The Har­vard yards

THREE AUS­TRALIAN GRAD­U­ATES OF THE WORLD’S MOST FA­MOUS BUSI­NESS SCHOOL RECKON THE HEFTY FEES ARE MORE THAN WORTH IT.

The Australian - The Deal - - Contents - BY LYN­DALL CRISP

A trio of lo­cal alumni from the world’s most fa­mous MBA brand reckon it was a lot of money well spent.

Study­ing at home in Syd­ney was like “prac­tis­ing on a back ten­nis court”, Tom Humphrey says. “But when I got to Har­vard it was like be­ing on cen­tre court with 900 An­dre Agas­sis.”

A 2006 com­merce-law grad­u­ate from the Univer­sity of NSW, the 29-year-old Humphrey ap­plied to both Stan­ford and Har­vard uni­ver­si­ties to do an MBA. He went with the lat­ter be­cause it’s like “a badge of hon­our, a stamp of ap­proval” and grad­u­ated in May.

His pro­fes­sors in­cluded Dina Dublon, a for­mer chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of JPMor­gan Chase; in­no­va­tion guru Clay­ton Chris­tensen; and cor­po­rate strat­egy ex­pert Michael Porter. Among the guest speak­ers were US At­tor­ney for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York Preetinder Singh Bharara (named by Time last year as one of the 100 most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple in the world); JPMor­gan Chase chief ex­ec­u­tive Jamie Di­mon; and best­selling author Mal­colm Glad­well.

It was, Humphrey says, an ex­tra­or­di­nary two years. Not only was the qual­ity of the teach­ers ex­cep­tional, but the ca­ma­raderie among the 900 MBA stu­dents was un­like any­thing he’d pre­vi­ously ex­pe­ri­enced. (The num­ber of Aus­tralians dou­bled from seven in his year to 14 in the next.)

“It’s a whole-of-life ex­pe­ri­ence. When I was an un­der­grad­u­ate in Aus­tralia, no one left home to at­tend univer­sity. Once you fin­ished your class, you got out of there. In the US, ev­ery­one leaves home to go to univer­sity. Ev­ery­one lives to­gether in dorms or fra­ter­nity houses and that builds this in­tense col­le­gial­ity. It’s much more than just about ed­u­ca­tion. We’re like a fam­ily. And you click into a huge alumni net­work.”

It also helped that he was im­me­di­ately signed up for the Har­vard rugby team, which he cap­tained in his sec­ond year. “We played against all the other fab­u­lous schools around, as well as big tour­na­ments in Europe. We have a list that con­nects all the alumni of the rugby team, like a Face­book group, and there are of­ten job of­fers posted.

The ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar sched­ule was as hec­tic as the aca­demic one. “In the first 12 months, I spent only three week­ends in Bos­ton. Ski sea­son comes round and sud­denly you’re go­ing north to the slopes. In sum­mer, you’re go­ing to the great beach spots. And be­cause of the con­nec­tions you have ac­cess to a lot of Amer­i­can friends with hol­i­day houses.”

How­ever, none of this came cheaply. Humphrey got a par­tial schol­ar­ship, but his MBA cost about $120,000 in stu­dent fees and at least $30,000 for rent and food. Fac­tor in no in­come for two years and the to­tal cost is closer to $ 500,000. That’s un­like 30 per cent of stu­dents, whose fees are cov­ered by their em­ployer, pri­vate eq­uity or a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm, or the 50 per cent who get some form of sup­port from Har­vard’s gen­er­ous en­dow­ment.

It was while work­ing for a start-up called Our­deal that Humphrey de­cided an MBA from an Amer­i­can school would pro­vide ac­cess to the US mar­ket, which he says is years ahead of Aus­tralia when it comes to tech­nol­ogy start-ups.

He has joined his sis­ter Olivia, who launched Kanopy, Aus­tralia’s largest dis­trib­u­tor of videos to uni­ver­si­ties, in Perth in 2008 and ex­panded to the US ear­lier this year. They both moved to San Fran­cisco in June to open a new of­fice.

Bec Nyst, 28, grew up in Bris­bane and grad­u­ated with a Bach­e­lor of Creative Arts (theatre) and Bach­e­lor of Laws from the Univer­sity of Melbourne in 2008.

