HBS versus Wharton for Entrepreneurs

Hi, I want to know your opinion about Wharton vs Harvard.

I’m considering both HBS and Wharton for my MBA , but I have some concerns about the learning model, the curriculum, etc.  I’m an entrepreneur and my company is focused on media and entertainment, so I need strong skills in management, finance, entrepreneurship, leadership, and organization design.  I want to be the best CEO. I won’t be looking for a job, so the brand on my resume is not a factor.

So tell me, what school is the best for me?

One more thing, I’m very skeptical about the CASE METHOD learning model…how can you learn finance with it?

The Harvard MBA says:

The first thing to bear in mind is that there is no school that can teach you how to be an entrepreneur.  While many MBAs go on to start their own businesses, and the b-schools do their best to help budding entrepreneurs, most newly-minted MBAs go to work for someone else.

That being said, I would give HBS the advantage over Wharton in your case.  While Wharton is second-to-none when it comes to the teaching of finance, the fact is “finance” is almost entirely irrelevant to being an entrepreneur.

Advanced finance courses will teach you about use debt for leverage, valuing complex projects, and how to price various securities.  You’ll learn how to use the advanced functions of Excel and to run Monte Carlo simulations.  And none of this has any relevance to entrepreneurship.

As an entrepreneur, you’ll never have to price a bond offering or determine how to stage a $1 factory construction job.  You may use Excel, but if you ever do anything more than add, subtract, multiply, or divide, you’re making things way too complicated.

The time you spend on finance would be better served studying strategy and management.  HBS also has two other major advantages for entrepreneurs: Size and Influence.

Because HBS is the biggest and oldest business school, there are more HBS alumni than of any other school.  Wherever you go, you’ll find fellow alumni who are at least willing to pick up the phone when you call.  That’s very important for an entrepreneur who needs to get his foot in the door.

HBS is also the school of choice for venture capitalists.  Something like 30% of the VCs on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley graduated from HBS.  They’re definitely going to feel more comfortable with a fellow alum, not for any secret-society conspiracies, but simply because they’ll feel like they better understand your background and experiences.

Finally, while it may seem strange to teach finance via the case study method, I would argue that this is actually the best way to teach finance in the classroom.  Ultimately, finance isn’t about crunching numbers, it’s about using numbers to make the right decisions.  This was brought home for me in a particularly memorable way during my first session of Finance during my first year at HBS.

The first case we studied was Butler Lumber, a run down lumber yard in a rural town.  After the introduction, the professor asked the classic HBS question: “What should the company do?”

My friend, a top-flight Wall Street ace, confidently spoke up. “It looks like the company has an inefficient capital structure.  I’d recommend that they do a leveraged recapitalization to free up some cash and allow them to take advantage of the tax shield of debt.”  Little did he know he was walking into a trap.

With relish, the professor slapped a photo of the run-down lumber yard back up on the screen.  “Leveraged recap?  Back to reality, Kyle!  This is a lumber yard.”

The point is, the numbers are a tool, but judgment and business sense are paramount.  That’s why teaching finance via the case method works–it forces you to consider the non-quantitative aspects of finance.

31 Comments

  1. Thibs
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Great article! However your point on
    HBS being the oldest b-school is erroneous. It was created in 1908, Wharton in 1881. And that’s in the US.

    The oldest business school in the world is actually the “Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris” (created in 1819, 62 years before Wharton), which merged with the more recent “Ecole Europeenne des Affaires” (1973) in 2000, forming the “ESCP-EAP”. It was recently re-branded “ESCP Europe” and is one of the top French and European b-schools.

    Very interesting article apart from that! :) By the way, I’m also interested in entrepreneurship after my MBA…any chance you could do a quick Stanford vs. HBS (simply because Stanford,-and not Wharton-, is most widely considered the best spot for entrepreneurs) Any insight on that, as an alumnus of Stanford?

  2. Pavel R.
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Or maybe he should even consider http://www.actonmba.org/ program.
    Harvard like environment, cutting edge classrooms and real entrepreneurs as a teachers instead of ivory-tower academics in the most Ivy league programs.

