One month into my adventure here at LBS seems like as a good a time as any to reflect on some of the things I have learned thus far.

Beyond the technical details learned in class, I think it has been an education in itself to simply observe the dynamics of the students here.

LBS attracts some of the best global talent; many of the people walking around here have 750+ GMATs and already have an eye-watering list of achievements on their CVs. Coming to the school I wasn’t sure what impact this selection-hurdle would have on the relationship dynamics. And I’ll admit I had some trepidation about whether or not it would create an individualistic and competitive environment.

However, it turns out the exact opposite is true.

It is recruiting season here for the second year MBAs and everywhere you walk on campus you will see groups of people huddled together: sharing ideas, helping each other with fit questions, and practicing for the ever daunting case interviews.

While this is awesome, it left me wondering, why is it so pervasive? Why are people with limited time so willing to not only help their friends, but to help people they barely even know? I think part of the explanation is just a spirit of generosity. But fundamentally I think people respond to incentives, and I suspect something deeper is at play here.

Having done some more thinking, I have come up with three reasons why avoiding competition is actually the optimal strategy to maximising outcomes for the individual.

  1. Research demonstrates that teaching others generates better outcomes for one’s self: Multiple studies examining the benefits of mentoring have found strong evidence suggesting that the mentor relationship increases job satisfaction and career progression, not only for mentees, but for mentors themselves. This is likely because research demonstrates people will actually prepare more diligently if they believe the are teaching someone else, than if they are simply revising for themselves. Furthermore, no one individual can hope to become an expert of all facets of life and reciprocation is one of the strongest phenomena in social psychology. So at some point you will need to ask for help yourself, and if you’ve helped someone in the past they are exponentially more likely to return the favour. The combination of these effects means that sharing your knowledge with others is not likely to greatly diminish your own special value, instead it is more likely to increase the depth of your understanding and expand your personal network.
  2. Relationships are more important than landing that next job, in the long term.It is easy to become overly fixated on the importance of the next step. While it is important to have optimistic goals, and I fully believe in the advantages of pushing one’s self to achieve a specific objective, this must not come at the expense of losing sight of the bigger picture. Trying to compete ferociously with those around you may improve your chances of ‘winning’ the next opportunity. But, what will this mean for opportunities three or four stops down the line? Ultimately, your current group of peers are the people most likely to be on a similar trajectory as you, and behaving in a manner that is likely to negatively impact your reputation can have long-term consequences. It is in this way that winning in the short term can actually mean losing in the end. Conversely, recognising the value of developing relationships with the people around you may have enormous benefits in the future and is therefore likely to be the more optimal approach.
  3. Growing the pie is often better than getting a larger share. Competition naturally arises when a game is zero-sum. Professional sports is often held up as the epitome of this concept, as when the siren sounds one individual or team is declared a winner. One strategy to achieve a win-win outcome, even in situations that initially appear to be zero-sum, is to redefine the parameters used to measure success. Let me give you an example close to my own heart. I am a bit of an AFL (Australian Football League) tragic, and every year I get a thrill watching my Geelong Cats play against their bitter rivals, Hawthorn. This rivalry has built up over decades of ferocious encounters between the two clubs. And while I’m certain the players and fans want to win every time, continuing the rivalry is far more important for the clubs themselves, as it means they will continue to sell out games and secure TV time. Similarly, if you are a business school student applying for a grad jobs, I would argue that you actually want your classmates to be extremely strong candidates. This signals the quality of the institution and incentivises employers to expand their hiring capacity, rather than trying to fit applicants into an every shirking number of openings. As such, helping your peers increases your slice by growing the pie – rather than increasing the share.

I believe some of these principles can apply not only to individuals, but whole organisations. So often the language of business is couched in terms like ‘winning’ or becoming the ‘market leader’ and it in turn fosters zero-sum thinking. Paradoxically, economists have known for at least the last hundred years that pure competition kills profits at an industry level. As such, I contend that companies are able to maximise their long-term profits by redefining the dimensions of competition, instead of getting sucked into a old fashioned ground war to claim share.

One might argue that the success of cost-leaders like Amazon refutes this. However, I suggest that Amazon has been successful exactly because of its ability to avoid competitive pressure. Amazon competes asymmetrically in the markets in which it is successful, that is, it exerts competitive pressure on many businesses but receives little in return. While it competes with ‘Big Box’ retailers, there are few other ‘Infinite Box’ retailers that are able to compete with it. This is precisely because Amazon has been able to define its own category, at least for the time being.

To summarise, in the words of billionaire investor Peter Thiel: ‘competition is for losers’. Instead, I believe we should be constantly exploring different angles to help us achieve our objectives, both as individuals and organisations, rather than simply competing along the same old battle lines that have been drawn in the past.

 

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Greetings, fellow graduate students!

Thinking back to when I packed my bags to travel more than 4500 miles away to be here, I’m not sure where exactly to begin to describe this journey. This last few weeks have been such a whirlwind, to say the least.

