Snapshots From Hell: The Making Of An MBA

Category: Books
Genre: Nonfiction
Author: Peter Robinson
Snapshots From Hell: The Making Of An MBA
Peter Robinson
Warner Books, Inc. . 286 pp.
This book is a personal account by Peter Robinson, a former Reagan 
speech-writer who left his job at the Whitehouse to pursue what many 
consider as a ticket to a six-figure salary and the inside track to 
wealth and power–an MBA. 

Being a poet-at the Stanford Business School, poets 
are students with very little quantitative or business backgrounds such as 
writers, historians, and philosophy majors-Robinson finds business 
school both fascinating and frightening. While some of his classmates, 
especially those who were former financial analysts and management consultants (non-poets in other words,) easily managed the quantitative subjects such as QA and Finance, Robinson struggled through much of the first year. 

During his stay at Stanford, he encounters different “characters”; from 
Kemal, the twenty-something Lebanese professor of QA, to Connor, his 
insecure and distraught fellow poet, to John, the hotshot Finance ace 
he aptly calls, “Mr. Perfect.” Soon, he begins to doubt his ability to 
survive at Stanford and even asks himself whether going to B-School was a right 
choice after all. Along the way, he takes a long look at Stanford, an 
institution with a long tradition of excellence, and discovers for 
himself the disconcerting internal issues that many MBA schools face.

While obviously written for people who are still contemplating the 
business school proposition, the book will be nevertheless be appreciated by 
present students and those who have actually gone through the arduous two-year journey Robinson describes as hell.

I was amused by the numerous parallelisms between the MBA experience Robinson describes and the one I experienced. Robinson writes about struggling through a QA class on decision trees, trying to apply the Expectancy Theory of Motivation to a case, gruelling Finance exams, and endless cold-calls. I personally enjoyed his account of his group’s presentation of the Southwest Airlines case, a case our first year class discussed as well.

Robinson’s writing is clear and entertaining. One of the best things I 
liked about the book is the way Robinson describes the rigor MBA 
students go through in the first year with such vividness, and more importantly, 
humor. Consider the following excerpt:

“For more than an hour I seized up, unable to think or to write. Not 
until there were fewer than twenty minutes left did I succeed in forcing 
myself to begin working. I took the single piece of paper that the answer 
sheet provided for this question, filled it with a portion of my tree, then 
ripped a second sheet from my notebook in order to continue drawing 
decision nodes, event nodes, and branches. I soon filled third and 
fourth sheets, and I covered a fifth sheet with instructions to Professor 
Kemal for taping the first four sheets as though they were pieces of a 
puzzle. When the exam ended, my decision tree, still incomplete, contained more than sixty branches. Since I had not even begun to calculate the 
optimal strategy, I scribbled a guess: “Wiley should go to Barn 1, 
then to Barn 3. If he finds the horse, he should shoot it. If he does not, 
he should shoot himself.”

The only thing I didn’t like about the book is that it focuses too much 
on the harrowing part of business school and could lead some readers, 
especially those who have no plans to pursue an MBA, to miss the whole 
picture of what going through such a program is really like. My personal 
opinion is that academic rigor is just one factor that contributes to the 
development of an MBA graduate. The opportunities for interaction with 
a diverse mix of ambitious individuals is, in many respects, just as 
important. Apart from this minor flaw, the book makes very good 
reading, especially if one wants to find out what the Stanford MBA is like and 
compare it with the MBA program one is presently taking. 

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