    Have you ever heard about this school Chris? I know that they do not have AACSB accreditation and they have only SACS and ACBSP but when I checked the curriculum it seems as the best MBA for entrepreneurs (even considering Babson).

    P.S. When I see my comment it looks like advertisement but actually I’m just looking for right MBA program for me and Acton looks really good.

  3. admin
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Thibs,

    Good correction. What I meant to say is that HBS is the world’s oldest MBA program; you are correct that Wharton is older than HBS, and that ESCP-EAP is the world’s oldest business school.

    Alas, I can’t pretend that I knew all that in advance, and I suspect that many other HBS alumni believed the same thing I did!

    In terms of HBS vs. Stanford, Stanford’s geographical advantages make it a better choice for future entrepreneurs.

    HBS holds an advantage in sheer size, and in terms of broader business connections, but Stanford’s proximity to Silicon Valley makes it a much better choice for high-tech entrepreneurs.

    The VC community in Boston is much smaller, and much less aggressive. Same for the startup community. Hell, guys like me attend Stanford functions all the time…I guarantee that I didn’t see a lot of successful alumni showing up randomly at HBS events.

    The one caveat is that if you already have a Stanford degree, HBS is probably a better choice. I have deep Stanford roots from my undergrad days; going there for b-school wouldn’t have added much. And in fact, VCs are far more likely to hang out at the CS department than at the GSB…that’s where the action is!

  4. admin
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Pavel,

    I hadn’t heard of Acton before, but it looks like an awesome program.

    It may not have the cachet of HBS (yet…who knows what the future holds!), but it looks like it provides an intensive and unique experience.

    And for someone who doesn’t care about how widely known their school is, there’s little downside. I really love the fact that the school will pick up the tab for everything, and that you’re on the honor system to repay them. That’s amazing trust.

    The one other problem is that the school is so small…must be hard to get one of those 14 slots!

  5. Thibs
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Hey,

    Thanks a lot for your reply! :)

    Just to clarify your answer, you’re basically saying that high-tech entrepreneurs are better off at Stanford because of the Silicon valley’s dense and busy VC industry.

    But what about non-high-tech start ups (I’d be creating an innovative music label), and what if I don’t mind about the location. (ie, I would not necessarily move to California after Stanford, nor to Boston after HBS)?

    I am asking this because I’m actually French, and not a US resident (…yet?) In other words, I don’t have a clue on where I’ll start my company after my MBA, and so the school’s local environment, from where I stand, is of minor relevance to me.

    This is especially true because I’m still a college sophomore, meaning I’m looking approx. 6 years ahead here…^^

    Ceteris paribus, which program is better at providing me with the right skills for entrepreneurship?

    Thanks once more for your involvement in this blog.

  6. admin
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Thibs,

    If you’re not certain about location or industry, HBS provides the best possible general-purpose platform.

    It’s the most prestigious brand name, has the widest and most powerful alumni network, and provides the broadest education.

  7. Thibs
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    That’s great to know, and to hear first hand from an alumnus, thank you! :)

    I’ve been having these thoughts about Stanford vs Harvard but I guess HBS seems like the best school for me after all.

    No matter the educational quality (Stanford is definitely an amazing school), I wouldn’t want to have a more industry-specific MBA, to me it just seems like limiting one’s options…

  8. DS
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Chris for a great blog. Disclosure: I’m biased (as a current Wharton MBA student).

    My advice to the question-asker would be, rather than relying on vague notions such as which learning model is best, look for what is knowable:
    – How many entrepreneurship courses does each school offer? Can you get their syllabi? Do they interest you? Are they taught by people whose backgrounds you respect?
    – What extracurricular entrepreneurship supports does each school provide? How big is the entrepreneurship club? Could the presidents give you a list of past activities to see how active the club is?
    – How strong is the alumni VC and entrepreneurship network? (Chris gives some info on this for HBS.)

    Answering these questions will be helpful in the admissions process, as well.