I realize how privileged I am, to be surrounded by some of the best talents in the world. LBS is diverse in every sense. I met investment bankers, doctors, engineers, diplomats, attorneys, army veterans, pilots and consultants, people from different nationalities, race, color, sexual orientations, religious beliefs, etc. I find this to be one of the most enriching parts of my LBS experience so far. The one common attribute that I see in everybody here is that they are all incredibly smart and driven, and incredibly humble. And everyone is here for this super transformative experience.

Having a bit of fear and dislike for the word “networking”, the most interesting insight of these past few weeks is that I am learning how moved I am by connections. I am pleasantly surprised with how collaborative, supportive and friendly most people are (especially in stream D!). We are all part of more WhatsApp groups than we’ve ever been. And it takes time, conversations and vulnerability to build genuine experiences and relationships. Obviously, things are not perfect. I feel lost some days, lack that sense of belonging. I’m shuffling between so many social groups stream, regional, career interest groups etc, and it sometimes feels like life is on “auto-pilot”. My calendar is crammed with too many exciting activities. I find myself grappling with how I should spend the next two years of my life. I hope to find out what matters to me while being an authentic person through the journey. With the program picking up speed, with one exam down already, the stress and the excitement is palpable.

For now, I’m just making new friends, enjoying Sundowners and so many other social events, going on weekend trips with friends and experiencing unhealthy levels of FOMO!

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EMBA 2019 Yes – we are back at school again! We are the EMBA class of 2019. Orientation week is almost a month old now – 7 days of pure exhilaration, positivity and completely new perspectives. And the next 20 months are going to be a fun, exciting, learning, enthusing and transformational journey. A journey we would remember and cherish for the rest of our life.

The journey started with that first decision – applying for London Business School. Your learning begins in the application process itself; finding your strengths, projecting yourself the best way you can, making you stand out and of course spend a few hours preparing for a GMAT or an EA test. And yes – you very well know and understand what you are signing up for. The application rounds, interviews and the thrill and excitement on receiving that admission email brings on that extremely positive spin to your life. Yes – you are joining London Business School! You already feel special.

Then comes the excitement of finding out who else is on the journey with you. Some of the earliest entrants in our batch spent quite a bit of time refreshing that EMBA LinkedIn group page, wondering where the others are.J Slowly, but surely they arrived. Your LinkedIn feed goes into a frenzy eventually and before you know you have a bunch of disparate, talented individuals who become your connections. For our batch, we were just so excited to meet everyone, we could not wait for orientation week. A WhatsApp group was already active and probably the most active social feed for quite a few of us – and this was in July! Someone came up with this brilliant idea of meeting up on a weekend and getting to know each other. About 20 of us turned up with food/drink from their respective culture/country – it was a brilliant way to meet-up!

EMBA lunch

 

But there was still a huge number of people which you just did not know yet. Eventually the WhatsApp group began to bulge – and the blinker was always on on your phone. And before we realized, Orientation week was upon us. Some people travelled half-way around the world, some took just a few steps to the hotel, and some missed special occasions. At 3pm on the 3rd of September, we were all at London Business School. The facilities @ the newly opened Sammy Ofer centre are simply brilliant. The best you can find anywhere in the world. And absolutely everyone was overawed by it. An absolutely fantastic way to begin our journey.

The first week was all about settling down. Most of us had probably never met a 120+ individuals who are so diverse, talented and motivated in the span of a week – a fantastic experience – finding that free diver, that ex professional rugby player, that martial art master, that capoeira enthusiast, that ex-infantry sergeant or that social jester and party animal. There was also the usual school formalities – Get that picture taken, get your ID card, figure out where the next lecture is, put faces to names who honestly look a lot different to their LinkedIn profile picture. And also figuring out what NOT to do in your EMBA by no less than one of your professors. The first few days of light socializing quickly turned into active class discussions about leadership and management. You quickly understand what you had been missing out all this while. There is just that little bit of an aside of finishing your assignments too. You also figure out your all-important Study group, get to know them, debate with them and socialize with them. The week just whizzed past and it was the Friday-night party! A great way to know and meet some of our EMBA seniors and get to know exactly what you have got yourselves into! By the time the party finished, everyone was letting their hair loose and what happens during/after the ‘after-party’ stays there.

EMBA 1

One lecture weekend has already gone by. A tonne of readings and assignments await us all in the next few weeks of first term. It is definitely going to be hard work, it’s going to challenging and it’s going to take a toll at times.  But we all know one thing for sure – it’s gonna be one helluva ride to enjoy!

EMBA-2019 have arrived!

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Going to business school is an important decision.

In many aspects, it is like buying a house. It is a milestone in your life and one of your biggest investments.

As every important topic, it is also a controversial one.

Many business people like Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss argue that doing an MBA is not worth the significant debt and the two years committed to doing it.

In spite of these ideas, going to business school is still well regarded in the corporate world.

It helps you get a nice job and boost your career. Overwhelmed by the number of candidates, recruiters use top business schools as a filter. So doing an MBA is often required if you want your career to move forward.

Top recruiters for the MBA of London Business School

Top recruiters for the MBA of London Business School

But people who want to start their own business cannot think this way.

