I am not the most exemplary blogger, it must be said. But in my own defense, I attribute this to the nature of London Business School. London Business School has shamelessly given me lots of homework, countless opportunities to meet people and attend interesting talks and conferences, lots of opportunities to drink beer and cocktails on Thursday nights on someone else’s tab, and many good friends with whom to spend the time which I do not spend writing my blog. How dare London Business School distract me thus!
What sparked me to write now was a fantastic day at London Business School. Some of my classmates may have called it hell but I found it as perfect as perfect can be. I spent nine hours cramped up in a room with my five-person study group, completing a project for our Strategic Analysis course in which we were required to come up with a commercial innovation for a given company and present all aspects to this company in a report and accompanying video. While nine hours is a long time to spend with four other people, there is inevitable bonding. There was also bonding with the rest of my fellow MiM students who were likewise cramped up with their study groups along the same corridor. We periodically took breaks and popped our heads into each others’ rooms or made a cameo in each others’ videos (whether the actors knew it or not…) to let off some steam.
After nine hours, I headed out to dinner with my previous study group from last term. Our late dinner turned into a really late dinner as we stepped out of the restaurant two and a half hours later. We had relaxed, chatted, and laughed so much that it felt like five minutes. As I sat there talking with them, I was struck by how beautiful my experience at London Business School has been. I sat eating dinner with five people from five countries other than my own native country, sharing and laughing. And what is so incredible is that this sort of event has defined my experience in the Masters in Management. I have spent a year learning from and spending time with people from countries all over the world and I could not feel luckier.
I am starting to learn Chinese (also at London Business School…how cool is this place, really?) and I find the concept of yin and yang really interesting. I think my day today was the epitome of yin and yang. I think it was one of the hardest days of work I have put in at LBS, but I think it has been one of the happiest. A good days work and a good laugh with friends is just what the doctor ordered.
While my posts have been few and far between, I hope this was enlightening. And there may be a few more posts to come.
One of the elements that make London Business School really sought after is the job opportunities. The internship between the first and second year gives students the opportunity to get their hands dirty in their dream job, learn something new, and hopefully convert it to a full time offer.
Not everyone in my class was looking for an internship though. There are students who either come from family business or are sponsored by their companies and some of them choose to use this time to travel or go back to their old employer. However for the vast majority, this is the time to iron those suits, shine those shoes and remain caffeinated throughout the day.
For students looking for consulting or banking, recruitment starts early – with the campus presentations that began around second week of January on campus. The unique location advantage of central London, the alumni strength and the school’s reputation attracts the best of consulting firms and investment banks to campus. Most students are focused on either consulting or banking, though there are a few brave souls who take a shot at both.
The entire process from the campus presentations, networking to the shortlists and the interviews leads to huge successes and some disappointments. It is undoubtedly a crucial element of the overall MBA experience. You see students reading up the vault guides and finance guides to recruit for investment banks. On the other hand, the consulting hopefuls are busy huddled up in meeting rooms cracking cases way beyond midnight. While a huge part of the recruitment is London focused, given the international nature of the school; companies from all over the world come to recruit at LBS. This year we saw companies from Myanmar as well.
After consulting and banking, the next big focus is on industry firms. For people focused on industry, internship recruitment begins slightly later. This means balancing interview preparation with classes, interviews with assignments and exams. The school allows students to have up to 3 offers and choose one or two. The flexibility of the program means that a student can do more than one internship.
Term three is the most relaxed term and I will share my experiences on that in the next post.
There are these ‘Big Idea’ sessions being run at the upcoming Global Leadership Summit. I’m looking forward to these; I think these could potentially be the most interesting sessions of the Summit. They’re covering topics such as future leadership, consumer influence, and the ‘practical priorities for practitioners and policy makers’ (have a look at the Summit programme for the full list of Big Ideas).
It’s this last Big Idea that I would like to discuss today. I don’t know what angle the panel will take on this topic. But I want to focus on the practicalities of legislation and regulations. Prior to London Business School, I worked as a lawyer in Wellington, the home of the Government and State departments in New Zealand (and it’s the coolest little capital in the world). In my time there I saw a lot of bills in progress and passed legislation come across my desk. It never really surprised me if new legislation was over a ream of paper thick, though I admit I didn’t enjoy the subsequent period of trying to decipher the new legislation.
I looked at legislation covering a broad range of topics, from tax through to climate change. Inevitably, they all read like pick-a-path novels, where you would constantly flip back and forth between pages, referring to other sections cited. Often I would end up with multiple fingers in the pages holding open various parts of the Act.