    Finally, two minor corrections:
    1. “Sheer size” is not really an HBS advantage here, given that:
    a) Wharton is almost as large (~825+ vs. 900)
    b) Wharton has a far larger MBA network because, unlike HBS, it has an executive MBA program.

    2. Wharton’s reputation is the finance school, but by any metric this is outdated.

  9. admin
    Posted July 20, 2009 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    DS,

    Wharton is indeed a great school, and I agree that the wise student will dig deeply into the specifics of the courses.

    On the other hand, just as it’s hard to tell much about your undergrad college before you arrive on campus, it’s hard to really know what a school is like simply based on the course catalog.

    In terms of the corrections, DS is absolutely correct. Unlike HBS, which doesn’t offer an executive MBA (instead, exec edders get things like AMP, OPM, etc.), Wharton offers an executive MBA program.

    Wharton also offers an undergraduate business degree as well.

    In the end though, I feel pretty confident in asserting that HBS has the most powerful alumni network of any business school, and by a significant amount.

    I certainly don’t want to dismiss Wharton as a finance school; indeed, most of my Wharton friends are not in the finance field. But it is a major strength, and if I were a Wharton grad, I’d be proud of it.

  10. Jonathan
    Posted July 20, 2009 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    Or you might consider a program like Babson, which is widely considered the best entrepreneurship program in the world. Especially if you’re not concerned about the brand, you might do well to save your money.

  11. Posted August 3, 2009 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Ok, I won’t plug Acton here (obviously biased as I work for the amazing program.) Just wanted to correct something: We take up to 50 students per year, not 14.

    Thanks,
    Georgia

  12. admin
    Posted August 4, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Glad to hear that Acton is expanding, Georgia! It sounds like a great program.

  13. Ayan
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Don’t know if you still write. Lovely post in the “HBS versus Wharton for Entrepreneurs”…

    I am also an entrepreneur…and am focused on the (now buzzword) social entrepreneurship.

    I am considering the AMP/GMP//….wondering if you would have any insights on (a) how does it stack up versus the MBA on the ‘stigma’ given that it’s not the flagship MBA program?

    (b) Are there material benefits of being an alumnus/a. I did my undergrad and masters from UK and am keen to have a good/wide network that can be useful/helpful. My previous degree, though good did not get me much in terms of alumni support. Liked your ‘foot in the door’ thought. Just a bit skeptical on that, though.

    (c) Sticking to the rule of three, wonder what is the “strength” of the HBS alumni network outside US; in particular india and China, where I am currently focusing my energies on.

    THANKS A TON! Even if you can’t reply…must commend on the great post…

  14. admin
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Ayan,

    Exec Ed degrees such as the AMP/GMP are still valuable, but it is true that many MBA alumni don’t feel the same connection with Exec Eders as they do with fellow MBAs.

    The thing about Exec Ed degrees is that the folks within the programs do tend to help each other, and especially for AMP, they tend to be in positions of power.

    The HBS alumni network is probably the strongest outside the US of the main line b-schools, thanks to its overall size and the focus HBS has placed overseas. But in India at least, I think an IIT degree is even better.

  15. Posted September 4, 2009 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    I’m glad that my question about “HBS vs Wharton” excite the blogger’s audience.

  16. Posted November 3, 2009 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    How about Stanford? VCs, computer science PhDs, lawyers, doctors–they’re all within biking distance. And it’s hard to beat our weather :)

  17. Subharaj
    Posted November 4, 2009 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    What is total cost of doing a Harvard MBA?

  18. WhartonEntrepreneur
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m a successful entrepreneur and current Wharton MBA. One of my closest friends (who is also a successful entrepreneur) is currently at HBS. We have both had incredible experiences at our respective schools. That said, we have had very different experiences regarding entrepreneurship.