Adding the stamp of a business school on a CV has limited value for entrepreneurs. Their professional successes are not the result of a manager hiring them. Entrepreneurs are only accountable to their customers and shareholders.

If you’re considering starting a business, the question you must have is: “Is going to business school worth the investment?”

(Going to business school is a lifelong investment. You should take more variables than I could explore in this article. So I am voluntarily reducing the scope of the article.)

 

Should a wantrepreneur go to business school?

From my experience coaching entrepreneurs, I see these two cases:

1. You are willing to run your own business. But it is obvious that you need more experience. You do not have yet the right network and business skills that will allow you to succeed.

2. You have wanted to start a business for years. You already know people who have done it but you have been too scared to take the risk and do it yourself.

There is a fine line between these two boxes.

But you should know where you stand. If you fall in the first category, going to business school can be the right decision.

The Sammy Ofer Center, the brand-new campus of London Business School

The Sammy Ofer Center, the brand-new campus of London Business School

To help you make the right decision, the best thing to do is to talk to entrepreneurs who went to business school. Getting to know how this experience impacted their entrepreneurial journey will provide you with more clarity.

So let me share with you what I learned from my experience going to London Business School.

1 Thinking More Strategically

Theory has limited value.

There are dozens great books that give you an easy and cheap access to business theory. (If you are wondering which ones, my reading list features a good selection.)

The real value of going to business school comes out of the connections and projects that are built throughout a business school programme.

Here’s a before/after business school comparison:

Before going to London Business School, I was already running GoudronBlanc, a brand of very high quality T-shirts. GoudronBlanc still exists and this is an opportunity for me to compare how I used to think about strategy and how I think about it now.

- So before business school, I had a basic commercial mindset: “buy low and sell high”. There was not much of a strategy at the time.

- Now, I notice that I make strategic decisions with more clarity. A good strategy requires to make trade-offs. You must understand your market, see where the competition is going, and learn how to iterate fast while keeping your focusing on your long-term mission.

It would have taken me years to reach the same level of thinking.

But going through many business cases, discussing with my peers and my professors, and meeting with speakers helped me get there much faster.

2 Getting Support (Even After Graduating)

As author and journalist Pro Bronson wrote:

“There’s a powerful transformative effect when you surround yourself with like-minded people. Peer pressure is a great thing when it helps you accomplish your goals instead of distracting you from them.”

Being surrounded by ambitious people pushes you to do more, especially after graduating.

You see them succeed and they’re willing to help you when needed.

I have had so many sessions thinking through the future of GoudronBlanc with my friends from London Business School. The thing with business school is that most people who go there are “business geeks”. They talk a lot about work but that is because it is something they genuinely like.

And trust me, seeing your classmates and friends on their path to success and having their support are great motivators.

None of my classmates will forget their trip to Shanghai

3 Broaden Your Horizons…

Even though everyone comes with a similar goal, going to business school opens your mind like few other experiences will.

At London Business School, students come from all of over the world. Some of my greatest friends are from China and India. Without them, I wouldn’t certainly not have learned as much about these two fast-growing countries.

Too many entrepreneurs do not think global.

Yet, adopting a global mindset matters more than ever. Having friends with people who come from other countries, it is much easier to learn about these countries and their local markets.

Going to the right business school and going on an exchange programme open the door to more global mindset.

4 Grow Your Network

It is astonishing how powerful networking can be when you understand what it really means.

Dale Carnegie, author and public speaking expert, summarises this very well:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Without my friend, David Duckworth, inviting me to attend an event with Y Combinator’s president Sam Altman, I would not have been able to meet this renowned investor, who invested in companies like Airbnb and Dropbox. And Sam Altman would have never become a customer of GoudronBlanc.

Networking is not just the ability to ask people for a favour. Too many people think that way– unfortunately…

Investor Sam Altman wearing a GoudronBlanc T-shirt

Investor Sam Altman wearing a GoudronBlanc T-shirt

Networking is the ability to stay connected to like-minded people you can help and who may help you too, though you should not take that for granted.

5 Doing Business Is More Than the Theory

One of my classmates, Nico Gerstmeyr, started a gourmet gelato shop in Munich called Gecobli. Far from the fame of tech startups, he is building a brick-and-mortar business that requires a specific set of entrepreneurial skills.

Inside Gecobli, a venture started by Nico Gerstmeyr (MiM 2015)

He believes that going to business school helped him by preparing the ground for his entrepreneurial journey. But as he told me:

“Honestly, you cannot learn about the problems you encounter [as an entrepreneur].”

He adds:

“A few lessons from b-school might apply later, like how to motivate employees, how to optimise taxes and overhead etc. But the main lessons I’ve learned since then are:

- Don’t try to do it on your own;
- Get a partner;
- Dream big;
- Start small and slow;
- Don’t do it for the money, do it for the vision/purpose;
- Work 24/7 but take personal time whenever you can.”

There are things you cannot expect to learn in the classroom, and not even working for someone else’s business. Being an entrepreneur requires some skills and behaviours that can only be learned by running a business.

