As a chemical engineer considering an MBA, I wanted more to learn and gain mastery of business principles with both breadth and depth. Like nearly everything else in the modern world, the business landscape has become quite complex and nuanced. There is a lot of ground to cover in order to become an effective general manager.
I never could have imagined the extent to which the required curriculum (RC) would deliver so much knowledge in nearly every essential aspect of business, from marketing to finance to operations to leadership. Hopefully I can give you a better idea of how the RC has been deliberately crafted and refined to deliver a world class foundation for business in one year.
Graduates of Harvard Business School are prepared to take a seat at any business table and contribute in a meaningful way. The first year is called the RC for the very reason that it equips the first year students with the required content and learning to form a firm foundation for a bright future in business.
Breadth and Depth
The RC is comprised of 12 courses. I personally have grouped these 12 courses in 3 buckets- how to finance a business, how to lead a business, and how to operate a business or execute business strategy.
No matter your intended industry or function, these 12 courses prepare future graduates to quickly analyze a situation, formulate a reasoned analysis, and create an action plan.
A general manager needs to be able to work across all areas and domains of business. Whether this means creating a go-to-market strategy or performing capital budgeting, I am confident that I can make valuable contributions and deliver results. But even if you intend to go into a specific functional area such as marketing or finance after business school, your abilities will be exponentially enhanced because you can take into consideration all the other pieces of the business equation when making your decisions.
Within each course, I have also been pleasantly surprised at the depth of the learning that occurs. Even though it may only be a semester course, I am not merely memorizing business terms and frameworks. The case method requires a deeper understanding of the issues and principles at play. The case method requires me to defend my point of view and formulate an opinion in the face of uncertain and ambiguous information. The faculty members at HBS are exceptionally skilled at teaching these foundational courses.
Understanding the Business World
As I looked back at some of the biggest business stories of 2015, I realized just how much I have learned in the last eight months. I can critically evaluate and understand the business particulars. I will offer my own top ten business stories for the past year.
1. China: industrial-goods slowdown and market turmoil
2. Yahoo: Marissa Myers and activist investors
3. Uber: valuation and growth of the gig economy
4. Volkswagen: emissions cheating scandal
5. Interest Rates: fed rate hike and the end of "free money"
6. Oil: collapsing commodity prices
7. Greece: bailout deal and ATM withdrawal limits
8. Mega Corporate M&A: (Dow/DuPont, Pfizer/Allergen, AB InBev/SABMiller, etc.)
9. McDonald: rolling out the all-day breakfast menu
10. Airbnb: valuation more than doubled to over $25B after latest round of financing
The RC has given me the knowledge to critically examine anyone of these major business stories and think about the root causes, implications, execution, and risks. Take for example McDonald's rolling out all day breakfast offering. Using the TOM lens I can think about the operationally difficulty of offering an expanded menu for the entire day. How will this affect the ability for McDonald's to serve customers quickly and efficiently? Does this require a change in the tasks and responsibilities of the cooking staff? Does this change food handling and supply chain? But I could also examine this change through the lens of marketing. What customer segment most values breakfast all day? Are they willing to pay a premium for this breakfast food? Or maybe this is a strategic question - is this in response to a competitor? How will Burger King or Wendy's react to this change?
As I near the end of my RC year, I have the basic tools necessary to understand the fundamentals of all these business stories. I still have a lot to learn, but I can clearly articulate the fundamental business principles that underpin each story. For those that involve a troubled company or country, I can speak about root causes and potential solutions. The RC year prepares students to leave this institution and go out and become the future business leaders of tomorrow. The RC lays a solid foundation upon which a lifetime of learning and experience can build upon.