This legislation created in New Zealand is nothing unique. All over the world, and here in Britain, policy makers are creating these Byzantine laws that are becoming more and more difficult to understand. As a result, it takes teams of expensive lawyers, accountants, and consultants to pore through these tomes deciphering what was intended. Even with these teams of experts, it’s often difficult to decide what is allowed and what is not.
But do the policy makers realise what they are creating? The politicians who stand up in parliament and spout media friendly sound bites make their policies sound so simple. And they are relatively straightforward propositions at that stage. Then reality sets in when these policies are handed to legislative writers to create and these sound bites are turned into thousand page epics. Do these politicians ever then pick up these Acts again to understand the monsters they’ve created? I suspect not.
There are often good reasons for these Acts to be so complex. Legislators want to avoid loopholes and cover off every eventuality. As businesses innovate and these new loopholes become apparent, even more additions to the legislation are required. This is how tax laws have become so frustratingly large. Or it may be that while a concept sounds relatively simple – carbon credits for example – the practicalities of setting out how it actually works are overly complex.
So is there a solution? Some law firms have moved towards ‘plain writing’. Perhaps legislators could adopt some of these writing principles. That would be a start but it certainly wouldn’t be the solution; it wouldn’t resolve the pick-a-path nature of these Acts.
Instead, I imagine a world in the future where legislators write executive summaries, draw diagrams, give examples, and include quotes from policy makers in the Act itself. Already this is happening in some jurisdictions where bulletins supplement the Act and are interpreted as law (for example, the Tax Information Bulletins issued by the NZ Inland Revenue Department).
Alternatively, legislators could make the principle of the Act clear – keeping the Act short and readable by the majority of the population (think something like an expanded upon version of the 10 commandments) – and then leave it for the Courts and people’s judgment to decide what is correct. Many lawyers and businessmen would be up in arms at the ambiguity created. And this is exactly the reaction that this approach should create – if you are falling into the grey area of the law, then chances are you shouldn’t be doing it (but the law won’t stop you immediately if you are prepared to take test the boundaries).
These two approaches would be a drastic change from convention – a word that that legislators romanticise over. But in the world we now live, the excuse that it has always been done that way should no longer be acceptable. Business people are used to reading executive summaries, not thousand page documents. And they say a picture is worth a thousand words; I certainly have found diagrams useful in understanding various concepts.
I don’t think either of these approaches are perfect. But they do start to deal with the practicalities of business. Something that seems to have been forgotten about by policy makers in Britain and many other places around the globe.
I look forward to the discussion of this Big Idea at the London Business School Global Leadership Summit.
One of the topics being discussed at the upcoming LBS Global Leadership Summit is the demand for big businesses to think beyond the needs of their shareholders and for them to become responsible world citizens.
Recent world events certainly demonstrate the backlash that can occur when companies appear to put profits ahead of people. Companies, such as Primark, who had their products manufactured at the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh came under the spotlight when the building collapsed, killing hundred of workers. BP also felt the heat after its Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and leaked millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And Foxconn’s practices in China have dragged Apple’s name into discussions of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
CSR initiatives can act as a good publicity campaign and PR for a company. Many companies donate a percentage of profits to charities or offer employees a day to work for a charity. While these initiatives may send warm fuzzy feelings to employees and consumers, are they actually having much of an impact? No doubt the receiving charities very much appreciate the donations and the good publicity probably helps companies bottom line. But these types of CSR initiatives are not going to stop oil spills, factories falling down, and employees jumping from windows.
So what does it mean to be a good world citizen? I think it is taking into consideration all your immediate stakeholders: your shareholders, employees, contractors, suppliers and customers. But the web of stakeholders doesn’t end there; it should include anyone and anything who is and could be impacted by your business. For example, BP should have been considering the families, the wildlife and the environment along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico who would be at risk from an oil spill.
As you can see, the list of stakeholders can quickly grow. And when you start thinking of possible worst-case scenarios, the list continues to multiply. A multinational company would need to take into consideration a vast number of people and possible outcomes, some who might actually never be affected by the company. Put simply, for a multinational company to be a good world citizen is a Herculean task.
Then, even when a company tries to get it all right, it can still go horribly wrong. Tesco supposedly had rigorous checks on its suppliers but that didn’t stop products being tainted with horse meat.
Perhaps then, CSR initiatives by a company are like an insurance policy – not just for the company, but for all the stakeholders involved. Ideally you would insure against every eventuality, but the premiums are too high and so you must be pragmatic in what you insure against. So too, a good corporate citizen can’t be expected to stop all risks, especially the most remote, from occurring. There will be some things that slip through the cracks. When you’re a multinational company with innumerable activities happening, it’s only a matter of time before something happens that your CSR initiatives haven’t covered.