The class of MiM 2015 going back together a year after graduation

Part of the class of MiM 2015 going back together a year after graduation

6 One Last Thing

Of course, there is the word “business” in “business school”. But not everything is about business.

This is also a place where you have a lot of fun, meet lifelong friends, and learn a lot about yourself.

It’s a school of life too.

You meet people who are in a transitional moment of their lives. Everyone is considering what they should do next and how to approach that next step.

Going to business school gives you the opportunity to take a real break, and get the time to reflect.

So Business School and Startup Are Compatible?

Business schools were designed to educate managers before they get a job in a large organisation.

There is no doubt that business schools need to keep adapting if they want to keep the interest of future entrepreneurs.

Today, their principal competitors are business books for entrepreneurs, accelerator programmes, and alternative education programmes like Udemy and General Assembly.

Whether going to business school is the right move is up to you to decide. It depends on where you are in your personal and professional journey.

But I sincerely hope going through these ideas is going to help you make the right choice.

Guerric de Ternay (MiM 2015) leads innovation projects at ?What If!, and runs GoudronBlanc and Blackwood, two e-commerce driven fashion brands.

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In Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting

In Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting

‘Meeting’ Warren Buffett: My trek to “The Woodstock of Capitalism”

 

It’s called the Woodstock of Capitalism. Others say it’s a gathering of Warren Buffett fans, wannabes, value investors and other finance professionals. However you want to describe it, the Berkshire Hathaway annual general meeting lies somewhere at the intersection. For me, attending was a bucket list event. I recall when I first discovered Warren Buffett. It was off Investopedia, during a college internship at Vetiva Capital, in Nigeria, subsequent to which my father bought me my first book on him – Warren Buffett Wealth by Robert P. Miles. Then, I was 17 years old.

Visiting Omaha was not a reason for attending London Business School (LBS) but I planned to cross it off my bucket list at some point in this life. It was my selection as part of a group of 5 out of 50 applicants to participate in Matthias Riechert’s value investing forum, that inspired me to make the 12-hr trip down. Arriving Omaha on a warm Thursday evening, after hours reading Seth Klarman’s Margin of Safety, all I could do was help myself to a good meal at one of Omaha’s legendary restaurants after visiting Buffett’s impressive house since 1958. Considering the  number of visitors to Omaha for this event (35-40k) represents almost 10% of this quiet town’s population, Air BnB and Uber were in very high demand.

Warren Buffett's house since 1958

Warren Buffett’s house since 1958

On Friday, I met up with Davide Conti, LBS MBA2017, who was attending the meeting with a few students from his exchange school, Wharton. We kicked the day off meeting with renowned hedge fund manager, Whitney Tilson. He spoke about the importance of studying failure as much as we study success, somewhat in echo of Charlie Munger’s saying: “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there”. Sooner than later, he delved into the topic of marriage and divorce. We discussed the importance of accepting and dealing with our mistakes. He gave the example of how after taking the plunge and recommending an investment, he had to sell within weeks after a friend validly challenged his thesis. The ongoing disruption of industries was a topical issue (even throughout the trip), which follows on one of the major themes discussed at the recent GenerationE conference hosted by the LBS Tech & Media Club. We also discussed the role of incentives and compliance in controlling risk taking, when discussing Wells Fargo’s problems, as well as the importance of knowing and expanding one’s circle of competence.

After our meeting with billionaire Mario Gabelli, hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson and Wharton MBA students

After our meeting with billionaire Mario Gabelli, hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson and Wharton MBA students

We left for Centurylink Center, venue of the big meeting, to do some shopping, and unfortunately missed Warren when he swung by. We subsequently attended an investor briefing hosted by billionaire Mario Gabelli’s company, Gabelli & Company, and he had Q&A with us afterwards. Our next stop was the famous Yellow BRKers event, a gathering of long time Omaha visitors. To cap this day, we caught up with a big group of LBS EMBA alumni, many of which took the value investing courses at LBS and Columbia. We sought to spot Bill Gates and Charlie Munger at a far out location but to no avail. Nonetheless, it was a good evening, meeting more value investors and discussing their motivations to keep attending. We called it a night by 1:30am but needed to be up in 3 hours for the big day.

With LBS students (Davide {top right}) and alumni (Matthias Riechert {top middle}, Ninad, Konstantin, Melinda etc.)

With LBS students (Davide {top right}) and alumni (Matthias Riechert {top middle}, Ninad, Konstantin, Melinda etc.)

5:20am and we were alreaady on queue at Centurylink. Unexpectedly joined by a former colleague, we patiently waited for just over an hour to get in before sprinting across the hall to get seats on the lower ground. Suffice to say, organizers of the The Investors Podcast, Preston Pysh & Co., had shared a video recording of the sprint route to get the best seats. There were also strategic ways to game the Q&A session, with the hope of getting called upon.

