor” kind of thing, but that’s not really specific. Other MBAs probably have tremendous faculty as well. And they all use the case method. Dean Clarke’s “Caring Community” vision or the LVDM/LEAD parts of the curriculum looked better picks, but unfortunately you cannot get a real sense of what it means without a true insider perspective.

Of course, HBS shapes great leaders. For one, Skilling of Enron fame is a proud Section A alumnus. Similarly, HBR has intimate relationships with business tycoons. (I was not sure it was the right time to gloat about those things.) Better talk about the IT environment.

Then it struck me. I found the most expressive manifestation of the strength of the student community and its dedication to helping everyone reach his or her true potential. Something that is really unique to our beloved institution. That’s the Career Teams.

HBS is as much about building your skills as it is about better understanding yourself. Pursuing an MBA is embracing change. Despite what they say in the admission essays, waves of students flood HBS each year without having a clue of what they want to do after graduation. In addition (at least according to an old Harbus survey), only 10% would “love to go back” to their former employer. Without clear perspectives, how could one take full advantage of the amazing HBS resources?

In that context, opportunities for self-discovery and heart-to-heart exchange through a rigorous curriculum are particularly precious. That’s what C-Teams are all about. Thanks to this initiative – born this year out of a collaboration between Sasha Grinshpun (MBA ’02) and Tim Butler’s team – many students gained self-confidence, learned to avoid sirens and false callings, as well as to focus their job search efforts on the area they truly wanted to pursue. It may not give a job in a tighter market, but it surely helps to build a fulfilling career.

So I decided to give the admit an overview of the C-Teams. He looked excited and compelled. It was not surprising… Among the flurry of campus activities, Career Teams are a highlight and, I believe, a true HBS differentiation. They bring real value to our time here, and deeply affect the rest of our lives. As such, they count among those critical components that make HBS such a special experience.