The Harvard Business School (HBS) Reunion is held every five years, over three nights and four days from the end of May to the beginning of June.
The first day is registration and a reception.
Day 2 includes lectures by professors and an evening get-together with section mates.
Day 3 has lectures, a panel discussion, and an award presentation and speech by the Dean. There is also a black-tie party in the evening.
Day 4 is a brunch and the farewell.
This year marks the 10-year reunion. A decade has passed since I graduated. Time flies.
My three main interests in this reunion are as follows:
· How have people changed over the past decade?
· What will be the content of the faculty presentations that are part of this reunion’s program?
· What can I learn from the HBS Alumni Service to make Globis Management School the No.1 Management Graduate School in Japan?
I arrived in Boston via Chicago on Thursday. I picked up my luggage in Chicago, passed through customs, and then checked in my luggage again, only to find upon my arrival in Boston that it did not get delivered. Unbelievable. I knew the operations of U.S. airports were poor, but I was nonplussed at how bad customer support was. A reception was held in the hotel that evening, but with the luggage ordeal and lots of emails to send to Japan, I had to miss it.
The next morning I got on the bus and headed for HBS. There are four faculty presentation sessions per day (two in the morning and two in the afternoon). In each session, more than 10 professors present current research in their respective fields. We alumni were able to freely select the presentations we would attend, meaning we could choose four from more than 40 offered. It was a lot of fun.
The presentations were characterized overall by the number of topics related to the Internet, venture capital and venture-related issues. This was a very valuable opportunity for me, so except for the fourth presentation, I chose lectures focused on subjects that I would not usually hear about.
For the first lecture, after wondering whether to attend the lecture by professor Robert Kaplan, who is famous for activity-based costing, I decided to listen to a lecture titled, “When Good Management Can Hurt Your Company,” by professor Clayton Christensen, who is currently renowned for his work on disruptive technology. It was not a radically new departure, but basically his research revealed that whenever some companies go beyond the expectations of the mass market to target high-end customers and continue to evolve their products into higher-quality, higher-price goods, new entrants will appear with innovative, disruptive approaches and technologies. Those new entrants win the hearts of the customer with products that have same quality but cost less and are easier to use, eventually overturning existing corporations. The lecturer cited as examples the way that PCs replaced main-frame computers and electric furnaces replaced blast furnaces, as well as the emerging dominance of transistors pioneered by Sony over vacuum tubes and department stores over supermarkets. The final example was the challenge to established business schools by new entrants. When I was at HBS in March, everyone told me that the greatest threat for HBS in the future would most likely come from schools like Globis Management School that acquire customers through new methods and provide practical coursework. This lecture was rich in ideas.
For the second lecture, I chose professor David Garvin’s talk on “Putting the Learning Organization to Work.” Professor Garvin is well known in the area of learning organizations, and as the owner of Globis Organizational Learning, a management development company for corporate clients, this was something I really wanted to hear about. Products and services can be copied. And even management and technology are easy to obtain externally. The only real source for establishing competitive advantage is the speed with which your organization can learn. I won’t go into all the details, but one of the goals for GLOBIS this year is to have every staff member become a CLO, or Chief Learning Officer, and I am thinking of having study sessions on this within the company.
The third lecture I selected was by professor Robert Simons, who talked about “How High Is Your Return on Management (ROM).” This is in the same accounting domain as professor Kaplan, but emphasizes ROM rather than ROE (return on equity).
“The principle resource constraint that companies face these days is not in capital, technology, or R&D, but in management resources in the sense of time and energy. The issue is how far you can maximize these management resources.” This was written in the pamphlet and it instantly made a lot of sense to me, so I dismissed other popular classes and decided to attend this one. The content of this session will also be taught in a separate study session.
For the fourth lecture period, I attended both “Opportunities and Challenges Facing Professional Service Firm Leaders” and “Software Development in the Internet Age.”
I listened attentively all day to cutting-edge research, and on the bus on the way back I got information from a classmate about other lectures. I did the same things five years ago at the last reunion, and I felt relieved that I had filled in the gaps as I headed back to the hotel.
An get-together with the classmates from my section was scheduled for the evening. HBS has a class system known as “sections,” in which each of the nine sections has 90 people, meaning that one academic year is composed of some 800 students (somehow only our section had 80 instead of 90). Any given section takes all the same classes together for the entire year, sitting in the same place. Required subjects in the second year are also taken together. At HBS, you continually study and debate with the same section mates in this challenging atmosphere, and you experience pleasure and pain together the entire time.
Many of my section mates married their college sweethearts, so it has really become a family affair. In the evening, section mates get together exclusively. At the goodwill of a section mate named Dan, a party was held at his mansion (an amazing house!). Dan had been at Summit Partners and CMGI before creating his own venture capital. He moved to this palatial home last year, fully enjoying the expansive conditions of the late ’90s.
Everyone came to the party with their spouses in tow. There was a Hawaiian dress code to make up for the 10-year gap; on arrival, each person was greeted with a tropical drink and a lei. There was a reggae band in the house, and a covered area in the garden where dinner was served.
It was like traveling back in time, spending the evening with section mates, a tropical drink in one hand, dancing to reggae music….No one had really changed that much in 10 years, except that now they were definitely owning more property and gaining social status. I found it interesting that each of them had about three children, and that their deepest concern tended to be lifestyle. They would talk about things like having to get bigger homes as they had more kids or wanting to cut back on business trips or changing workplaces to allow more time with family.
Occupation-wise, most had started out 10 years ago in consulting and investment banking but now, 10 years later, most of my section mates were involved in private equity investment such as venture capital and buyouts. I felt this applied to roughly half the people there. This number is slightly skewed because of the bubble recently bursting in the U.S., but I have a feeling it might be different five years from now. The second most frequent occupation in which people were engaged seemed to be individually owned companies such as consulting firms. There was also a surprisingly large number of people who were long-termers in major business enterprises such as GM and Enron.
Three or four section mates had started venture firms but now, having sold their companies, they were now working in consulting or private equity. They probably won’t try venture firms again, which no doubt is something you do best when you are young with lots of energy.
I was often asked if I was still at GLOBIS. Americans tend to quickly sell off companies and appear to be predisposed to think in these terms. Whenever I am asked this, I say, “I’ll stay with GLOBIS for as long as I live.” I can’t imagine selling (quitting) something that is so much fun. What’s more, we’ve just gotten started.
The measure of success in the U.S. seems to be centered on money, with work and careers as the means for acquiring enough to live the lifestyle you want.
It will be interesting to see how people change in another five years.
From GLOBIS internal ML Waigaya.