With my 5am line-up crew (Davide Conti & Ildar Davletshin) outside the meeting venue

With my 5am line-up crew (Davide Conti & Ildar Davletshin) outside the meeting venue

Before the official programme kicked off with the funny video, I went to the shopping hall to watch Buffett throw newspapers with Bill Gates. While I couldn’t get close enough for a selfie, the Financial Times featured pictures of me in the crowd on its live event blog (see below). Overall, between Charlie and Warren, they answered over 50 questions from analysts, journalists and the audience. It was impressive to see the duo, who met at 35 and 29 respectively and are now 93 and 86, answer questions with such brilliance and humor. It was an endless flow of business, investing and life principles, some of which @LBSAfricaClub shared on its twitter page.

Caught on camera by the FT blog with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates

Caught on camera by the FT blog with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates

During the lunch break, we had drinks with the team from Robotti & Co, where we met even more value investors. After the Berkshire Hathaway meeting, we met up with another group of value investors (partly organized by Shai Darshati and his team at Manual of Ideas), then met up with LBS Value Investing Professor, Eddie Ransden, and ended the night at drinks with former Berkshire Hathaway employee and now investor, Ian Jacobs. As you can imagine by now, the quality of the network was truly impressive and I must say that for most people I asked, this is partly what keeps them repeating the yearly pilgrimage.

By Sunday, one could see that the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting is quite a big deal to Omaha. As people departed, the town gradually lost its buzz. Even at the peak of activities on Saturday, there was barely traffic anywhere. On the day, we first attended the annual meeting organized by Markel Corporation, an investing group structured similar to Berkshire but more willing to invest in areas Berkshire might consider risky. We then met with a diverse group of people partly attracted to the meeting by The Investors Podcast, and then debriefed with a group of LBS alumni including my value investing forum teacher, Matthias Riechert.

With founder of The Investors Podcast, Preston Pysh

With founder of The Investors Podcast, Preston Pysh

As I wrap this up, I’m on my way back to London, reflecting on what was nothing short of an impressive weekend. Some of my key takeaways from multiple discussions include:

1) Most value investors don’t use CAPM in establishing a hurdle rate for their investments. As Matthias puts it, “no billionaire ever got rich using CAPM”.

2) Reading and research diligence are absolutely critical to one’s success as a value investor. In today’s noisy world, independence of thought is necessary. As many, including Buffett, put it, a good investor shouldn’t delegate his research responsibilities.

3) In as much as companies trade at different PE valuations, growth rates should play a key part in making sense of the multiple while still seeking a margin of safety. As the debate around investing in companies such as Google and Amazon continues, it appears to me that the platformization of businesses will remain a disruptive force across many industries.

4) My best quote was from Charlie Munger: “fish where the fishes are”. Focus on the areas within your circle of competence as all you need to be financially well off are a few good companies that will compound beautifully for you over time. Value investing is simple but the diligence required lies beyond many’s reach.

Amidst all the interesting things I’ve done at LBS, some of which I’ve blogged about, attending the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting was indeed one of the most impactful. Although I unfortunately didn’t get to meet Warren Buffett personally, this trip brought to life for me our famous hashtag – #whyiloveLBS.

Outside CenturyLink Center, venue of the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting

Outside CenturyLink Center, venue of the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting

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I’m writing this post for the next year MiMs who are likely to search for the information on GIFTs (Global Immersion Field Trip) while applying to one of them (Yes, be ready to write essays for almost everything at LBS!).

For sure, the U.S. destinations will be the most desirable both among MiMs and MFAs, but I would like to give credit to the European trips and in particular to Milan/Munich GIFT. This 5-day trip themed “Supply Chain Management and Operations” embraced fascinating plant visits, unforgettable moments of friendship, one flight to Milan and a bunch of company merchandise.

It all started in Munich where we visited Knorr-Bremse Group and had a MAN Truck Tour. We then flew to Milan to meet the CEO of ITT Motion Technology and to talk with Magneti Marelli plant management about automation and luxury cars while watching state-of-the-art machinery in work.

2017-04-26 11.14.412017-04-26 11.14.36

To my mind, this trip was special, and here are three reasons for that:

1. During the GIFT, we were involved in the active learning process. Company visits during any trip imply business presentations which are usually informative, but in large quantities are hard to absorb. In Milan and Munich, we did not only talk to companies’ management and listened to the presentations but also could see how they applied certain principles, e.g. lean manufacturing, to the operations.

2. Sure, the automotive industry is sexy, and almost everybody dies to visit Ferrari. But what most people do not know is how many suppliers are behind one car. During the Milan and Munich trip, we visited both suppliers and manufacturers and could actually see the big picture behind a striking façade of fancy cars. I cannot stress enough how insightful it was, but believe me.

3. It was fun! Despite the busy schedule, we had enough time to explore Milan and Munich, go out and got to know each other better (With three streams, it is quite hard to make friends with everybody.)

Overall, I am more than glad about the choice of this GIFT. The Programme Office organised it at the highest level, and I am sure with the feedback from our batch, the next trip will be fantastic!

