Bush’s MBA

A very interesting article about Bush, and his MBA.

First, the fact that Bush actually had to work to get his degree.

The comparatively small amount of attention paid by the political press to the President’s Harvard MBA partially reflects a generalized ignorance of, and hostility toward, the degree itself. More importantly, acknowledging that he learned any valuable intellectual perspectives would contradict the storyline that young W was a party animal, who coasted through his elite education, scarcely cracking a book. In other words, as the left never tires of claiming, he is too ‘stupid’ to have picked up any tricks across the Charles River from Harvard Square.

This is patently incorrect. Having attended Harvard Business School at the same time as the President, graduating from the two—year program a year after he did, and then serving on its faculty after a year’s interval spent writing a PhD thesis, I am intimately familiar with the rigors of the program at the time, and the minuscule degree of slack cut for even the most well—connected students, when their performance did not make the grade.

There is simply no way on earth that the son of the then—Ambassador to China (technically, head of the Beijing Liaison Office), or anyone else, could have coasted through Harvard Business School with a ‘gentleman’s C.’ I never, ever heard of a case of an incompetent student being allowed to graduate, simply because a certain family was prominent. On the contrary, I did hear stories of well—born students having to leave prior to graduation. The academic standards were a point of considerable pride.

… The screen was a vital component of the HBS quality assurance program, itself an essential method of protecting the value of the school’s MBA ‘brand.’ Harvard Business School would no sooner voluntarily graduate an incompetent MBA holder than Coca Cola would ship—out bottles containing dead mice.

Then, there is what the president would have learned.

The very first lesson drummed—into new students, as they file into the classrooms of Aldrich Hall, is that management consists of decision—making under conditions of uncertainty. There is never perfect information, and decisions often have to be made even when you’d really prefer to know a lot more. Given this reality, students are taught many techniques for analyzing the data which is available, extracting the non—obvious facets, learning how read into it the reasonable inferences which can be made, while quantifying the risks of doing so, and learning the costs and value of obtaining additional data.

The job of the executive is to weigh probabilities in evaluating imperfect information;  to assess the costs and benefits of acting or not acting; and to construct scenarios around the various possible time frames for taking action, taking into account the probable reactions of the other vital actors. That political opponents at home carp at him over his imperfect data at the time is no surprise, and no reason to regret his decision. The costs of not acting were simply too great, and the downside potential of erroneous information too low to prefer inaction. Better data would have been preferable, of course, but President Bush shows no sign of remorse for doing what he knows was the prudent thing under the circumstances.

Bush was famous for taking in all available recommendations then making his decision – quickly. Obama on the other hand, agonised for months on his Afghanistan strategy while the military was left in limbo.

Then there’s negotiation – something that Obama is doing very poorly at.

One final note on George W. Bush’s management style and his Harvard Business School background does not derive from the classroom, per se. One feature of life there is that a subculture of poker players exists. Poker is a natural fit with the inclinations, talents, and skills of many future entrepreneurs. A close reading of the odds, combined with the ability to out—psych the opposition, leads to capital accumulation in many fields, aside from the poker table.

By reputation, the President was a very avid and skillful poker player when he was an MBA student. One of the secrets of a successful poker player is to encourage your opponent to bet a lot of chips on a losing hand.  This is a pattern of behavior one sees repeatedly in George W. Bush’s political career. He is not one to loudly proclaim his strengths at the beginning of a campaign. Instead, he bides his time, does not respond forcefully, a least at first, to critiques from his enemies, no matter how loud and annoying they get. If anything, this apparent passivity only goads them into making their case more emphatically.

That was written before the 2004 election.

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