Manufacturing, the Ivy League, Jarvis Cutting Tools, and Toyota

Bill Waddell argues that American government and business suffer from excessive dominance by people from a small number of “elite” colleges and prep schools.

In the comments, Costikyan Jarvis–who runs a family-owned manufacturing business–defends the value of the Harvard Executive Education program which he attended:

First, my professors were very diverse. They came from North America and Asia and had a variety of experiences. They had worked in private industry and some still served on boards of various companies. I enjoyed some more than others, but they were all excellent.

More important was the student body. I, and most of my other classmates, learned more from each other than our professors. Of the 143 people in the course, 45 are from the United States (about 30%). So yes, we were all located in Boston, but we came from all over the world.


I can not speak for the other programs, but if you ask my fellow classmates why they chose Harvard it is clear – we feel that Harvard is the best. Yes it is the best in our minds (we decided to spend the money), but there is no doubt that the institutions that you mentioned attract some of the best professors and students from all over the world.

Today, Bill responds to Costikyan’s response:

Costikyan is the 5th generation to keep things moving in the right direction at Jarvis Cutting Tools, and he went to an MBA program at Harvard, and, before that, a couple of other highfalutin eastern schools. Maybe he’s right and they taught him everything he needs to know to keep Jarvis Cutting Tools on top of their game, but my money says that when the going gets tough (as it always does for everyone and every company sooner or later) the 20 year or so year apprenticeship Costikyan served under his dad, Marshall, is what is going to get him and Jarvis Tools through.


So Costikyan, when you say that these schools attract the best professors, that is only because they get to define “best professor”. Fact is, they attract more professors like the ones they already have. The President of Harvard is from Penn; the Dean of the Business School is from Cornell and, you guessed it, Harvard. Of the 12 folks that specialize in Operations Management, there are 6 Ivy Leaguers, 3 from MIT, a Carnegie Melon, a Cambridge and a token westerner from Stanford. As I said – they have decided that the best is them – and they only hire the best, hence the inbreeding problem.

This interesting discussion continues at Evolving Excellence.

7 thoughts on “Manufacturing, the Ivy League, Jarvis Cutting Tools, and Toyota”

  1. I left a comment there, one of my usual filled with grammatical error comments sure to embarrass my alm mater(s) :)

    I have experience of a variety of schools, including the elite set. Basically, my experience (limited to five years in a teaching hospital) of Harvard is that it is an excellent place. It’s just that excellence exists in many places, but human nature being what it is, the Harvard types will hire from schools they know because they know the people doing the recommending personally. It’s about trusting people in your own circle and not knowing what you will get if you move outside it. A bit different from excellence, but I can understand the impulse. It can serve you well.

  2. If we define added value in education to the amount of practical knowledge or skills a person acquires then I think the added value of an elite education in a particular field is proportional to the overall rigor of knowledge in that field. For example, in physics it really does matter whether you have the best professors, the best students and the best equipment. A physist has to absorb a great deal of clearly defined concrete information and develop a strong scientific intuition from repeated exposure to scientific problems.

    In fields with little rigor, I think the added value of a an elite education is minimal. Does it really matter if you get a degree in transgendered studies at a state school as opposed to Harvard? What exactly will a Harvard graduate in such a field know that someone else couldn’t learn by reading a book.

    Business is a grey area on this spectrum but I tend more to believing that an elite education does not add much value. Business is more art than engineering. Certainly one can learn many skills at college but every business is unique and every day in business different from the day before. I am dubious that there exist an elite education that will give a graduate a generalized superiority in any business endeavor they might undertake over the course of their lives.

  3. “I can not speak for the other programs, but if you ask my fellow classmates why they chose Harvard it is clear – we feel that Harvard is the best”

    Okay, I was bit rushed before so my comments really weren’t what I wanted to say. I wanted to address the bit above – if you can’t speak for other programs, how do you know the one you attended was the best?

    I think, no I know based on personal experience, that you can have a fine education in many places, and most serious people understand that. Most serious people understand that accomplishments in life are not the necessarily the same as credentials. It’s the unserious who get hung up on ‘name brands’.

  4. “Does it really matter if you get a degree in transgendered studies at a state school as opposed to Harvard?”

    This is a sentiment that, being from California, has always irked me. Why are state schools assumed to be inferior? Elite state schools are better by many measures than most privates. Back in the mid-90’s (so yeah, a bit dated now, but the most recent), NSF rated all the graduate programs in the US. If you count the quality of a school by the number of programs rated in the top 10, then the number one school in the country is UC Berkeley, a state school, with 35. I forget if it was Harvard or Stanford in the #2 position with 24.

    My favorite bit was that if you wanted to look at schools under 100 years old (e.g. Duke), the #1 school was founded in the early 60’s – UC San Diego with 18 top-ten programs.

    Disclaimer: My BA is from UCSD, and my MA is from Berkeley. My post-doc was in North Carolina.

  5. Enlightened Duck – I hear you. My BS was from Iowa State, and yet, somehow I went on to work at a Harvard affiliated hospital. I was very unhappy there, and usually I let everyone know if it comes up in a comments section, but today for some reason I am being very nice about the whole thing. Maybe I’m growing up, finally.

    Being a faculty brat, I’ve never really taken some of the rankings seriously. It’s a game. There is the work that you do, and the credit you manage to get for it. You have to advertise yourself in academia and it’s easier to do at some places because they have bigger megaphones. I’m always amused when people don’t get the game and take the name brand stuff too seriously. Quality work will tell.

    I did once have someone tell me, I am not making this up, ‘us Harvard types know….’ Hilarious. Look, I’ve met good people and bad people throughout my academic wanderings. Like I said, I can’t take the game too seriously, and personally, I love those big land grant colleges, because I grew up in the shadow of one.

  6. I recall an incident in the early 80’s where one of my friends in undergraduate school talked of who ended up in the most prestigious grad schools in the sciences. Most of the grad students had not come from the large private and state-run undergrad programs but rather from smaller, well regarded schools that allowed them to flourish. As I grew older, I found confirmation in that in the Sciences and Mathematics. Small schools seem to give these students a distinct advantage over those from large schools.

  7. Today at the Chicago Auto Show, we found a 2010 Toyota Prius spinning on a stand all by itself. Turns out, if you fall into the camp that thinks the Prius looks a little like a spaceship, this might be what you’d see cruising through hyperspace!!

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