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What a break! Myanmar…is…amazing! To think that this country was largely closed for so many years, yet possesses such hidden and endangered monumental pieces of history, it deserves your visit. After my NEO survey (you do this early in your LBS MBA life) suggested I needed more adventure, I decided to go on the trek to Myanmar instead of the more popular Japan trek because of the former’s unique appeal; lay on top of that the lure of original Asian food and my continued interest in frontier markets. After grueling exams, a block week and minimal sleep, Myanmar did not let me down.

Me, trying to get a selfie with some incredible Pagodas in the background

Me, trying to get a selfie with some incredible Pagodas in the background

 

My fun notes…

When I took the first stab at this blog post, I had spent two days in the country and was drawing the curtains on an exhausting day in Bagan. Visiting the temples therein were the day’s highlights, coupled with using some of my negotiation skills from local markets in Nigeria to the benefit of my mates in local markets here.

On day 1, we met with a few prospective students of London Business School, had drinks with some diplomats and on-the-ground professionals, and helped ourselves to leisurely meals. I found the history of Myanmar’s political evolution quite interesting and reached the conclusion that solid execution of a clear and consistent economic development plan will be key to keeping the country’s economic momentum going and elevate it on the league of globally minded countries. On a separate note, one interesting observation was that the restaurants tended to have separate or combined Thai, Burmese and Western menus. While not fully sure why this is the case, I think it’s the outcome of receiving such a diverse pool of tourists over the years.

On day 2, we flew a small plane for 60+ minutes to Bagan from Yangon (former capital of Myanmar). Here we spent the day visiting ancient Buddhist temples (about 3,000 remaining vs. peak count of over 10,000), some undergoing refurbishment after a 2016 earthquake caused damage to legendary structures. We also took a horse cart ride round town to see more temples and watch the sunset from atop one of the town’s largest ancient temples. In-between and afterwards, we tried multicultural meals at different restaurants. Coming from London, the perspective on pricing was important. For the quality and volume of food we had, we found London about 3-4x more expensive – no surprises!

Sun setting picture of temples in Bagan

Sun setting picture of temples in Bagan

Day 3 was an early start. 5am and we were off to the fields for a hot air balloon ride across Bagan. The sights were incredible. There were at least 10-15 balloons in the air simultaneously. We found the operational quality outstanding and weren’t surprised to hear the manager of Balloons over Bagan say they operate by UK standards. Watching the sunrise over the many temples that litter Bagan, was, as you can already imagine, nothing short of beautiful. We subsequently grabbed electronic bikes, riding round town to take in more views of the ancient town. Overnight, we took a long bus ride to Inle Lake. Other than being chased by a stray dog late at night, it was a smooth experience.

Touring Bagan on electric bikes with my MBA mates

Touring Bagan on electric bikes with my MBA mates

Day 4 for me was one for conquering my fears. Since falling off a jet-ski in Miami in 2015, I’ve harbored some fears about extensive and potentially risky water adventures. Discovering that Inle Lake involved a lengthy boat ride renewed some of those extant fears but I braved them and went with the flow. Barring the occasional strong waves which sent the boat tilting one way and an engine misdemeanor in the middle of nowhere, it was a nice sunny ride. The town also boasts some ancient temples, some of which were also under repairs. Subsequently we visited a warm spring resort where I crushed any remaining water-related fears, thanks to encouragement from my MBA mates. This day ended with a cooking class, with some students taking turns to prepare Tempura.

We took an early morning flight on Day 5 to Ngapali (“Napali”), welcomed by video cameras of the local news stations. This was scheduled to be a lazy day. Ngapali’s main highlight is its pristine beach front. If I rated the previous hotels and days’ activities a B (due to my uber-high standards) then this day was definitely an A, with Bagan in close competition. We spent the day on the beach, in the pool and reading books (I was reading Margin of Safety by Seth Klarman, CEO of Baupost Group). As I reflected on the previous two days, I had learnt three things: 1) our fears are for the most part just a mental block, 2) confronting our fears openly in a safe environment where helping hands exist is often a sure winning strategy, and 3) it pays to be open minded, as help can sometimes come from the most unexpected places. The day ended with karaoke on the beach front.

Clockwise: A fisherman in Inle Lake putting on a show for us; Me in my rice farmer hat after the Inle Lake boat ride; Great shot of me by Hiroshi after a beautiful day in Ngapali as the sun set

Clockwise: A fisherman in Inle Lake putting on a show for us; Me in a rice farmer hat after the Inle Lake boat ride; Great shot by Hiroshi after a beautiful day in Ngapali as the sun set

Day 6-7 saw us head back to Yangon. This was another leisurely day spent trying food at really local restaurants, market shopping, visiting the first KFC location (a Zinger burger with fries and a drink costs GBP2.96 vs. GBP4.79 in UK), watching the sunset from the Shwedagon Pagoda (most sacred temple in Myanmar), drinks with the expat community, viewing colonial buildings and the stock exchange (massive building with only four listed stocks), trying out street food and wrapping up with a boat party.

Wrapping up an excellent trek to Myanmar with a water-fight themed boat party in Yangon

Wrapping up an excellent trek to Myanmar with a water-fight themed boat party in Yangon

Two random observations:

  • Justin Timberlake is really popular and is probably spoken about every day. If you want to say thank you in Burmese lingua, just say ‘Justintimberlake’ really fast!

