The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite by Duff McDonald

The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite

A riveting and timely intellectual history of one of our most important capitalist institutions, Harvard Business School, from the bestselling author of The Firm.With The Firm, financial journalist Duff McDonald pulled back the curtain on consulting giant McKinsey & Company. In The Golden Passport, he reveals the inner workings of a singular nexus of power, ambition, a...

Title:The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite
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ISBN:0062347179
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:672 pages

The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite Reviews

  • Juliana Philippa
    Apr 11, 2017

    Heard about the book from article:

    Heard about the book from article:

    Very interested to read this, especially since I'm a b-school student (not HBS) and a Harvard grad student (at the Kennedy School).

  • Giles K. Kemp
    May 04, 2017

    McDonald seems unable to overcome a disdain for Harvard Business School and market capitalism. The result is a snide tone which becomes quite grating and makes it difficult to appreciate the thorough research he did, albeit with no official access to the school.

  • Kylewelch
    May 05, 2017

    Despite having my own issues with HBS, I have found this book to be simply a bad read. An uninformed, superficial interpretation of the school that is simply not worth the effort. Duff's book reads as if the school was run by Voldemort, and all the cases were written by Screwtape or Sauron. The only thing worse than someone writing without knowledge is someone writing with incomplete knowledge--that is what Duff has done here.

    In every point of history, Duff takes a constant twist to a negative

    Despite having my own issues with HBS, I have found this book to be simply a bad read. An uninformed, superficial interpretation of the school that is simply not worth the effort. Duff's book reads as if the school was run by Voldemort, and all the cases were written by Screwtape or Sauron. The only thing worse than someone writing without knowledge is someone writing with incomplete knowledge--that is what Duff has done here.

    In every point of history, Duff takes a constant twist to a negative lens. For example, Duff's conversation about a Wyss $40MM donation to the HBS doctoral program added the commentary that HBS is willing to make an investment as long as "someone else is paying for it." As if any other university works any different--there are a million investments to be made at schools. Moreover, Wyss (an HBS alum) also gave $250MM to the school of engineering--he could have kept his multiple donations for his family but offered them to programs he thought could better use the money. Someone takes their wealth and instead of hoarding it, gives it away--yet somehow Duff finds a negative spin on it. The whole book reads like that--a constant rub to the negative. The result is a book that claims history and truth with an apparent lack of knowledge and experience with it. Duff has no problem finding citations, but the book is void of any context lending to an understanding of the school or management theory.

    From an insider's perspective, the major claims about what happens at HBS are just wrong, exposing Duff's shallow understanding of HBS' key players, research, course work, and students. He passes over graduates like Sal Khan, popular courses like BSSE and Reimagining Capitalism, research from George Serafeim or Robert Eccles, and many students that work at non-profits. Duff intended this book to condemn HBS regardless of reality. Golden Passport was written to maximize book sales via scandalizing HBS.

    If you are looking for a book about management and academic theory, this is also the wrong book. Duff fecklessly calls out agency theory and shareholder maximization. Sorry, Duff greed was not invented by an academic theory at HBS. Indeed, there are problems with agency theory, but Duff's writing is a poor source. This book will not help you think intelligently about management theory (let alone HBS). If you want a good read on this topic, I recommend Joe Bower and Lynn Paine's 2017 article "Managing for the long term."

    Unless you are looking for fiction, this book is a waste of time. If you are looking for a good read about HBS, "Ahead of the Curve" is no less flattering but has the benefit of being written with facts (from a decade ago).

  • Marks54
    May 20, 2017

    (I rated this a "3" but feel it more a "2.5". I enjoyed it enough to finish it but have issues. McDonald is a journalist who wrote a nice book on McKinsey. I had hoped he would do the same with HBS but that was not to be.)

    McDonald has written a long history of the Harvard Business School (HBS) that can be summed up easily. While HBS invented the MBA degree and has been a major institution in business since its inception, notable for its case method, its high powered professors, and its arrogant

    (I rated this a "3" but feel it more a "2.5". I enjoyed it enough to finish it but have issues. McDonald is a journalist who wrote a nice book on McKinsey. I had hoped he would do the same with HBS but that was not to be.)