The most difficult question then is, what level of insurance (or CSR initiatives) should a company take? Not all companies want to be world citizens. And who should decide that level – the company itself, an industry body, the regulators, or consumers?
I’m looking forward to hearing these questions being addressed by the CEOs of Unilever and Deloitte UK at the upcoming LBS Global Leadership Summit.
Perhaps if the banks had undertaken some more CSR activities, or the regulators had insisted upon them, the global financial crisis would have been prevented from happening.
It is half way of my third term, and half way of my whole MBA journey……
So what have I learned over the past year? Is it the courses that taught me how to evaluate returns on various financial investment? Is it the experience of getting to know my classmates and LBS alumni? Or is it the experience of living abroad?
When I first started my MBA last August, I was overwhelmed with those lengthy and deep HBS cases and tight-deadline study assignments. On top of that, I had to learn to adjust myself into a new living environment. It was very tough, but looking back, I realized that I went through it just fine.
The second term began with intensive recruitment. The stress of finding an internship was unprecedented for most of us. But that was not all of it. There were still courses to study……As challenging as it could get, I went through it in a complete piece.
While I thought the third term would be much lighter, as most of us expected; it turned out to be otherwise. There are many papers to be done and lots of finance cases to be cracked……
With all of those challenges that I coped, I am not surprised to see that I am more at ease now. I am more at ease when seeing a challenge coming up. I am more at ease when handling the challenge.
So what I have learned?
As the LBS Global Leadership Summit approaches, I’m blogging about my thoughts on the various topics being discussed (for more info on the Summit, head here: gls.london.edu). I’m particularly interested in hearing Gina Qiao, SVP at Lenovo, and her take on the BRIC countries and companies in the global economy.
Studying at a university in the West and having worked at companies headquartered in the West, I’ve often heard of the challenges of Western companies entering foreign markets. The BRICs – probably due to their size – are talked about the most frequently. Through LBS, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to both India and China and get a better understanding of these markets. No doubt about it, many Western companies struggle adapting their business models to these countries. There’s a long list of companies that have attempted and failed. I recently listened to Global MD of McKinsey, Dominic Barton, talk about the average time for a Western company to become profitable in China: approximately seven years. That’s a sure sign that the BRICs are no easy markets to enter.
But why is that? On the surface, the human race appears so similar: no matter which country you look to, consumerism has taken hold. But if consumers’ desires for goods are universal, why is it so difficult for foreign companies to get right? Can it really be that hard to learn the unique tastes of consumers in BRIC countries? The evidence and experience certainly suggests so.
Now, flip this perspective on its head. What must life be like for the BRIC companies that have expanded into the West? What conversations are their executives having about consumer research and product positions? There’s no shortage of BRIC companies that are attempting to expand into Western companies: Tata, Lenovo, Natura Cosméticos, Haier, to name a few. Surely they must be having the same challenges that Western companies have: I haven’t yet set a Tata car driving around London.
Much has already been written on how BRIC countries can successfully compete in the West. For example, BRIC countries have cheap labour and manufacturing located close to home and can expand into countries similar to their own (that Western countries could not as easily do). But these are just first steps; a dip of their toes in the waters of expansionism. To truly go global, BRIC companies must overcome greater distances and larger cultural differences. Arguably, they have an even tougher job overcoming the prejudice in Western countries about brands from BRIC countries.
Think of your first imaginations of these foreign countries and then imagine what theirs are of ours. Britain is perhaps viewed as a country of period costume wearers, newspaper readers, football hooligans, church going Christians, who eat bangers and mash and complain about the weather. A marketer sitting in Beijing or Sao Paolo could be thinking this – and there is some truth in there. But to take that as the complete truth would be to completely misunderstand Britain. And this is where the challenge is – in understanding a country from a local’s perspective.
Companies in both the West and in the BRIC countries (and everywhere else too) must bridge these cultural divides. They are making efforts to learn. Some are setting up innovation centers in these foreign countries to learn through research and development, others are partnering with, or acquiring, local companies to learn from people already knowledgeable in the local market.
I wonder why it’s taken this long to achieve only this much. Surely in a more globalised world, it should be becoming quicker and easier to understand cultural differences. I believe there must be a better way of overcoming these cultural barriers. Already in a short time, BRIC companies have shown their ability to grow and expand overseas. Perhaps at this speed they will also discover the secret to understanding and delivering on the desires of consumers from all cultures. It may be just a short time until the BRIC companies are setting the standard for how companies (both Western and Eastern) become successful multinational corporations.