She ini­tially thought MBAs were for “peo­ple ob­sessed with mak­ing tonnes of money”. How­ever, af­ter in­tern­ing at law firms, she dis­cov­ered a le­gal ca­reer wasn’t as glamorous

as it looked on tele­vi­sion, so she took a job with­McKin­sey& Co. “I re­alised I loved work­ing in busi­ness,” she says. “It can be su­per-creative and en­er­getic. I had no for­mal busi­ness train­ing, so anMBA made sense.

“I chose Har­vard [be­cause] I wanted the clas­sic MBA ex­pe­ri­ence. What stood out about Har­vard was its sig­na­ture case-study method. Ev­ery class is taught by study­ing a real busi­ness case from the per­spec­tive of a busi­ness leader. There are no lec­tures. Stu­dents are ex­pected to come to class with a per­spec­tive on the case and the de­bates can be in­tense and pas­sion­ate.”

Nyst, who is in­tern­ing at Google head of­fice in Sil­i­con Val­ley, says that way of teach­ing was com­pletely dif­fer­ent from her un­der­grad­u­ate ex­pe­ri­ence, which in­volved “sit­ting pas­sively in a class, hav­ing al­most never done the read­ing and of­ten just day­dream­ing about what I was go­ing to eat for lunch. I found HBS’s high-pres­sure, in­ter­ac­tive style re­ally thrilling.”

Her teach­ers in­cluded an FBI agent, a com­mu­nity farmer, a soft­ware de­vel­oper, a mil­i­tary strate­gist, a po­lit­i­cal ad­viser, a marine who had served in Afghanistan and an en­tre­pre­neur who runs his own light­ing busi­ness.

“There were more than 20 coun­tries rep­re­sented in my sec­tion – fromNor­way to Le­banon and Sene­gal – and the top­ics we de­bated [in­cluded] bribery in busi­ness and gen­der dy­nam­ics in the work­place.”

Phyl Ge­or­giou, 28, grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Melbourne with a Bach­e­lor of Com­merce (ac­tu­ar­ial stud­ies) in 2006. He later joined LeapFrog In­vest­ments, a so­cial in­vest­ment fund, in Syd­ney. “I was the first non-part­ner hire for what be­came a $135 mil­lion pri­vate eq­uity fund that brings af­ford­able in­sur­ance prod­ucts to poor peo­ple in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries,” he says.

He chose to com­plete a joint de­gree be­tween Har­vard’s Busi­ness School (an MBA) and its John F. Kennedy School of Govern­ment (a Mas­ter in Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion fo­cused on in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment), com­bin­ing the two-year cour­ses into three years and grad­u­at­ing in May. “I was for­tu­nate to have two Har­vard fel­low­ships and the sup­port of a pre­vi­ous em­ployer [McKin­sey]. But, be­lieve it or not, I still have some debt,” he says.

“When I ar­rived at Har­vard, I thought I would strug­gle aca­dem­i­cally, that be­ing a de­cent stu­dent in an Aus­tralian univer­sity was not good enough to com­pete with those who made it into a place like Har­vard. That hasn’t been my ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Go­ing to grad­u­ate school was a mo­ment to re­flect on what I wanted out of life and what path I wanted to take to get there. It is a rare lux­ury to take three years out of life to be a self­ish stu­dent – fill­ing your day with what you want to do. By be­ing open to the ex­pe­ri­ence, I re­alised I had an un­stop­pable de­sire to start my own busi­ness. I re­ally didn’t think I had the en­tre­pre­neur­ial bug un­til I was so deep in an idea I couldn’t get out.”

Ge­or­giou started a busi­ness in his sec­ond year at Har­vard that is now the ba­sis for a full-time job in New York. “Tig­gly is chang­ing the way that pre-school­ers in­ter­act with tablets and im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tional out­comes in the process. I am work­ing with my two co-founders to launch a se­ries of toys that in­ter­act with iPads.” BY BE­ING OPEN TO THE EX­PE­RI­ENCE, I RE­ALISED I HAD AN UN­STOP­PABLE DE­SIRE TO START MY OWN BUSI­NESS.

Tom Humphrey (above) and Bec Nyst both now work in Cal­i­for­nia.

The busi­ness Phyl Ge­or­giou (left) started dur­ing his sec­ond year at Har­vard Busi­ness School (above) is now a full-time gig in New York.

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