 

  • With two students having forgotten their phones in the taxi and each time it was returned to our hotel, I couldn’t help but think the Burmese must be really honest people.

 

Needless to say, this was an incredible trip. Now that London Business School will for the first time offer a Global Business Experience (GBE) trip to Myanmar, this is a country I highly recommend for its unique experiences and growth opportunities.

Till my next post, “pyan tot mel”!

To learn about my serious takeaways from our trip to Myanmar, get on my LBS Student Blog page to read Part 1 – My serious notes.

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LBS MBA and MIM students in Myanmar (Inle Lake region)

LBS MBA and MIM students in Myanmar (Inle Lake region)

What a break! Myanmar…is…amazing! To think that this country was largely closed for so many years, yet possesses such hidden and endangered monumental pieces of history, it deserves your visit. After my NEO survey (you do this early in your LBS MBA life) suggested I needed more adventure, I decided to go on the trek to Myanmar instead of the more popular Japan trek because of the former’s unique appeal; lay on top of that the lure of original Asian food and my continued interest in frontier markets. After grueling exams, a block week and minimal sleep, Myanmar did not let me down.

My serious notes (Quick takes on the economy, banking system and real estate market)…

  • The country reminds me of Ethiopia. Rather, what Ethiopia could be in a few years with a little flexibility towards foreign investments. Myanmar, a country of c.60mn people, is seen by some investors as the next growth frontier (IMF: 7.3% GDP growth in 2015) given its relatively lower wealth in the South East Asian region and the still basic nature of goods and services currently available.

 

  • As with many countries when they start opening up with an intention to attract tourists, the airport, hotels and restaurants are some of the early areas that attract investments. Myanmar possesses quite a decent and functional airport (significantly better than that of my home country, Nigeria) as well as a number of high quality hotels and restaurants connected by very good roads. The conscious attempt to develop the country with tourists in mind is quite apparent. While we went during low season, the number of hotels/resorts and feedback from locals suggests things gather significant momentum between August-January.

 

  • On a separate note, we heard about a heating up in the real estate market, largely demand-side driven. As I dug further on this issue, I discovered from locals that Myanmar is predominantly a cash-based economy. Also, real savings rate is negative, at the regulated 8%, considering inflation is 11-12%. Therefore, most of the professionals I met mentioned locals keep stacks of cash and/or gold at home or invest in real estate given the lack of low risk alternatives. This means that while the locals may be concerned about a bubble, the heating up could be sustained until maybe structural changes are made to improve the intermediation of the banking system.

 

  • While the average Nigerian has 3-4 bank accounts, it’s not uncommon to find a local here with no bank account; and where he/she does, its one bank account with balances sometimes as low as $10 equivalent.

 

  • The Kenyan government can take a cue from Myanmar on the negative implications of lending and deposit rate caps (13% and 8% respectively in Myanmar), to observe the stifling impact on credit availability to the private sector.

 

  • The banking system, with 14 private banks, is largely dominated by big business men, partly due to a shortage of alternative funding sources for their businesses. There are 14 other government-linked banking entities. Commodities (gold and other precious materials) are a key driver of economic activity and one professional mentioned that the military still has back-end control despite the 2015 elections which further entrenched democracy in the country.

 

  • The most incredible thing I discovered is that loan sharks here lend for as high as 12% per month. Even when the loan is collateralized with gold (sometimes kept in mattresses), the lending rate drops to only 8% per month! These monthly rates are almost equivalent to 100-150% per annum on the same principal, ex fees (NB: In Africa, micro lending rates tend to range 2-5% per month, on average). Clearly prohibitive and points to the weak intermediation role of the banks in this economy. One professional mentioned 1) that banks often ask for 200% loan collateralization, 2) prefer this to be land, and 3) the banks rarely have credit committees. Consensus seemed to be building among the locals that a banking crisis may be around the corner.

 

Was this post too boring for you? Then get on my LBS Student Blog page to read Part 2 – My fun notes!

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Africa business summit

Few would disagree that countries in Africa have gone through a rough economic patch over the past two years, particularly the continent’s largest economies. Commodity cycles have played a big part. Poor governance at different levels also. But Africans always rise to the challenge and this time will be no different.

It is against this backdrop that the London Business School (LBS) Africa Club is putting together, yet again, the high impact Africa Business Summit. Themed “Made in Africa”, it’s an attempt to engender discourse on internal solutions to the continent’s unique challenges while celebrating its triumphs. In this vein, on 22 April, at the prestigious London Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, we will be hosting some of the best minds from the continent to discuss Africa and Africa-related issues.

So why must you attend the largest student-run conference at LBS?

1. Fact check 1: Do you know which African bank has generated equity returns of 25% on average over the past 15+ years? That’s Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank); and its CEO, Segun Agbaje, will be a keynote speaker on the day. If you’ve never heard him speak then you need to get plugged into his brilliant mind. Watch this. Come and listen to how the bank achieved such an implausible feat amidst volatile political, economic and competitive dynamics in Nigeria, and what catalytic role the bank is playing in shaping the ‘Made in Africa’ narrative. By the way, at LBS, we study a case on GTBank’s organizational culture in Managing Organizational Behavior. At the LBS 2016 Fall Stock Pitch Competition which I won, GTBank was the winning stock pitch which the Student Investment Fund subsequently invested in.