    McDonald has written a long history of the Harvard Business School (HBS) that can be summed up easily. While HBS invented the MBA degree and has been a major institution in business since its inception, notable for its case method, its high powered professors, and its arrogant but highly successful graduates, when its record is looked at in more detail, it is found wanting in virtually every respect. The school ruthlessly defends its status and legitimacy against all comers, changing only when it needs to and claiming virtually all new ideas as its own. The professors, while occasionally showing flashes of brilliance, are generalists detached from the business world and from the rest of business academia. The students embrace the stereotype of the greedy and ambitious "master of brutal action" and place their fame, fortune, and career ahead of the firms they work for or the society in which they live. Far from advancing knowledge and business practice, HBS is a "madrassa" of capitalism turning out indoctrinated shock troops of capitalism to answer the call of whichever employer can pay them the most.

    Get the idea? ...but tell us what you really think!

    My issues with this are numerous.

    1) None of the criticisms in the book are new. Most are longstanding. It would have been nice if McDonald had advanced some new criticisms, but if he did, I missed them. Indeed, an issue with the "craft" if this book is that it is in many parts just a retelling of the tales of others, with the grand narrative being well known.

    2) All of the major business schools (the 25-30 that claim to be "top ten") all suffer from varieties of the criticisms leveled at HBS by McDonald. Top business schools are as much instruments of selection, legitimation, and credentiallling as they are institutions of education. This means that one can in principle separate the benefits that come from attending the school from those that come from what students actually study and learn while at the school. For the top schools, the signaling and credentially value far exceeds the value from course content.

    3) When you look at institutions that pursue such legitimizing missions, it is a simple task to look at the lofty purposes of the institution and then compare that mission with the realities of how the institution actually works and the tasks that are performed there. None will survive such a scrutiny without a wide range of shortcomings being identified. In this sense, McDonald is engaging in a cheap parlor games that means little. If HBS is so terrible and fails to "deliver the goods" then why is it impossible to get into? Why do corporations send their managers to exec ed? Why do donors continue to donate? Why do readers of their materials continues to patronize them? This is not to say that the issues raised by McDonald are not worth considering. But it is not at all clear to me what is so valuable about McDonald's collection of shortcomings that everyone else dealing with HBS seems to have missed. It is easy to criticize an institution like HBS. Answering the "so what" question about the criticism seems to be more difficult.

    4).Another issue I have with McDonald's analysis is that he relies heavily on a relatively limited set of scholars from the camp of "economic sociology". The people he relies on the most are distinguished enough as scholars but they are of a very particular taste in that their research agendas comprise studies that look at the social institutions of business and find that these institutions can also be seen as pursuing power and influence along with their stated official goals. This is a line of work that has frequently criticized the business establishment as being more of an entrenched elite than a meritocracy and has disparaged many presences to business institutions pursuing more public goals. While one is free to cite any source in making an argument, it should not be surprising if a journalist citing a bunch critical sociologists come up with a critical story - that is what his sources.

    5) McDonald in spots seems to be stretching to make his overall case. For example, he makes several references to the social critique of education by William Deresiewicz, whose 2015 book "Excellent Sheep" criticisms the overemphasis on the pressured life of students seeking entrance to US elite colleges and the negative consequences of that pressure. The trouble is that the "Excellent Sheep" argument if focused on elite undergraduates not on MBA programs. While the elite grad schools enter into the argument by implication, it is near impossible to get into HBS straight out of undergraduate school. Why include the argument here when McDonald is supposedly focused on a specific institution? Aren't there other critiques of HBS and MBA programs available?

    6) There are other critical perspectives on business schools and McDonald would have done well to consider them more. He does discuss Henry Mintzberg's work towards the end of his book and this is a refreshing change from Spender and others - and I am no fan of Mintzberg.

    7) Any book about a top business school almost has to be critical, since the business schools themselves spend a lot of time, attention, and resources in touting themselves. Given that HBS has been around for so long, there is a higher bar than one might think in saying something new.

    8) There are parts of the book that were more interesting. The treatment of the early years and the intellectual foundation for the "master of business administration" label is interesting. The ordering of the story by Deans and decades generally works. The use of summary chapters for each decade is also a useful organizing tool to help the reader keep track. The material on the evolution of the Harvard Business Review was also interesting.

    9) There are better recent books that make similar points about HBS without as much snarkiness. One is "From Higher Aims to Hired Hands" by Rajesh Khurana.

