There’s a piece in The New York Times today that is being widely circulated on Twitter, “Rejecting Wall Street, Graduates Turn Entrepreneurs Instead,” where the headline doesn’t really tell the true story behind the trend. I was in graduate school and taking a class at Harvard Business school both in the fall term of 2007 and the winter term of 2008. Also at that time, my wife worked at HBS. At the start of the winter 2008 class, the professor, who had been a student at HBS in the 1950s and had taught at the school since the 70s warned all of us that we better not only work on our Plan Bs, but also our Plan Cs. His fear was that $45 trillion was unaccounted for. Long story, short – he was right.
At that time, many of the 2008 graduates were headed to downtown Manhattan. During those days, nearly 7 out of 10 HBS students not only came into the school with a background in finance, banking, or consulting, but just as many went back into those fields. Everyone knows what happened later in 2008. Many people got pink slips, even from the top schools. In fact, there was so much HBS leakage from the collapse of Lehman Brothers that the school sent special career officers down to NYC to see to it personally that they were able to find other jobs in the city or in their industry. I’m not sure the school had ever done that, and the circumstances were extreme.
I’m sure that those stories have rippled down to future classes, not only at HBS but also other schools. It’s not that business school students are now all of a sudden “rejecting” Wall Street — that is misleading. Rather, Wall Street is no longer the same place it was before the fall of 2008. There are less jobs. There is less job security. It’s currently “not cool” to just go into private equity or other similar-sounding careers. And, most importantly, the admissions departments are now recruiting and admitting younger students with more technical backgrounds and diversifying their old taste for traditional candidates. I say this all with great respect for these institutions to change with the times, and quicker than others, and here, Harvard has led the charge with its EIR program to bring in new knowledge and empowering students like my friend Andrew Rosenthal to change this culture from the bottom-up, which is a very different thing for a place like HBS — great job!