    First of all, let me say that Wharton is quite a bit older than HBS and actually has a much bigger alumni network (remember, HBS doesn’t have an undergraduate program, so Wharton has an alumni network many times larger than HBS – don’t underestimate the caliber and influence of Wharton’s undergrad alumni network, some of the brightest and most successful entrepreneurs in the world are Wharton undergrad alums). I would agree that HBS has a brand second to none, but age and network size aren’t something to state as an advantage over Wharton because they actually fall behind Wharton in both areas.

    Secondly, there is a much larger group of successful entrepreneurs at Wharton than HBS (at least currently). Wharton has an organized group of 40-50 former entrepreneurs (many more than currently attend HBS)

    Wharton’s Entrepreneurial Programs (WEP) is VERY active and has many programs available to assist entrepreneurs. The Rock Center, from everything I’ve heard, is less than impressive. WEP provides scholarships to MBA’s who choose to start their own businesses ($10,000 – $15,000) in lieu of doing an internship. They also provided around 20-25 students with $3,000 scholarships if they chose to work in a start-up business during their summer internship. There is a Venture Initiation Program (VIP) where Wharton provides incubator space to students working on their own businesses. They provide mentoring, office space and other resources (including gifted seed money of $2,500). Do your research, The Rock Center at HBS doesn’t hold a candle to WEP in providing educational and financial support to aspiring entrepreneurs.

    Additionally, Wharton has a campus in San Francisco with 200+ Executive MBAs who are well connected in the Valley (and a large alumni network). These resources are available to us – HBS has a small office in the Valley, but students aren’t able to use it – it is exclusively for professors. Wharton’s alumni network in Northern California is extremely active as well (they hold social events on a weekly basis).

    In summary, HBS and Wharton both have incredible programs. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, but I think I can speak with a voice of authority in saying that Wharton is an outstanding (and in my opinion, the best) place for those desiring to start a business during school.

  19. admin
    Posted December 8, 2009 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Wharton Entrepreneur,

    I don’t think folks could go wrong at either Wharton or HBS. Though I’d have to say that for sheer access to the startup ecosystem, Stanford has us both beat.

  20. WhartonEntrepreneur
    Posted December 8, 2009 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    In complete agreement with you on Stanford … their biggest problem is their network (almost non-existent outside of California). Bottom line, Harvard, Stanford, Wharton (and a number of other top schools) all offer incredible support and entrepreneurial education for MBA entrepreneurs.

    Thanks again for the great blog and for opening up this discussion.

  21. admin
    Posted December 8, 2009 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    WhartonEntrepreneur,

    It’s my pleasure to host such knowledgeable commenters!

  22. Zac
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Age : 34 years

    Work exp : 12 + years (currently working at a bank in Dubai, UAE)

    Married / with a 4 year old son

    Plan : to do an MBA from Wharton, specialising in Finance and Entrepreneurship or HBS (full time; since part time is not an option for international students)

    My query :

    I would like to know your view / opinion on making such a move with my family, given the time / money commitment that would be required from my side.

    Are there others who have quit their middle-management jobs elsewhere in the world and took the break (quit their jobs) to pursue higher studies (read a full-time MBA) ?

    The reason for a Wharton/HBS MBA : the expectation that I would be able to equip myself with tools that can help me explore ‘starting a business’ / get a deeper understanding of finance management.

    Requesting your view .. .

  23. dave
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Are there others who have quit their middle-management jobs elsewhere in the world and took the break (quit their jobs) to pursue higher studies (read a full-time MBA) ?
    The reason for a Wharton/HBS MBA : the expectation that I would be able to equip myself with tools that can help me explore ’starting a business’ / get a deeper understanding of finance management.

  24. admin
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Dave,

    If you’re already in middle-management, it’s more common to pursue an Executive Education degree. These programs provide similar tools, with the advantage of not requiring you to leave your job, but at the expense of not being as intense and experience.

  25. farrukh
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Finance gives you the sense to make something out of nothing. Totally agree with your answer and thanks for making this blog because a lot of people (like me) get valuable insights on how things go in HBS. Keep it up and God Bless You.

