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
If there were such things as “test drives” or “samples” on offer, people would be spared the excruciating challenge of choosing which Business School to do an exchange in or even give tens of thousands of internationally traded currency.
In the past 5 years I managed to attend 3 pretty hot schools – London School of Economics, Booth School of Business under the University of Chicago and now – LBS. So I can compare them across some important points; but I beg you to not ask for a ranking, OK? Finding flaws is a tough enough task already – they are all close-to-my-heart-alma-maters, and I will stand up for them against even minor offenders until the very end, like Hector for Troy.
§ Booth has 2 campuses – in downtown Chicago – for those who prefer combining work with pleasure evening courses; and a Hyde park campus on E59th, which is very south, if you know what I mean. So south that I once had to sleep in the student’s lounge because I was too scared to get outside and walk home.
§ The West End location of the LSE will make sure that by the graduation time you turn into a musical connoisseur. If only you did not have to run from one building to another under the rain to change lecture rooms.
§ Baker Street tube station is great for connecting with all the significant spots in London, while being in a quieter area, with a personal and private Regents park.
§ Booth can boast its access to the University of Chicago fitness facilities – think classic American football, basketball, baseball fields, boxing arena, full size swimming pool with 20 lanes, gym with at least 100 cardio machines and countless iron-lifting options, cheerleader team, etc! Everything you dreamed about (or saw in movies) and more, which can compromise the amount of time you spend in the library.
§ To work up a sweat from any form of team sport at LSE you will have to go to Berrylands (a berry-less village 25min away from Waterloo station on South-West trains). Training standards however make up for it in full.
§ Having a game of rugby in Regents Park, or a round of cricket on the Lord’s Grounds sounds super fun; going to a midget gym + swimming pool in the basement of the library – not so much. But I guess it works…
§ Booth did not live up to my expectations, I ended up not going to a single event.
§ No other place can compare to the quality and quantity of LSE speakers. Ever. The only problem is that here a concept of an “early bird” is taken quite literally – if you want to give celebrity speaker a listen – you need to come and physically stand/sit/lie in a queue. Sometimes for a very long time. Before dawn. I remember getting to the School at about 4a.m. only to find myself number 12 in a queue for Alan Greenspan (back in 2007 J), which was to open at 7. The best part is that all the speakers become exceptionally friendly when within the LSE walls, so if you dream of a Soros’s signature – you are guaranteed one after his lecture. Together with a photo. And a kiss.
§ LBS is a good cocktail of speakers and conferences across all industries, country leadership and even celebrities. Business and theory come holding hands to all the events. Students also ogranise industrial tracks around the world (e.g. entertainment track to Hollywood, high-tech track to Sillicon valley).
§ Many lecturers at Booth are held by its Nobel prize winning alumni, who cover all the material in class to such extent that no books are required to get a top mark at the exam.
§ Attendance at the LSE was obligatory, but majority of time was spent on deeply theoretical concepts as well as guidance of how to approach self-studying.
§ LBS lectures (at least the core MiFPT ones) are the most engaging and fun I have ever come across. Really.
§ Booth has the best study area, kept pitch-dark and thus extremely quiet. Assignments are marked very quickly and the results uploaded to the web portal almost immediately (IT services are outstanding). There is also always an option of studying on the beach.
§ LSE is known for its largest in the world Business and Social Science library with a famous spiral staircase. It is open to LBS students as well, as both schools are under the umbrella of the University of London.
§ Booth MBA exams seemed like a vacation – you are even asked to put your name on every page of the paper.
§ LSE scores for the toughest exams, most of which take place in summer, even if a class was in autumn. Anonymity approaches MI5 standards. Getting a distinction is next to impossible.
§ LBS only allows to re-sit the core courses, but some electives will give you a take-home exam.
…to be continued
Fasten the seatbelts tight and don’t forget your shades – we are about to witness the MiF brand take off to the stratosphere, and shine even brighter.
Our dear friend in the world of business education – SIDANE* university – has come to accept the demand and value add of an advanced post-experience programme that provides financial professionals with a deeper insight and an opportunity to advance, specialise and network. Or I should rather say “finally accept”, as it’s been more than 20 years since LBS launched MiF, gracefully paving its winding road while moving along the learning curve, and shaping a top-notch international finance force.
