My first year at the Harvard Business School (HBS) is getting to and end. Classes are ending, exams have started and most students have their summers all planned out – a good time to evaluate the classes I’ve had so far.
Classes in the first year at HBS are part of a Required Curriculum (hence the first year at HBS is called the RC year). There are 5 classes per semester for a total of 10 a year. Looking back, I found all of the classes interesting in one way or the other, making my attempt to score them rather difficult. Moreover, any rating of classes is heavily impacted by the quality of the individual professors. However, it didn’t take me all too long to realize that for me personally, three classes stood out – my personal winners being BGIE, STRAT and FRC.
BGIE stands for Business, Government and International Economy and is a course aimed at the impact of political and macro-economic factors on doing business in different parts of the world. A typical BGIE case focuses on the European crisis, the fast-growing economy of Brazil or the unique economics of oil-exporting countries such as Nigeria and Saudi-Arabia. However, less publicized topics are also addressed, such as the political situation in Uganda and the management of copper resources in Chile. This latter case being one of my all-time favorite cases.
I loved this course for several reasons. First of all, it really helped me to better understand some of the political/economic tension that exist on an intra-country level. I feel I now have a grip on the impact of a trade surplus on a country’s financials. I loved the professor and the dynamism he brought in the discussions. As an example, the professor would start the class by asking: “What is the goals of the European Union? What do they want to achieve?” While BGIE is not a typical business class, it challenged me think about topics I never thought about before. Quite a challenge – and I love challenges!
On the second place, I put Strategy. Led by the globally renowned Professor Jan Rivkin, this class taught me to look at the challenges companies face on a daily basis to ensure their existence and their future. It demonstrated the value in understanding and executing one’s strategy through some phenomenal cases – my favorite one being the Airbourne express case, a former package delivery service. Also the Boeing vs Airbus case, with the Boeing CEO in class, was quite the experience.
Finally, there’s FRC, short for Financial Reporting and Control – a fancy name for what’s supposed to be an accounting course. But instead of focusing on the ‘boring’ part of accounting, this course aimed at teaching us how powerful different accounting techniques can be, both in a positive way when used correctly and in a negative way when used for the wrong purpose. Yes, we had a case on Enron and similars. My favorite case however was the Boston Chicken case, a restaurant business currently renamed into Boston Market.
And then there’s the rest of the pack. There’s FIN1 and FIN2, focusing on… finance! There’s our operations course TOM and our marketing course MKT. We have cases on leadership and ethics under the umbrella of LCA and LEAD. And finally there’s TEM, short for The Entrepreneurial Manager, looking at entrepreneurial ventures and the challenges encountered when pursuing that path. For a full overview of the HBS RC courses, look here: http://www.hbs.edu/mba/academic-experience/curriculum/Pages/required-curriculum.aspx
While some downplay the value of the academics at HBS compared to the value of the network and the brand name on the resume, I’m impressed by the quality of the courses and the content at the school. With content so rich and professors so inspired, choosing my classes for my upcoming EC year (Elective curriculum) will be a difficult exercise. There’s more than a 100 to choose from. Find the full list of EC classes here: http://www.hbs.edu/coursecatalog/. My bet is there will be at least one BGIE-like class in my selection!