All first-year students at Harvard Business School (HBS) follow the same rigorous program, and they do so in their assigned classroom and with their same section-mates. However, the number of class attendees tends to vary from one class to another. This number can decrease because of absentees, but can also increase thanks to the presence of that special specimen – the HBS classroom guest.
As guests are a common part of the HBS class experience, each section tends to have a process to receiving them. In my section, guests will typically be introduced by the professor or a fellow section-mate, followed by a round of applause by all students. Depending on the status of the guest, our section has agreed upon different standards – while all guests get a round of applause after being introduced, family members of students will get a standing ovation. This process sometimes leads to hilarious situations, as the sum of 4 family and 3 other guests in a class leads to a total of 4 standing ovations and 3 rounds of applause – as such making class start 5 minutes late. Additionally, our section has agreed to give a round of applause after a comment of a section-mate whose family sits into class. This can lead to funny situations, as some professors use this in a clever way. After the applause, they will go up to the familiy members claiming that “this happens everytime he/she speaks.” I love it!
HBS guests tend to have a wide range of backgrounds, nationalities and contribution levels. The only thing they have in common is that they can be classified in one of 4 highly recognizable categories. An overview:
Martha – The case protagonist
Martha will pop-up every so often in class. She is one of the main subjects in the case thought that class and can be a company founder, a CEO or just someone who was in a specific situation at one point in time which resulted in… a HBS business case. They will sit in on class and step up in the last 20 minutes to tell about their perspective on what happened as well as to take Q&A from students. As different sections are being thought the same class at the same time, Martha might not be physically present in class – if so, Martha will be broadcasted live in the section room from a different HBS classroom. I tend to find the Martha’s the most interesting ones and love how unpredictable they can be, as they range from the arrogant company founder to the humble company CEO… or vice versa. Examples of Martha’s in class this year include Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston and Boeing CEO James McNerney. [Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap]
James – The prospective student
The James’ beat everyone else in quantity but tend to be the ones less remembered or paid attention to. They are interested in doing an MBA and want to experience a class at HBS. They tend to overdress (suit + tie) and only cause exitement in class when one of them went to the same college as one of the section-mates, leading to a little college-name screaming… [Clap Clap Clap GO BROWN Clap Clap Clap]
Rod & Linda – Family & Friends
Rod & Linda tend to be the best welcomed of guests. They often ressemble one of your section mates and can easily be recognized as they tend not to be at ease sitting in class – though some of them clearly enjoy to be part of the HBS show! Occasionaly, Rod & Linda can be family of the professor. [Clap Clap STAND UP Clap Clap Clap Clap SIT DOWN]
John Doe – Mystery guests
Once in a while, there’s this John Doe sitting in class. John hasn’t been introduced by the professor or a fellow section-mate. They’re just a mystery. Not a type of attendee we get to see much. [Silence]
Guests not only have benefits, they also have rules – with the exception of Martha, guests are not supposed to speak or to participate in any way during class – after all, they don’t pay tuition, right!?!
I was once a guest, as a prospective student. I loved the experience, and it convinced me event more at apply to HBS. It was a fun and enriching experience, and one I would definitely recommend to others! Moreover, getting a round of applause by the business leaders of tomorrow is not something that happens daily, right?