How does having a potential competitor make us feel? Borrowing some McDonald’s – we’re “loving it”. No jealousy. No second thoughts, doubts or reservations. We look forward to making the world a better place together, being a team, doing exchanges and holding conferences together. Because what we do here differs astronomically from what’s on offer at various MSc Finance – we already are working in Finance and intend to stay. (Those with trust issues please do Google “Masters in Finance” to get a Wikipedia page explaining the literal meaning of these words’ combination, mostly focusing on general pre-experience courses giving insight into the alluring world of banking and accounting). That’s why we are over the moon to see the MiF programme branch out – it needs to be positioned strongly as a brand to establish recognition similar to the MBA. Competition drives progress, innovation, sophistication, keeps prices under control and we long to see more of it. So “just do it” Thornaw*, Varhdar*, and Forndast*, launch your own MiFs – the world is waiting!
*To avoid unintentional transformation of this post into a free advertising campaign, I conjured up “fictional” university names by doing an anagram exercise (also do not confuse SIDANE with the infamous head-butting football personage of the same origin)
As one of the ambassadors for my MiF PT 2013 course I participate in open-door events for the prospective students. I noticed that many of those who drop in to ask questions, grab a brochure and have some coffee + biscuits, exhibit high interest in the school without a firm awareness of which programme they would like to apply for.
So if you aspire to be a part of the LBS community and haven’t a clue which programme suits you most, the below test will help you quickly figure out your personal path of the least resistance in the school.
Which movies are you more likely to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon ??
(a) “The Godfather”, “La Dolce Vita”, “Avengers Assemble”, “American Beauty”
(b) “Margin Call”, “Wall Street”, “I don’t know how she does it”, “American Psyco”
(c) “I am number 4”, “Horrible bosses”, “Thank you for smoking”, “Captain America”
(d) “Inception”, “Fast & Furious”, “Jeux d’Enfants”, “American Pie”
How do you get to work every morning ??
(a) “My chauffer Edward calls on me, but honestly, I would much rather cycle to save the environment”
(b) “I get a cab from my Chelsea flat to the City / Canary Wharf” or “I usually just walk – its not too far from Pimlico to Mayfair”
(c) “I am trying to use public transport to save up for an upcoming considerable investment into my further education”
(d) “I don’t have a job yet – still writing my thesis”
How would your friends describe you ??
(a) Mature and classy
(b) Adventurous and urbane
(c) Tenacious and suave
(d) Motivated and agile
- mostly (a): sharpen your strategic thinking with Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy designed for successful leaders with more than a dozen years of experience;
- mostly (b): dont wait any longer to apply for the world’s premier and ultimate qualification, turning you into a true Master of Finance;
- mostly (c): boost & accelerate your career by giving MBA / EMBA a bite;
- mostly (d): widen your horizons and get noticed with Masters in Management.
Mr. Jan W., a risk analyst from CQS, who was interviewing me for the MiF admissions, did not expect to be asked why for every girl on the course there’re as many as 9 guys. He only said that he’d absolutely love to have the proportion levered up a bit…
The most universally accepted answers that people throw at you in situations like that are “gender inequality”, “glass ceiling”, unbearable hardness of “juggling commitments” with “family obligations”, all of which are usually followed by the respondent pulling on a condescending mask of grave pity. Why this version of truth and attitude haven’t become extinct yet is beyond my understanding – its not the 50’s anymore in most corners of our society. Take me, for example. My life is not hard, my life is wonderful; I am not juggling – I am finding time to do things I enjoy; I don’t have family obligations – I have people I love and care about the most in the world; I am not committed for life – I make my own choices, take pleasure in keeping busy and climbing up the Maslow pyramid.
Is my case ordinary? The only child, I was originally meant to be a boy called Ivan. That didn’t quite work out for my parents, – they had to deal with a little curly me, …and repaint the nursery. Their aspirations, however, transitioned into my daddy teaching me to play a guitar, chess, drive a car age 5, etc. In Russia kids go to mixed schools and only learn about some sort of inequality by reading foreign magazines. Probably the aftermath of communist days, we are brought up to share everything in our lives – when my great-grandpa went to the WWII, my great-grandma was in Moscow working as an armed guard at a gun manufacturing factory, while my granny was less than 2 years old.
I will not be so ignorant as to say that the problem doesn’t exist. It does, and the gender proportion of the business school intakes falls under its umbrella, together with numerous other examples, which routinely feature in high-profile conferences, workshops and change initiatives. But constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating. Changing the public’s attitude is astronomically hard; while taking it one person at a time is stomachable.
