A smart investor fortunate enough to gain Harvard admission should get an MBA

By Mike Rothenberg

I’d like to write a response to a WSJ editorial by 24-year old college drop-out Dale Stephens earlier this month, entitled “A Smart Investor Would Skip the (Harvard) MBA”.

In a nutshell, Mr. Stephens argues—without getting an MBA—that the time and money invested in a (Harvard) MBA would be better spent investing in yourself, building tangible technical skills and using the funds to selectively network.  This perspective seems logical if you’ve never been through the two-year HBS program.  However, after talking to approximately 1,000 people who received a Harvard MBA, I’ve found fewer than 5 (yes, <1%) who were unhappy with their choice to pursue a Harvard MBA.  Is the MBA that valuable, or is cognitive dissonance that amazing? 

Here’s my take:

1. It’s about your value system.  If you value relationships and experiences, there is no substitute for an MBA.  If you value the NPV of the expected cash flows in your life, it is not clear either way.

I can speak only as a Harvard MBA.  From this perspective, the opportunity to spend months with the same group of talented, ambitious, intelligent and humble people is unparalleled and cannot be duplicated by off-line coffee chats.  It is an empirical reality that hanging out with a group, hearing the debates, bonding over dinner and drinks, and sharing repeated experiences cannot be duplicated by two years of technical training and one-off coffee chats.

2. You create your own experience: if you are unhappy at HBS, you are not taking advantage of the opportunities

Harvard brings together amazing students, professors, classes, clubs, businesses, extra-curriculars, start-ups, speakers, independent projects, and other amazing opportunities.  If you cannot find what engages you here, then yes – you are in the wrong place.  For those who are energetic, curious, motivated and focused – HBS is an intellectual playground for which there is no substitute!

3. You can get your MBA and launch a technology (or other) venture  

Yes, you can do both.  It is hard, and requires energy, diligence, responsibility, and determination, but it is more than possible.  By the numbers: I know personally of dozens of MBAs running their own companies at Harvard, and wouldn’t be surprised if there were 100+ across the two classes.  If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re used to juggling too many things at once, and you are used to harnessing resources available to you to build value.  HBS is both.

The MBA is a wonderful and unique opportunity, and those who know how to take advantage of opportunities will thrive.   How does it work?  Each morning you wake up and decide which ball will drop.  Will you finish reading your case, will you email the investors or constituents who are depending on you the deliverables they need, will you respond to a customer, will you keep communication going with a key hire, or will you respond to your long-time friend or family member who wants to catch up?  It is not an easy life—and no one said it would be.  But it is possible, challenging, and rewarding. 

If you are an entrepreneur at heart, I encourage you to apply to an MBA at Harvard.  If you are fortunate enough to get in, come join us!  If you regret it, there's a 0.5% chance I'll buy you a drink.  =)


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