  • Chris
    Jun 06, 2017

    Author Duff McDonald dislikes HBS. As in he really dislikes it. What it stands for, what ideas it espouses, what it lacks in ethics. This book is a well-researched, well-articulated takedown of HBS. The only problem is that it's followed by yet another takedown, then another, then another and by the time I was thinking "I get it, you're saying they are not providing a well-rounded education by relying on just the case studies and painfully obvious pop-science babble" he had yet another handful o

    Author Duff McDonald dislikes HBS. As in he really dislikes it. What it stands for, what ideas it espouses, what it lacks in ethics. This book is a well-researched, well-articulated takedown of HBS. The only problem is that it's followed by yet another takedown, then another, then another and by the time I was thinking "I get it, you're saying they are not providing a well-rounded education by relying on just the case studies and painfully obvious pop-science babble" he had yet another handful of chapters to unleash lined up. At times I wished for something new to come next. The thing though is that it's entertaining to experience him lay into them yet again and that once and again he does follow up with an example that warrants the length to which he goes to make it. He does also seem to think that the quality of the HBS alumni network and their prowess in making job opportunities happen could be enough reason to attend this school. Unfortunately he never comes out directly with a direct confirmation of this opinion or a denial, so this is just speculation, which is sad since this author has done enough research to be well-positioned to make a valid recommendation either way.

  • Mbogo J
    Jun 11, 2017

    Duff McDonald was in need of a good punching bag and he found it in Harvard Business School. Once he had set it up to the right height he punched the hell out of it. I have read these set of books before the likes of

    , or Enron's

    but this is the most stinging indictment I have ever come across. I wonder if the decision of HBS to deny him access played a part.

    Duff picked apart HBS from its founding idea to what it is today, the language was so scath

    Duff McDonald was in need of a good punching bag and he found it in Harvard Business School. Once he had set it up to the right height he punched the hell out of it. I have read these set of books before the likes of

    , or Enron's

    but this is the most stinging indictment I have ever come across. I wonder if the decision of HBS to deny him access played a part.

    Duff picked apart HBS from its founding idea to what it is today, the language was so scathing that I feel for any HBS staff or alumni reading it. He accused it of academic capture, and its case method a sham used by corporations to clean their image. He even posited that they were in the business of reinventing the obvious and calling it ground breaking. One of guys interviewed said reading books from HBS staff is equivalent to eating cardboard for dinner, it has zero nutritional value.

    The pillorying of HBS aside, one of the minority thesis of this book deserves merit. The idea first put forward by Milton Friedman that business exists to maximize shareholder value. This toxic idea has led to mercenary business that are looking after the bottom line always trawling the world for sweatshops in the name of cutting cost. HBS stands accused for allowing this notion to seep in the business community and poison capitalism. Before getting into business school a person always thinks that a business should exist to help the community around it and various stakeholders, after leaving business school they think its purpose is maximizing shareholder value. This intellectual sham needs to be called out before the runaway inequality it has spawned threatens the very edifice of the human race.

    The strength of this book lies in the extensive research Duff did, the not so good bit is that he picked HBS apart decade by decade and the story seemed similar all through that I felt stricter editorship should have reigned in on this repetition. I think in as much as Duff claimed he had no bone to pick, it seemed that he had and I would not quote this book on serious circles. This is the kind of book you talk with your left leaning friends over drinks. In my opinion Duff did a good job and the criticism was warranted.

  • Erica
    Jun 26, 2017

    Unreadable. Didn't finish. Not worth my time.

  • Steve Peifer
    Jun 28, 2017

    I went into this book cynically, critical of those who would want the premier business school of the Lord more than a business school. And the weird short chapters format didn't help the flow one bit.

    But I kept coming back to this sentence: The promise of HBS, comfortably ensconced in the bosom of one of the country's greatest universities, was to remain free of undue corporate influence and to engage the fundamental problematic of their subject and of their time, which was how to ensure that po

    I went into this book cynically, critical of those who would want the premier business school of the Lord more than a business school. And the weird short chapters format didn't help the flow one bit.

    But I kept coming back to this sentence: The promise of HBS, comfortably ensconced in the bosom of one of the country's greatest universities, was to remain free of undue corporate influence and to engage the fundamental problematic of their subject and of their time, which was how to ensure that power actually be used to make the world a better place.

    The author convincingly makes his point that due to professors chasing lucrative consulting opportunities and the administration chasing rich donations, they lost their way. The oldest way is this: the love of money is the root of all evil.

    Lots of great funny lines are undercut by cheap shots and a bizarre overreaching premise that HBS caused the economic crisis because so many of their alums are in positions of powers.

    But I came to believe that calling Harvard to its highest calling was an important mission for the author to take. It will make you think more than most books will.

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