How many MiMs does it take to make an unforgettable year? What do you get when you cross 162 highly effective students, London and Finance and Accounting? Why did the MiM cross Marylebone Road?
The answers to all these brain scratchers can be found if you visit London Business School today where the MiMs have entered the third trimester of the year. As everything we have experienced this year, the semester started off with a bang and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Even before classes began, some MiMs went on a Global Immersion Field Trip to Paris and visited the House of Hermes as well as equestrian event Le Saut Hermes at the Grand Palais. Soon as classes began, we were visited by students from the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) and IE Madrid as part of the Global Immersion Exchange. It was one of my most culturally stimulating exchanges as we discussed crayfish, spoke Spanish and experienced the high life of London. The program also included some fascinating talks on Financial Valuation and Comparative development in Africa by esteemed LBS guest lecturers.
As goes with an exchange, last week LBS students travelled to Stockholm to chat with Anders Dahlvig, former-CEO and President of IKEA. Have a look at the Masters in Management Facebook page for some interesting moments of the exchange captured. Next week we’re heading to Madrid to visit IE MiMs in what promises to be another amazing chapter in the MiM life.
On the all-important academic side, the MiM just leapt to a whole new level of learning-by-doing. As part of the Entrepreneurial Management module, we’re currently brainstorming and identifying market gaps to develop innovations in the goods or service sector to present at a Trade show later this year!
The course in Strategic Analysis is also enforcing the practical side of education as we have partnered up with medical giant GlaxoSmithKline to work on a project to develop a new commercial business model for their operations in emerging markets.
And it doesn’t end there; Microeconomics and Management Accounting are more subjects we will be studying this semester.
More to come this year:
- Global Immersion to Brussels
- Monthly MiM Muffin Days
- MiM Closing day activities
- Summer Ball
I spent most of my life in ‘Chennai’, a city along the south eastern coast of India. Hot and humid sums up its weather – the only thing I still loathe about the city. The day I left to London I gladly thought I’d had enough of sunshine.
London is much cooler during Autumn, though it progressively turns to biting cold during the winter. It’s been one roller coaster ride as far as the weather goes in the last few months. Initially, London weather taught me to check for weather updates everyday. A day of sunshine, followed by a day of rain and then a couple of days of snow. However the transition from winter to spring has taught me much more – to check for weather updates on an hourly basis. Recently there have been quite a few days where it rained in the morning, got too warm and sunny during the day and was exceedingly cold in the night (in different permutations too!).
Slowly I started to empathise with the London obsession for sunshine. It’s dark and cloudy most of the days that sunshine is a welcome respite. Everything from people’s mood to their day revolves around the sun. I was mistaken to think I’d had enough of sunshine. Living in London, you tend to fall in love with sunshine especially when it is such a magnificent feeling to have it caress your face particularly when there still is a nip in the air. I’ve seen Autumn and Winter in London, looking forward to the most evasive Spring!!!
I had written this blog at an altitude of 40,000 feet as I flew back to London after covering more than 4000 kms across 6 cities on completing the great LBS India Social trek 2013. Treks are an amazing opportunity at LBS to explore new places, cultures, make new friends and last but not the least to broaden your horizons. The leisure ones meant for pure touristy purposes are usually organized by the respective country’s student clubs, like for example the India club organized the LBS India Social trek.
35 India enthusiasts signed up for the trek including LBS students across programs and some partners, for most of us it was going to be the first time in India and the excitement and expectations were obvious. Some of us knew each other from before but with others being an LBS student was the only common link. The 13 days changed that of course, almost …
It was an amazing mix of camaraderie, fun and scoring many firsts… some played Holi, the Indian festival of colors for the first time, some took a bath from a bucket for the first time, some enjoyed (almost) the hospitality of Indian railways for the first time and for me I zip lined for the first time. In short we had an amazing set of experiences, some good others not so good yet if I may generalize on behalf of everyone, a very fulfilling and enriching experience.
We zipped through the Indian diversity travelling across eclecticism of Delhi to history of Agra, to grandeur and sands of Jodhpur, the happening nightlife of Mumbai, to serenity of Kerala backwaters and finally topping it up with sun soaking beaches of Goa. Navigating our way through using all modes of transport including planes, buses, trains, tuk tuks, taxis and yes, even a Mumbai local.
