Thursday, May 22, 2014

Forget finance and marketing. (Grinds!) I’m focusing on travel and networking.

A few weeks back, I attended a family wedding. The wedding was lovely, picture perfect. Even the weather co-operated, which is not always a guarantee in early May in New England.

Both the bride and the groom are graduates of Harvard Business School, and the toast-to-the-bride was given by one of the bride’s HBS classmates. Rather than talk about things that had happened during classes, she focused on the exciting trips they’d made together. Mumbai and Dubai were the destinations that caught our table’s collective ears. (To which one of my tablemates – we were all relatives of the bride – added bye-bye.)

As it turned out, four of the folks at my table – I think my count’s correct here – had MBA’s, including one from HBS.

The MBA honor goes to my brother-in-law, and, while we were kidding around about the non-trips we’d all made while in B-school, Rick told a story about B-school these days.

Rick has a friend who, as it happens, has a son who is a current first year at Harvard.

After taking the lay of the land, and finding himself with an opportunity to go to Argentina to play polo, the fortunate son informed his father that, in order to really do HBS up right, he would need an additional $20-30K for each of the two years.

This on top of the estimated $95K it already costs – per year – to attend HBS as a single student, a budget that, in Harvard’s words, “assumes a moderate student lifestyle.” Which was, I guess, all that Rick’s friend was willing to foot the bill for. (Cheapo!)

Such a “moderate student lifestyle” – if it’s even worthy of the name “lifestyle” -  does not cover polo jaunts to Argentina, impromptu dinners in Manhattan, getaway weekends to Bermuda (or wherever business school students get away to), or trips to Mumbai or Dubai.

But since business school is apparently all about the networking, and precious little about the coursework (let’s face it, most of what you learn, you learn on the job, anyway), not being able to travel, will put a crimp in the induction into the global-elite that is increasingly what the upper echelon business schools are all about. As we learned in an article in the Sunday NY Times which my brother-in-law circulated:

In many M.B.A. programs, lifestyle experiences are gaining on academic ones in importance, as seen in much busier evening and weekend schedules of bars, parties and trips, says Jeremy Shinewald, founder of mbaMission, an M.B.A. admissions consulting firm based in New York. “My father went to business school a generation ago as a married 25-year-old, and I can assure you he has no stories of jetting off to Vegas for the weekend,” says Mr. Shinewald, who is 38.

Many of the business school trips are for educational purposes, some are for job exploration, but a lot of them are just plain party-hearty.

Ms. [Ming Min] Hui is a first-year student at Harvard Business School. During year one, she:

…has been on eight not-for-credit trips during her first year. “An M.B.A. is very different from a law or medical degree; the M.B.A. is designed for networking reasons,” she says. Over spring break, she hiked the Inca Trail in Peru through a student-organized trip.

It’s not all Inca hikes, however. Another trip was aimed at exploring West Coast high tech.

My alma mater, Sloan School at MIT made the article. Predictably, the first Sloan-ie cited was doing boring old career-oriented travel.

But I’m pleased to note that not all Sloan students are nose-to-the-grindstone careerist grinds.

Why, just yesterday, I passed a guy on Charles Street wearing a tee-shirt that read “Sloan School of Management Run the Rapids Trek”.

And the other Sloan grad mentioned in the article had traveled to nine countries – “including Norway, Ghana, Israel and Saudi Arabia” – during her two years at Sloan. And, as this was a female grad, surely she wasn’t exploring career opportunities in Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, she couldn’t have been going there to par-tay, either. Must have been cultural rubber-necking. Or maybe she was interested in an career in energy, which would explain Norway and Ghana. Anyway, nine countries in two years sounds like an awful lot of running around during time that could be spent studying. So much for Sloan as nerd school.

Kellogg School at Northwestern has a group called Kwest – which stands for Kellogg Worldwide Experience and Service Trips — which runs trips to help first-years get acquainted:

Descriptions of some Kwest trips are more reminiscent of a college spring break than a master’s program for emerging business leaders. A website for the Kwest Turkey trip boasts: “ 1/2 exploring and raging in Istanbul + 1/2 Bodrum beachside paradise = BEST WEEK OF YOUR LIFE! Boat cruises, bike tours, Turkish baths, wild night life, famous mosques and markets. Kwest Turkey has it all!”

Well, this may be the only sentence ever written in the English language that contained both the phrase “wild night life” and “mosque”. And forgive me if I can’t quite make the connection between “raging” and getting your MBA at a prestigious business school. Never was much of a rager, I get.

The MBA travel bug is a relatively recent phenom, according to Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeiffer:

“The social aspects of business school have become more prominent over the last decade — there is no doubt about that,” he said. “Students go to Vegas and take over a Southwest Airlines plane, they go to the Sundance movie festival, and some of them rent houses on Lake Tahoe.”

Companies now sponsor some of the schmoozing. At the Rolex M.B.A.s Conference and Regatta, a sailing race held last year at Santa Margherita Ligure on the Italian Riviera, more than 20 business schools participated in a multiday gathering that included cocktails at an Italian villa and other events, including a conference with presentations by business leaders.

Not that I’ve had any high-flyer MBA-ish career, but I’ve done okay. Just nothing global. Nothing elite. Nothing that required polo playing. Or raging in Istanbul.

My career, however, has required my network, through which I found pretty much every job – freelance or full-time – that I’ve ever had. And that network was built the old-fashioned way, by staying connected with people I like. Without one scintilla of energy spent worrying about “cultivating” the network.

Guess I’m just as content that the most exciting trip I ever made during business school was a weekend getaway to NYC with my husband.

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