They live in crowded eight-person rooming groups, have intensive classes more than three hours a day, encounter people from all nations and backgrounds, and even get homesick. Where they go to school, the male-female ratio is tilted strongly towards the male side. They learn plenty and make new friends.
But these people aren't bewildered freshmen, they're senior level executives. Instead of arriving at Harvard after several years at Andover or Philips-Exeter, they hail from Ford Motor Company, IBM, and General Motors.
The group, composed mostly of white men in their 40's and 50's who have had more than 10 years experience near the top of the corporate world, have arrived at the Harvard Business School for one of the 12 "executive education" programs it offers each year.
The Business School offers an extensive range of programs, from two-week seminars on very specific business topics to the more prominent 13-week Advanced Management Program (AMP). The money-making programs draw business people from around the world to the B-School campus.
Says AMP instructor and B-School professor George C. Lodge of the program, "It's extremely exciting. It's different from MBAs because they bring a wide variety of often very deep experience." He said that while participants aren't graded, they contribute to class discussion because of peer pressure.
Citing an example of the stimulating debates these veterans inspire, Lodge recalls, an incident in a class of his a few years ago. "I was teaching a class about the world debt crisis," he says. "We had the head of the Mexico city office of Citibank in the class and we also had a deputy in the office of the Mexican ministry of finance, so we got a really profound view of the issue. There's always that kind of richness."
"It's a very good idea. It's designed for managers just about to get their last big promotion, and they've had very little time to reflect or to even think about various aspects of what they're doing."
Rooms With a View
Although the participants do live in rooming groups of eight, the suites included in the stay are in no other way like those in freshmen dormitories. In fact, they are luxurious newly decorated suites with modern furniture and a view of the Charles.
Each "can group," as the mid-career students call themselves because of their use of the same bathroom facilities, features plush wall-to-wall carpeting; a large and comfortable modern sofa and a complete bar and television set hidden away behind wooden wall cabinets. In addition, each living group is also a study group, going over sample cases and problems together. So on one side of the common room is a small business-like conference table and a blackboard for the group to use in order to work together each morning.
The rooms on each floor even have separate color schemes, color-coding the walls, rug and furniture so that a participant will notice if he accidentally walks into the wrong suite.
Despite the extravagant surroundings, says B-School spokesman William Hokanson, "This is pretty Spartan by their standards. These people come from a certain level where they are used to it."
Originally started as the War Production Training Course in 1943, the AMP was first offered in order to "search for different statistical methods relating to war victory," says Hokanson. He says the program was designed "originally to bring key people up to date" in the efficient production of war time goods. In its current form, the program is specifically intended for senior level executives with at least 20 years of executive experience.
The AMP was later joined in the 1950's by the 14-week Program for Management Development (PMD), intended for business managers of between five and 10 years of experience. In the early 1970's, two more extensive programs were added to the curriculum: the eight-week International Senior Managers Program for senior execs from multinational or non-U.S. companies and the nine-week Owner/President Management Program for top level management.
In addition to these major programs, the B-School executive education division offers eight two-three week functional management programs and a number of short less-than-a-week seminars on more specific business topics throughout the year.