Net result – Am amazing experience, long lasting memories and 40 new friends on facebook (including the amazing trip organizers, a crazy bunch of travel enthusiasts, aptly calling themselves white collar hippies).
As we relax after the travel, some fellow travellers have set their eyes on the next destination, even while some have already left for newer destinations – kudos to them !!
As a MiF student, my elective horizon mostly includes materialistic side of things, so the closest I got to entrepreneurship was through Financing Entrepreneurial Business (FEB) and PE&VC. I will focus on the former.
If you need a sexy £1bn idea for a start up – FEB will not give it to you. The class will, however, nurture growth of the body parts* required to venture out independently. The remaining components of a successful businessman recipe (according to the CEO of Marks & Spencer’s) – brains and heart – you will have to provide yourself.
FEB is one of the hottest courses, offered to most programmes. And yes it can be “soft” and “situational”, and there is no recipe for success. It’s based 100% on business cases – all of which written in LBS – and every discussion followed by a leading character from a case briefing on what happened next and answering questions, which adds enormous value #ibetHBSdoesnotdothat!
One of the cases covered erecting a gas pipeline in Baltic Sea to compete with the mighty incumbent “Gazprom”. On the way to class I formed my recommendation to the start-up company along the following lines: “you guys are nuts – forget this suicidal idea, flee to an uninhabited island and pray for the serious men in black to not pursue your case”. I have then seen that very guy who came up with, what appeared to be, a very profitable idea – and he looked very fit, more than just sane.
These days B’ schools position themselves as essential for career growth acceleration (think consulting, investment banking and increasing number of industrial titans), with majority of graduates spending their lives looking after one side of business only. But essentially, borrowing some Shakespeare, “what’s in a name?” – a business school should teach how to manage company’s affairs throughout, from its dusk to dawn.
At the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, and knew that sooner or later (rather later than sooner), I will definitely establish something with my name on it – like a coffee shop which my grandchildren will run. Talking about coffee shops – if you work in the City you probably know the place that has THE best coffee (and tea – served with a timer to ensure the real experience) and THE best atmosphere - Association on the Creechurch Lane. And you know what – the founder is an LBS alum – MBA 2004 graduate, investment banker in his previous life, who also took the FEB class. He was kind enough to share his curious experience, while his team was brewing an excellent flat white for me:
- Were you planning on being an entrepreneur before joining LBS? - ”Yes, I always wanted to build my own business and almost jumped into a venture prior to coming to LBS (but glad-fully didn’t because it was not a great idea). I have never been excited about a ‘career’ or been motivated to be an MD in a large organisation“
- Did you see LBS as a “tool” to increase your chances to succeed? – “Not particularly. LBS for me was a time to take stock of where I was and think about where I wanted to go. It’s an expensive way to take time out, but I felt it would be a more fruitful time than another two years in consulting (which was my pre-MBA job)”
- Did LBS inspire you? – “LBS confirmed for me my interest in entrepreneurship and at the same time my lack of enthusiasm for a structured career. Having said that, I spent the 6 years after school in structured environments (investment banking and then PE) – these were places to ‘park’ myself waiting for inspiration to come!“
- You mentioned that in reality it’s different from what you anticipated? How? - ”I am not convinced plans and strategies often work out exactly as put down on paper, which is fine because I don’t think that is the purpose of building a strategy / plan – the purpose is to educate yourself and generate justification for moving in one direction and not in another. Hopefully you get the broad brush strokes right, if not the details. For me, the specifics have turned out different than I expected, such as where I spend my time and the way customers have responded to our offering has been somewhat different than expected (some things more popular than I thought, other things less popular)”
- Any advice?
i) on starting up “Have enough funding to manage through your worst case scenario and strike a balance between listening to others and believing in your own convictions (that balance should be informed by your understanding of what you are good at and what you are not good at)”;
ii) on investing “Spend the most time getting to know the people leading the business you are investing in (in most cases it is the people you are backing) and make sure your expectations are aligned in all business outcomes”;
iii) on MBA’ing “Know why you are doing the MBA – tell the business school what you want, but be honest with yourself why you’re doing it – it’s too much time and too much money to be doing it for the wrong reasons”;
iv) “Starting your life as an entrepreneur has a wonderful honeymoon period, which is very novel and exciting, but after a few weeks this is replaced by a sense of responsibility that absolutely nothing happens unless you drive it. That is exciting and daunting – it’s good to have a business partner through this period so you can motivate each other. If you are all alone (as I was) you need to hold firm to your convictions in your business ideas and why you left behind perfectly good employment to do something so uncertain“
* guts / balls – pick your own