So ladies, if you are even slightly considering applying to MiF, no matter your background, please remember that “inequality” is actually about “diversity”. There is no one-size-fits-all profile – you can read the details of LBS students on the website while I will shed light on the statistics that are left undisclosed by school’s official brochures – about our girl’s personal life and work. The best thing about doing the census was the unanimous “what gender inequality…?” response to me mentioning the topic of the post.
I am not a feminist. I would just like to see more of inspired and empowered ladies who are not being dramatic or paranoid, who step outside the comfort zone of clichés. Maybe we don’t rule the world, but we definitely make it go round.
Post Scriptum: My intake showed a more up-beat result – 3 girls for every 7 guys; and according to the MiF program office our course is exceptionally close, fun and overachieving (and not forgetting LBS MiF confirming its N1 World ranking this year). I hope the admissions levels are representative of the level of applications and this notion becomes a steady trend. Our exceptionally charismatic professor H. Moon taught us during one of the Org. Behavior classes that people perform better in co-educational environment . So for the business school guys the current situation is less performance enhancing than for the girls, isn’t it ?
Yesterday, straight after the investment class, about 30 of us (the MiF PTs 2013) ventured to a nearby Chinese restaurant to celebrate the new 4709th Chinese year of a black water Dragon by tossing and eating yusheng (鱼生) and wishing each-other great things in the year to come.
These festivities made my mind wander back to 2011 and re-evaluate things that happened in the past 12 months. Same day last year I was with one of my bffs (who was born on the same day, month, year as me) sipping negroni on Piazza Campo de’ Fiori in Rome.
One year and one day ago I was switching off the electricity in my London apartment, being forced to leave the country due to a recent change in visa requirements, as Mr. Cameron continued to bring to life his pre-electoral commitment to put emigration under control.
One year and two days ago I got a letter from Peter Johnson, congratulating me on being accepted to the LBS Masters in Finance course. Having taken the GMAT only 3 days prior to that, the news was a complete shock. I was at work and had to find a remote meeting room to allow myself a loud and cheerful celebratory dance. It felt really-really good.
So here I am now, in the very middle of it, and my experience so far cannot be farther from my great expectations in two major points:
First, the reason why I took the course was to advance my finance skills without getting too much fluffy stuff of MBA programs. I took corp. fin, accounting and macroeconomics in Chicago Booth, which was great and made me want to do a CFA. But when the bricks books arrived, I found myself deviating towards more healthy activities rather than spending my free time sitting on my bum trying to take in tons of information without an opportunity to ask a question. That interaction-lacking method of studying was depressing and put me off for a while. Similarly, I thought of LBS’s MiF as a painful remedy for those who felt the need to extend their knowledge in the field. I couldn’t have been more wrong. If you ask me now, what it’s like to do a MiF at LBS, my first word would be FUN. And you’d better take my word for it.
Second, it is not all about money. Our strategy professor, for example, is specializing in sustainability, and we spent 1/3 of the course discussing the benefits of green initiatives with representatives from Goldman Sachs, as well as hearing success stories from the industry; (some other time was spent modeling the prospects of Internet dating). And this responsible and reaching-out attitude is not being pushed top-down, – all the students in one way or another are involved in charity work, with some great successes like our co-student C. Coghlan’s “Grow Movement”.
To sum up, although I am writing this now, I don’t feel any pressure or need to try and convince you to apply. The guys who I have met so far have so much in common with me that it feels like fate, so if you are supposed to be in LBS – you will get there one way or another. Doing a postgrad course, especially when it involves migration to a different country, is a big change. And there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things; for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order. (that’s not me, that’s Nicolo Machiavelli)
The festive season officially starts tomorrow, when we can finally allow ourselves to dream of all the turkey, stuffing and mince pies to be consumed, shamelessly play M. Bublé’s versions of Christmas tunes, wear red jumpers featuring snow flake ornaments and pray that it doesn’t snow when we are dropping off our luggage in Heathrow heading south.
I thus cannot hide it from you any longer – LBS exams are coming. And our first one is on the 17th of December, exactly 183 hours before Christmas.
But panic not – I am here to provide some insight on how we, outrageously busy multitasking part-time finance students (and probably you in the years to come), are handling the workload.
