Tyra Banks' Harvard Business School Problem

tyra banks“Smiling ear2ear on the Harvard Business School campus w/ my diploma! Tnx 2 my fab photographer mama 4 the pic!” via @tyrabanks / Twitter

Tyra Banks is an incredibly successful model and an extremely savvy businesswoman, as evidenced by the launch of the 19th (yes, 19th) season of America’s Next Top Model this Friday. The show has overhauled its structure and inserted a college theme this season, which is in part credited with Banks’ recent “graduation” from “Harvard Business School.” Here she is tweeting about it back in February.

Banks has made a point of talking about her time at Harvard during her media tour to promote the show, telling the Hollywood Reporter that she was pulled out of a class to discuss the its changes with her boss. But that’s led several media outlets to call her out for embellishing her Harvard Business School credentials.

Earlier this year, Banks completed a nine-week program for executives called the Owner/President Management extension program. “Clients” of the program (they’re not called students, nor do they have to take a GMAT to enroll) participate in three three-week units over the course of three years, at a cost of $33,000 per unit. It’s not part of the university’s top-ranked M.B.A program, and the alumni of the O.P.M. program are not granted a degree. As Jezebel points out:

Attending the O.P.M. course and calling it “going to Harvard Business School” is a little like enrolling in a night-time pottery extension class and saying you are “going to art school.” It’s akin to putting an honorary doctorate on your résumé as your “Ph.D.”

Harsh words for sure, but the blog then goes on to provide evidence of the media’s willingness to lap up Banks’ claims, pointing to a half-dozen articles touting her H.B.S. credentials. Which is a shame. Banks is obviously no dope. She was accepted to U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. after finishing high school but chose to begin her modeling career in Paris instead. She never did get a degree, and one can see her lingering sense of regret in this interview from last year. But despite not having a diploma, she’s gone on to start an incredibly successful empire over the last decade. It’d be a lot more honest of her to broach the subject and provide the details about her certificate, instead of pretending that a few weeks on campus is the equivalent of an M.B.A. Then she’d be able to point out a fact that’s not often discussed in fashion: that many models forgo an education to take advantage of the window of time when their looks are far more valuable than their brains. Making that point, instead of play-acting her way through the Yard, would come off with her sounding far smarter. And isn’t that what she’s going for anyway?

  • Sarah

    I think you may be mistaken. As far as I know, the ExecEd program at HBS is not at all affiliated with the Extension School. (I have left a similar comment on Jezebel’s site.) I work at Harvard.

    • Harvard

      Thank you Sarah! Nowhere do I remember Tyra Banks saying she got an MBA from Harvard. Also She took an ExecEd course. Do your research the OPM program is an absolute great program for high level executives with or without an undergraduate or graduate degree. For those of us that have an MBA, and plan on learning to build our businesses, or become more strategic and competent in our disciplines, the OPM is a great choice.

      The author of this article needs to do their homework before they call it an extension class. Poor journalism. Additionally, I know plenty of people that graduated from the extension school at Harvard (graduate and undergraduate) and they are doing better than most.

      Stop reaching for a story and congratulate her for having the ability to recognize she needed more education to gain a competitive edge in business.

      All that said, nothing but respect for Tyra for GRADUATING from the HBS program. Degree/diploma/certificate, whatever it may be. Tyra Banks is Harvard Alum now, and as they say at Harvard, it’s ONE HARVARD!

  • bob

    This appears a bit overblown. Go look for some other execs and see how they describe it on their resumes. It’s real HBS profs teaching business, so it’s not fair to compare it to pottery class or an honorary degree. Harvard itself says that you will be part of the HBS alumni network, so some of the murkiness is really Harvard’s fault for setting it up that way on purpose.

  • agingcynic

    Funny, when George W. was running, all I heard was that a Yale B.A. and an MBA from HBS didn’t mean that you weren’t a dope. Now, it is the benchmark. Guess the messenger trumps the message around here.

  • mark

    I went to the Anderson School of Management at UCLA for three professional development programs. My classmates consisted of CEOs of companies, inventors, HR professionals, and many engineers. We had many team-building projects, analyzed case studies, and heard a variety of lectures. Perhaps most importantly, it gave the participants a new perspective on other industries and how those industries have the same issues as well as conflicts. I received a “certificate” at the end of each program for “successful completion”. The programs were thought-provoking and very intensive. No one would equate my work with a degree, but let’s be fair learning is learning. 🙂

    We need to understand that these programs serve a needed purpose both for the institutions as a money maker, but also for some very bright people who cannot afford to take long stretches of time off to get further diplomas. Tyra Banks is probably one of them and she is a very bright woman. So I think the lesson from your wonderful piece and my own experiences completing these programs are if the option is no Harvard or 9 weeks of Harvard, better off going for the nine weeks. LOL

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcantoine.benglia Marc-Antoine Benglia

    I am an OPM graduate and although the program is not an MBA, the attendees have to have built a sizeable business as a criteria for admission. It is then a business school update and many of the HBS OPM alumni do have a masters degree, prior to their business achievement and their attendance of the program. It is a great program with the best HBS profs teaching a group of “students” coming from all around the world and who have very different backgrounds. This leads to a great learning experience over the three years. It is wonderful such top schools as HBS offer this type of program. We need more like these.

  • Bleusky Label

    I’m very interested in this program just need to make my first million..lol