The Empire Builders

J. Paul Mark contends that the faculty and administration at the Harvard Business School are closely entwined with powerful elements in the business community for mutual financial benefit. His observations were gathered during a brief employment as a researcher at the school; they are supplemented with background material from the business press and Harvard publications as well as interviews conducted after he left.

Mark examines the hidden purposes of Harvard’s famous case-study method of teaching, whereby students are presented with actual business situations to which they apply their budding acumen. He claims that the case-study method is used to increase the wealth of individual professors, who spend research funds to go into a company to write cases, using this inroad to secure lucrative consulting contracts, directorships, means of writing off personal travel, and opportunities for information brokering. He tells of one professor who, seemingly taking a personal interest in his students, interviews each one every year and offers research jobs to the ones with connections at companies for which he would like to consult. Generous corporate contributions to the school, alleges Mark, serve as a consideration for allowing the companies to recruit the top MBA’s and to send executives to the school’s Advanced Management Program. He also recounts instances in which the profit is direct, as in the cases of Marriott, which won a $4.5 million food-service contract at the school, and IBM, which supplied millions of dollars’ worth of personal computers to hundreds of students who were required to purchase them.

The tone of the book is hostile, and it is written in a disjointed, unfocused, anecdotal style, leading the reader to question the point of many of the discussions. The Glossary of Selected Terms illustrates the lack of care that went into the book’s organization, and, by extension, very likely its research: It is a list of nine apparently randomly selected terms running the spectrum of relevance to the text.