LBS marks as 10% A+ 40% A 40% B and 10% C which generally divides MiF part-time course into 3 breeds of students:
★ Academics – who want to learn as much as possible;
★ Perfectionists – who want a degree with distinction; and
★ Yachtsmen – who want to sail through the course smoothly and get a degree.
I cherry-picked a sample of the class, based on the availability of their phone numbers in my address book, to ask a question “How are you preparing to face the FAA exam?” Here’s what they came back to me with…
Mr. Investment Banker – “Go through class slides and all problem sets and tutorial problems, and if I have time – will review some main chapters of the book (and read the ones I couldn’t find the time to read before)”
Ms. First Lady – “I am taking it easy and betting on the fate. Will do some official preparation next week – I have already done all the lectures pre-reading and thus have a deep insight into professor’s brain. And if fate won’t work – Santa will”
Mr. Money Maker – “Hmm… I am not”
Mr. Strategic Portfolio Manager – “1 chapter or the course book + 1 tutorial exercise per day, followed by a problem set; taking a 1 week holiday before the exam to do the 10 cases from our classes, recalculate all the ratios, go through handout slides, and to practice using my brand new Texas Instruments calculator”
Mr. Commercial Banker – “Promising myself not to revert back to my historic predisposition for last minute cramming, ending up in a couple of weeks of good old-fashioned late nights and tired eyes; coupled with some days off and extra-strong coffees”
Mr. NGO Donor with a CFA – “Reading professor’s textbook, reviewing problem sets and doing the past paper questions whilst having beers in the Windsor pub”
Mr. Research – “Trying to fill in all the gaps. I think professor’s book is a really good summary of what I learned and I find myself reading a lot of it… Actually its not true, never read it in detail during the year as I should have done”
Mr. Lawyer – “Reviewing past exam papers and hoping the same questions will come up this year. I am not much of a revisioner when it comes to these kind of things”
And me? Before my driving practice test last month I posted a short message on one of the social network sites, asking God to help me pass. And pass I did (thank you !!). So having identified a very effective way of communication with Him, I will just write another post =D
DISCLAIMER: All characters appearing in this post are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
Times are still tough for Financial Services. People on my course nervously check their blackberries, wondering if their roles are at risk. My own employer slashed 950 jobs in a country with population of 4mln last week, with my own role relocating back to London (FYI I moved out of London due to visa problems in January this year). I am happy of course – it will be the grand finale of my commuting, but for some this can be nerve-crashing and depressing. Many however admit, that being at the LBS and having access to its career services helps the medicine go down.
LBS career services transform even a small fish into an interview shark every big name recruiter would kill for, no matter if you are interested or not. The team has done it so many times that it’s obvious that they got their recipe right. So what’s on offer for the MiFs?
- Peer Leadership Programme aka PLP, runs all year round. Here second year MBAs from our dream jobs (which can be nothing else but PE/IB/AM or for the outside of the box dudes – consulting), informally look at your CV (“did your granny write this?”), CL (“do you really think being interested in soap operas gives you an edge?”) and advise on your seduction approach (“fuchsia is indeed a nice colour, but not for your three piece suit”). What I found most useful was the insight on the corporate culture of your dream employer, knowledge of which makes your application shine.
- Networking workshop – 3.5 hours of intensive training focused on increasing the likelihood of you being remembered and liked (added on LinkedIn), arousing genuine interest of people around you and key (LBS exclusive and very secret) skills on how to stand out or the crowd, including exercising with weights to make your smile last longer, practicing handshake specific for your career choice, effective elevator speech in parallel with 3 other people and, of cause, memory training oriented on memorizing 50+ phone numbers from the first attempt. (just joking, haven’t been to the session yet – its on Nov 5th)
- Guidance on how to write a CV, a CL, define your unique selling proposition and survive assessment centers. These are so thorough, that you will have to dedicate a full working week (think IB working hours) to ensure all the little (but very important) component are included. This is quite a dangerous exercise as it makes you fall in love with your CV so much, that you start quoting it to your friends and end up sending a copy to the Man Booker Prize competition.
- Finance one-to-one with Roger H. 30 minutes of coaching from a crème de la crème of the industry. Could be done over the phone. Having mine on the 10th, aaaaah…
- And finally there is Career Portal, where you can see job adds from all over the world (!!!). Tastes do differ but the portal caters for all shapes and sizes, with many positions looking specifically for LBS folk, without postings outside of the Portal. It also stores all the previous presentations made in the school, provides advice on visas (who needs those?) and supports you in negotiating your offer.