HBS Spotlight series – What job are students hiring HBS for?


Clay Christensen - Is he what students are hiring HBS for?

Clay Christensen – Is he what students are hiring HBS for?

In my first months in school, now a bit more than a year ago, I had the opportunity to attend a talk from Clay Christensen at HBS (see him in action on another topic in a TEDx-talk HERE). He is considered one of the star professors at HBS and one of the world’s top experts on innovation and growth. One of his messages that really stuck with me, is that when you are selling a product, a service or yourself to customers, other business and friends and family, you have to ask yourself the following question: “What is the job this product would be hired to do?” Or, on a personal level, “What is the job my wife/husband hired me to do?”

So here’s a question: What do students hire HBS for? Most people probably think students go to HBS to get that high-paying job, or to create a network that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Others might see it as the perfect though expensive excuse to spend 2 jolly years of life. However, people often underestimate the value students place on the academic content of the HBS MBA program…

In my experience, students in the program are serious about taking advantage of the excellent professors at HBS and their teaching. Take the following example: in Mid-May 2013, only a couple of weeks before the end of my first year at HBS and at a time that all students where selecting their second-year courses, a petition was going around the HBS student body. The petition claimed that HBS students “recognize and are delighted that HBS places a strong commitment to teaching,” but also that “many of the hallmark professors who we consider thought leaders in their respective industries … are not teaching next year. After analyzing the course evaluations, it is to our understanding that 34% of the classes that were offered this past academic calendar year, which had an instructor effectiveness rating of 6.5 or above (out of 7.0), will no longer be taught by these professors (or taught at all) next year.” Besides the petition, a list of names and profiles of the targeted professors was distributed. The considered missing star professors where Clayton Christensen (remember him?), Youngme Moon, Deepak Malhotra, Joe Lassiter, Jan Rivkin and Yuhai Xuan (click on the names to access their respective profiles).

HBS SAAbout ten days later, on May 25th, the president of the HBS student association sent out an email which seemed like a response of HBS to the petition. “We wanted to send out a quick note to clarify some information regarding the EC course selection process.” … “It was stated in the petition that roughly a third of the top rated professors from last year would not be teaching in the EC next year.  The admin looked further into that number and, in fact, the correct number is roughly 13% (i.e., roughly 13% of last year’s faculty with rankings over 6.5 will not be teaching next year). This sort of turnover is normal and happens every year – the circumstances involving those faculty members range from personal health concerns to increased non-teaching duties. We have also learned that there are several faculty members rotating back into the EC who were equally regarded as rock-star professors when they left the EC years ago and will now be back in the classroom.” … “All said, we are working with the Student Association Senate and faculty to provide ECs with the opportunity to learn from some of the popular professors who are not teaching a course this year.”

And then, there was silence…

HBS SpotlightUntil November 6th, when all students received a new communication of the student association, stating that “the Student Association is excited to announce The Spotlight Series, beginning in December. This programming is intended to act as a supplement to the EC curriculum and to provide exposure to professors who are not teaching EC courses this year. We will be offering three different seminars this year, led by Professors Jan Rivkin, Deepak Malhotra and Clayton Christensen (remember him again?).”

Victory for the student body? Or just a little sweetener offered by the HBS direction? Or a fair compromise? I guess it all depends what one is actually attending HBS for… or what one is hiring HBS for…

My personal view is that the quality of a professor is a very important parameter in the selection of classes. Class content can easily be gathered through different sources. The actual learning experience from experts and excellent teachers is unique. Think about it as watching a great TED talk of an amazing speaker. The content of his/her speech is probably available in dozens of books and research papers… or just written online. But the way in which a great speaker presents and shares that information is what makes it unique and to be remembered. That’s why I signed up for the spotlight series – all of them. And while some students might consider the Spotlight Series as additional voluntary case work and class time, I do enjoy the learning experience very much. Time spent with the Clays, the Youngmes and the Jans of this world is time well spent. And it is time spent on things I hired HBS for.

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