11/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The "Poison Ivy" Growing at Harvard Business School

I read recently that business and political pundits say that President Bush has ruined the Republican "brand" for years to come. Ha! (That's what they said about President Nixon. Tell that to President Reagan.)

However, I think that W. has ruined more than "the Republican brand." What W. has really ruined from a business "branding" scenario is the prestige and credibility of what it means to have a Harvard Business School "brand" degree. Yes, W. is a graduate of the elite Harvard Business School - as are hundreds of the Wall Street bankers, executives, and accountants who got us all in this mess.

What are they teaching them there in Cambridge's Ivy Halls? Are we are we sure that it's not poison Ivy growing there?

Harvard: a brand name that you could slap in front of anything - and sell. Tell someone your doctor went to Harvard, or a candidate for a job, or something published with Harvard in front of it, and there's instant credibility. I dare remind everyone that Barack and Michelle Obama are associated with the Harvard "brand" as well (but for what it's worth, not the business school).

In the recruiting world, a Harvard MBA is considered to be one of the most prestigious graduate degrees in the world. It's coveted by the corporate world and clearly throughout the Wall Street banking community. A Harvard MBA. That's a "brand," right?

So it's not just President Bush, who is an alumnus of this elite program, but also many of the Wall Street men and women who have been using what they learned at Harvard Business School to guide our economy.

Of course, you can't judge or blame an entire educational institution for the deeds of its graduates. Can you? I mean, if someone gets hired based on the brand name of the institution where they received their graduate degree, why can't you judge how their work performance reflects what they learned there?

So, I don't lose any sleep over how George W. Bush "ruined" the Republican brand, but I feel sorry for what W. and the Wall Street elite - most of whom have gone to the Harvard Business School brand - have done to the economy. Maybe Harvard should do a case study or write a fancy paper on how many Harvard Business School graduates work for these bailed out companies. Then, collect all of the Harvard professors who are teaching all these people - and fire them! Look, the facts are just bad press for the credibility of the Harvard "brand," but these individuals are actually dangerous for the rest of us as we try to navigate and survive in the corporate America that many of these people seem to be running.

For my part, I am sending a bottle calamine lotion to Harvard. Like I said... it has to be "poison ivy"!

Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins) and can be reached at