2. Fact check 2: What is the most renowned mobile banking platform in the world that has taken financial services right to the grass roots and transformed an entire generation of people? Think about people living on less than $30 a day but because of the transformational nature of M-Pesa, the financial services sector in Kenya continues to go through massive disruptions which has, on a net basis, been positive for the common man. Bob Collymore, the bold and visionary CEO of Safaricom (40% owned by Vodafone), will also be a keynote speaker and you definitely do not want to miss him. At LBS, if you take the elective on Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets, you get the option to study a case on M-Pesa.

3. Now that your appetite is whet, let me tell you who else will be gracing the stage: Yvonne Ike, Managing Director Investment Banking (SSA ex. RSA) at Bank of America Merrill Lynch; ever lively Charlie Robertson, Global Economist at Renaissance Capital who will be moderating the finance panel; Oba Otudeko, Chairman and Founder of Honeywell Group and Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) Holdings Plc; Jay Ireland, President & CEO of GE Africa; and Harold Leenen, Managing Director & Global Head of Transaction Banking (Middle East & Africa) at Deutsche Bank.

4. Fact check 3: What is the largest student-led conference at LBS? The LBS Africa Business Summit, which regularly attracts over 400 delegates and speakers.

5. Moving away from the serious stuff, the gala night will be LITT, and as you probably know, no one parties harder than the Africans!

6. Get your signed autographs from the winners of the LBS 2017 Tattoo Talent Show. In doubt? Watch the victory performance and read this inspirational LBS blog post on how we did it.

7. Meet the representatives of some of the companies that will be receiving the CV book, including BCG, CDC, WorldRemit etc. (NB: you can submit your CV during registration).

8. Meet a diverse pool of LBS alumni with a focused interest on Africa, who are making high impact in the entrepreneurship and corporate space.

Hesitate no longer. Proceed to www.lbsabs.com to get your ticket NOW. Tell a friend to tell a friend! I look forward to hosting and meeting you.

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Over the weekend, a team of eight came together to pull off an historic feat for the Africa Club – win the London Business School (LBS) 2017 Tattoo Talent Show. Talk about diversity, the group comprised six nationalities: Russian, Nigerian, Jamaican, South African, British and Moroccan. (If I include Kadotien’s incredible voice over, then add Ivorian to the list). And what brought us together for Tattoo – a love for dancing and a strong desire to portray the beauty of African dance to the LBS community. In a nutshell, the performance not only displayed different African dance moves including Shoki and Azonto, but it was also a story of love crossing boundaries.

I must say that the quality of performances from the other clubs was incredible and choosing the top 3 must have been quite a difficult task for the judges but I’m glad that we won! We won despite having practiced for just a week and one member (guess who?!) having rehearsed all the moves in less than 24hrs before the show. So how did we do it, in the face of skilled professional performances from so many other clubs?

 

  1. We had a very dedicated dance captain in Ayo Gabriel, who coordinated the entire process and spent many hours in solo practice at home so that he could successfully pass the skills and energy across to his team. Equally important was that he had a very supportive team: Elena Zhukova and Eme Caiafas provided valuable insights on organization and dance steps; Ellie Stoneham, Monique Cheri Baars and Samantha provided much needed logistics support, particularly in sourcing fabrics and Simba; while Nabil Lahbil provided incredible energy and tremendous help bringing me up to speed with all the moves in less than 24hrs.
  1. There was tremendous passion across the team and the energy was electric. We didn’t set out to win but wanted to put on a really good show for the audience. We were cognizant that we were the last team coming up and wanted to leave a lasting impression on our audience. Through it all, we were buzzing with too many creative ideas for time to allow.
  1. Though we only met to practice five times, in reality, we put in significantly more hours in private. Speaking for myself, after only joining the team to rehearse our moves on Friday night, I spent time watching dance videos and our recorded sessions at home to master every step in detail. Such was the level of desire to put on an excellent show and to not let my mates down on stage.

 

Basically, I can summarize our success as being down to four key factors: dedication, team work, passion and hard work. I believe as with many things in life, talent can sometimes be overrated and life’s winners are sometimes those who are willing to put in the hard work that success demands.

On the night, given the spectacular performances, I believe every group was a winner. We all showed the beauty of embracing diversity and team work across the different programmes, and this is what makes the London Business School experience truly special.

Hats off to Professor Tahoun, our special judges and MCs, and to all of you for making #lbsTattoo2017 great again! Special thanks to Akitoye, Matthew, Jonni, Yemi, Solomon, Cheke and the club executives for all their background work making the rest of the Africa Club’s showing at the festival a truly memorable one.

Africa Club team - winners of LBS Tattoo 2017 Talent Show

Africa Club team – winners of LBS Tattoo 2017 Talent Show

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