    Farrukh Lahore Pakistan :)

  26. KC
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    If you are debating this issue then you fail to get it. The fact is most MBAs will be working for an entrepreneur. The typical MBA is a highly motivated, analytical ‘A’ student. The typical entrepreneur is a typical “C” student, “big picture” person who can take an idea and create a business from nothing to something. He hires MBAs to take it to the next level. The odds that these two skills sets match the same person is a million to one.

    I have been asked by MBAs, Wall Street bankers etc. ‘how do you know this or that?’ It wasn’t from my MBA, although this provides the fundamental tools, it was from street smarts… and you only get that by being in the game. An entrepreneur risks his/her capital so you must know how or learn quick. Many of the issues that you will encounter will not be covered in your MBA curriculum. Most of these classes are taught by academics with little or no real world experience. They are under pressure to publish and raise funds not run a business.

    To be the best CEO, in my opinion, you must first be a good leader, be able to encourage others and share your vision. You must be a crusader for your product or service and be a good read of people.

    An MBA is not necessarily the ticket to entrepreneurial success. In fact, if I had to choose I would take someone with street smarts over the degree because they have the entrepreneurial skills whereas the MBA has the tools and skills to manage the business once it is established.

  27. sanjay
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    reputation of the university is pivotal! None can contend the curriculum of HBS, WHARTON,STAN,MIT,CHIC,DART,KELL(LBS,OX,CAMB). These are the only handful schools which can catapult you to greatness the stipends alone are staggering even while studying none of the european schools come close the pay packages that these school guys get( even insead). There is no point in spending 100k if you want to get 80k salary job the way it is happening in europe. You rather blow 150k and get 250-500k package from wharton or harvard and not to mention the awww. factor. If money is not the problem and if you get admission in these top brands you got to get there! harvard mba is the greatest degree in the world, both for its prestige, commercial and social value. please check their recruitment stats!
    enough said…

  28. sanjay
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    None can contend the curriculum of HBS, WHARTON,STAN,MIT,CHIC,DART,KELL(LBS,OX,CAMB). These are the only handful schools which can catapult you to greatness. And the stipends alone are staggering, even while studying.None of the european schools come close to the pay packages, that these school guys get( even insead). There is no point in spending 100k, if you want to get 80k salary job the way it is happening in europe. You rather blow 150k and get 250-500k package from the above top mentioned school and not to mention the awww factor( you are in a bar and girl asks, what are you doing? I am at harvard and next thing you know is she is in your room!)
    If money is not the problem and if you get admission in to these elite schools , you got to go there(26-32 super age!) harvard mba is the greatest degree in the world, both for its prestige, commercial and social value. please check their recruitment stats even when the whole world is sinking( none of the other pro degrees medicals,lawyers are anywhere close here even from the same schools!).
    enough said…

  29. Rama Raju
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    I have attended executive education programs in both schools, so I have experienced the faculty in both. In my opinion, Wharton has better faculty that can teach better. Of course, they have an edge in Finance, but their Marketing faculty is better than that of Harvard.

    Wharton do not have the same brand equity that Harvard enjoys, so i uges they have to work harder to earn the respect of students.

  30. Sandeep
    Posted December 13, 2011 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    I am currently looking at enrolling for the GMP program at HBS.

    Am at middle management and have very good finance background. My criterion for this course are (a) to help transition into general management; and (b) to better my future prospects by leveraging the HBS alumni network.

    Any insight or guidance around my decision would be really appreciated.

    Thanks, Sandeep.

  31. Ricardo
    Posted April 7, 2012 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    I’ve been looking for the kind of reviews for the last 4 months. I am really happy to find you guys.

    I am the president of a $100 million corporation. For many reasons, I have this growing feeling of doing an Advanced Management Program. Once I do it, I would like to do it in one of the bests business schools. (if they accept me…of course).

    Based on what I have already read, both HBS and Wharton seemed to be a sure-choice. I leave in Atlanta and Emory has one AMP but they have stopped this year.

    Any specific experiences or comments on the AMP’s and in which one on top of HBS and Wharton woth to do it.

    thank you.

    Ricardo

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