Jim Aisner – HBS muck-spreader – show yourself!

A question I’m often asked is what does HBS make of your book? The school newspaper,the Harbus, devoted a special issue to the book when it came out. The articles were overwhelmingly negative. Two professors complained to my publisher about their presentation in the book. One even requested publication be stopped. But their depictions stood. Where there were errors of fact, I corrected them.

But then there’s the curious case of the HBS spokesman, Jim Aisner. I’ve heard now from several reporters from news organizations both large and small, national and international, that Aisner disparages my book, my character and my motives in off-the-record conversations.

He says I’m the only person to have felt the way I did going through HBS. And worse, apparently. The first time I heard this, I thought, fair enough. I’ve made his job harder. The fifth or sixth time, it began to rankle.

Aisner refuses to go on the record, preferring to fire his barbs while cowering in the shadows.

The only direct communication I’ve had with Aisner was this email he sent on June 28th 2008 after seeing an uncorrected galley of the book, which somehow made it to HBS. Here’s what he said:

Hello.  We had a chance to meet several years ago when you were an HBS student and wondering about writing some pieces for the FT.  We met briefly in Cotting House.  Perhaps you remember.  On another front, I have had a chance to look at your book and althought I haven’t parsed every line (I was a classics major, too), I noticed that you refer to Mike Porter as an all-state basketball player. I know from his CV, which is available off the HBS home page, that he was an all-state (New Jersey) FOOTBALL and BASEBALL player, as well as an All-America golfer at Princeton.   Also, since your first-year classroom was 100-something (I don’t have the book in front of me), wouldn’t that be on the first floor of Aldrich rather than the basement?  Perhaps you’ve caught these sorts of things already in the fact-checking process before publication.  This is my 25th year at HBS, so I know this kind of stuff. 

That’s it. That’s all I ever heard from Aisner. Other than these frequent reports that he disparages me and my book in briefings with journalists. He also showed up at a talk I did at the Harvard Book Store in August of 2008, shortly after the book’s release. He ostentatiously took notes on a yellow legal pad and then scurried off before we had a chance to talk.

I scarcely expect an alumni award from HBS. But it would be nice if the school behaved a little more like a liberal-minded educational institution and less like a paranoid corporation. Aisner, come out from under your rock!


The Economist rags on B-Schools

There’s an old Chinese saying that when a finger points at the moon, the idiot points at the finger. When I wrote my book about HBS, the school spent a lot of time attacking the finger – me. In fact it still does. In the meantime, it has done little to address the fundamental problems with the way it teaches businesses, see HBS Professor Joseph Badaracco’s inane complacency on the BBC World Service. Men like this deserve to be farmed out of business schools before they do further damage.

The latest Economist concurs:

“The original sin of business schools is boosterism. Professors are always inclined to puff the businesses that provide them, at the very least, with their raw materials and, if they are lucky, with lucrative consultancy work. HBS has produced fawning studies of almost every recent corporate villain from Enron (which was stuffed full of HBS alumni) to the Royal Bank of Scotland. A taste for cheerleading has been reinforced by the rise of a multi-million-dollar management-theory industry. Professors with dollar signs in their eyes are always announcing the birth of the latest revolutionary management technique or the discovery of the hottest new “supercorp”.

Business schools need to make more room for people who are willing to bite the hands that feed them: to prick business bubbles, expose management fads and generally rough up the most feted managers. Kings once employed jesters to bring them down to earth. It’s time for business schools to do likewise.”

Global economic crisis – marketing opportunity for HBS!

BBC World Service Assignment on MBA problems

When asked if the HBS brand has suffered as a result of the crisis, MBA chair Joseph Badaracco says that many HBS graduates were at the center of the financial crisis:

“To the extent that these people got  decisions wrong, essentially with the entire world economy at peril, we’re going to blamed for that. On the other hand, they all went to the school and so somebody who thinks to themseleves I would like to get training and associate with other people who are likely to be at the center of things in the future is going to think hard about coming to this place.”

Interviewer: “So it shows that you can get a damn fine job if you go to Harvard Business School but you might end up accidentally ruining the global capitalist system along the way.”

Badaracco adds that HBS was teaching “state of the art” risk management, which happened to be “deficient”. That many smart people thought risk was being better distributed through the financial markets. “Turned out that distributing risks was the flip side of interconnecting so many important institutions so that when one of them failed, others were damaged or pulled down. And that’s something that simply was not seen.” By HBS, perhaps. Others saw it and warned of it. Of the risks of interconnectedness.

Is Badaracco being intentionally misleading or just naive?

Either not good for the holder of the chair in business ethics.

Incidentally, Badaracco was vehemently opposed to publication of my book.

Hank Greenberg at the Harvard Club – don’t mention the fraud

Just received an invitation for a talk to tomorrow at the Harvard Club by Hank Greenberg, who ran AIG until 2005, putting in place many of the practices which led to the firm’s implosion. He’s spent most of the past four years fending off lawsuits, some of which were dismissed, others he settled, including a $15 million settlement with the SEC in August for overseeing fraudulent transactions at AIG. Of course none of this is in the blurb for Greenberg’s talk which blandly reads:

Maurice R. Greenberg is Chairman and C.E.O. of C.V. Starr Company.  He retired as Chairman and C.E.O. of American International Group, Inc. (AIG) in March 2005 after serving as the Chariman and Cheif Executive Officer.  Under his leadership, AIG became the largest insurance campany in the world and generated unprecedented value for shareholders.  During the nearly 40 years of his leadership, AIG’s market value grew from $300 million to $810 billion.

Mr. Greenberg has a long history of international involvement- particularly in China.  He is the former Chairman of the Asia Society, a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and the Director of the Council of Foreign Relations.  He also served on the Board of Directors of the New York Stock Exchange.

His philanthropic activities include serving as Chariman Emeritus of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, being a member of the board of overseers of the Weill Medical School of Cornell University, and acting as an honorary trustee of the Museum of Modern Art and a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History.

This program will focus upon Mr. Greenberg’s discussion of the world financial system in general and the AIG collapse in particular.  He will generate ideas about the future of the financial system.