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John Harvard: Managing Time at HBS

The Boston College rowing team skated by on the surface of the Charles River just as John

Harvard’s alarm went off. John slapped his hand around on his desk until he found his phone.

He peeked over his bed to look out the window of his humble dorm, down onto the Harvard

Business School campus. He rubbed his face with the palms of his hands while he let out a deep

breath that qualified as both a sigh and a groan.


John had cases to read, a section barn-burner to attend, recruiters to jawbone with, and

deteriorating physical and mental health to attend to.


How could John manage to balance all of these responsibilities with so little time? He could

only choose to attend to one.


With a big fish to fry and no more peanut oil left in the pot, John had a long day in front of him.


Background: John Harvard and Harvard Business School

John Harvard recently began his first school year at HBS, a niche graduate school in New

England known for graduating the most neurotic and self-absorbed MBA students in the

country.


Like everyone else at the school, before attending, John was relatively accomplished and had

secured a fairly decent job by all accounts. He enjoyed decent pay, work-life balance, a nice

apartment in a tier 1 or tier 2 city, weekly Applebees happy hours with his friends—the whole

nine yards.


However, for some reason, he decided it wasn’t enough. He wanted to toss all that away for

more responsibility, longer working hours, and marginally better pay. The kicker? He quit his

job and dug himself into a $200,000 hole to do it. Textbook masochist.


At HBS, there was a four-sided golden triangle of responsibilities to balance: Academics, Career,

Social Life and Health.


Balancing may not seem like a difficult task, but no matter how one might try, even the best

could only manage to achieve three out of the four.


Getting all four was like trying to wrestle a greased hog to the ground with two arms tied

behind one’s back. That being said, John arguably had only wrangled one, maybe two of the

four, at a time. He was a simple man.


Academics

John, a grown man with a 401k, was doing homework again.


Cases: John was a slow reader, and if he’s truly being honest, didn’t really know what the Case

Method was when he was accepted. Researchers say “Case Method” is French for “a lot of

ducking reading” or “death by ten thousand words,” depending on the translation and dialect.


Classes: If John did not read his cases, he risked getting cold called—essentially public shaming

on the same level as being forced to dress like a clown and dance like an orangutan for the

professor and ninety classmates’ entertainment. Dance, monkey, dance!


Classes at HBS were scheduled in no particular order. Seriously. Every single class was tossed

on the calendar randomly like tiger stripes and leopard spots, making it impossible to set up a

recurring meeting. Shit looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. Suffice to say, John tried and failed

to maintain a routine.


Career

Networking Events: Networking events, for the uninitiated, were strange rituals where career

gatekeepers (recruiters) set out stale snacks and cold coffee (the same way one might place

cheese in a rat trap) and watched 20 to 30 students skeebop around in business casual and

pretend to enjoy hearing about the recruiter’s upcoming travel plans. (The plans were bland, for

the record, but he would laugh and say “I’m jealous!”)


If John didn’t go, he would not be employed by graduation and have to decide between going

to debtors’ jail or going back to his former employer that he had burned every bridge with. No

pressure.


For the record, the school administration made it quite literally impossible to attend everything.

If a student needed to decide between two different career paths, the good news was they

would figure it out. The bad news was they had to make that decision week two, because the

two career information sessions they were interested in met at the same time. Basically, flip a

coin and GFY.


John thought he was going to come to HBS to change the world. In reality, he will only be

helping some Fortune 500 company pad their bottom line. Should he sell his soul now and get it

out of the way?


Social Life

Section Events: At HBS, sections were weird tribes with no leader. Zoo animals without a keeper.

Inmates running the asylum.


To the untrained eye, section events may seem optional. This is not the case. The events were a

great time, but miss enough section events, and John would be eating his Spangler hot-lunch

alone. (Wilted broccolini for one is the saddest kind of wilted broccolini.)


To boot, the number of section group chats had increased exponentially, almost ensuring he

would miss important details in the sea of unread messages that crashed into his poor iPhone

every minute of every day.


Health

Mental Health: Roughly once a week, John called his brother to figure out what the hell to do

with his life. Existential crises aren’t really crises if there’s no beginning or end to them right?

He decided to leverage the limited, school-provided therapy resources to stilt up his crumbling

mental state, but on the hour-long zoom call, the therapist said “everyone worries about that

stuff, why are you calling?” Incredible. World-class. Can’t be beat. Go make a difference in the

world.


Therapy is $100+ per session, but beer was sold at the Spangler cafeteria every day for only $7.

Cha. Ching. (See Exhibit 1 for a snapshot of John’s financial situation.)


Physical Health: John had paradoxically lost and gained weight simultaneously since

matriculating at HBS. Whatever sort of lean muscle mass he had accumulated was slowly

melting away to make ample room for a nice layer of fat for the winter.


The common trade-off at school was between sleep and working out, and sleep won Every.

Single. Time.


Instead of tending to his responsibilities, he could take a nap and pay down the sleep debt he

had amassed since arriving in Cambridge. (See Exhibit 2 for John’s sleeping patterns.)


Moving Forward

John needed to figure out what to do. Should he read the cases, work out, head to the

networking event, have a few drinks with his section, or take a nap?


He was a rickety bridge blowing in the wind and there was a twenty-ton train coming.


John snoozed his alarm and doom scrolled while he pondered.


*********

Discussion Questions

1. Why did John do this to himself? Is John stupid?

2. Should John drop out, dye his hair blond, dodge the government/debt collectors and live in

a cabin in Wyoming? Why or why not? Explain your reasoning.

3. Is there any way John could pay off his $200,000 in loans with his limited skillset and lack of

marketable skills?

4. What should John Harvard do? What action plan should he take to do so?





To view the case in traditional case format, please click the PDF below.

John Harvard Fake Case vFinal
.pdf
Download PDF • 335KB

Alex Mazzaferro (MBA ’25) is from Chicago. He graduated from the University of Alabama in 2019. Prior to HBS, he worked in strategy and ventures.



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