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Almost two years ago I started my MBA. The application process for it started a year or so before that. I remember being bewildered by the number of business schools to choose from and that, aside from location and their ranking, they all seemed pretty much the same. Students and alumni at every school claimed they were amongst the best for reputation, for recruiting, and for academics. And to an extent these claims were all true.

But that didn’t help me narrow down my application list. Instead, my application short list was based largely on the impression made by the wholly unrepresentative sample of students and alumni that I met from each of these schools. It seemed like the best method at the time.

With hindsight, now I can confirm that, yes, the top schools are all very similar on the surface. But with a little digging it’s possible to find a large number of differences between business schools. Those differences may be small things like whether a school hosts free drinks each week or how you select your electives. As you add up all these differences though and then compare schools, you’ll definitely see distinct pictures of the schools emerge.

Why should you care? The first reason is that you’ll likely be studying there for two years. That’s a decent chunk of time so it’s in your interest to find the place best suited for you. That can be hard; you may not know what is ‘best’ for you now. Also, chances are that if you enjoy business school at one place, you would probably fit in and be happy at another school too. But still, the little things can make the difference between a good time and a great time.

The second reason, and arguably more important (or at least more Machiavellian), is that it will help with your application to that school. If you have a good knowledge of what really sets that business school apart, that will impress in your essays and application.

So what actually are the differences between the top business schools? You could ask questions like ‘What’s the best thing about this school?’ or ‘What’s the worst thing?’ Boring! I often asked these types of questions and I would get similar responses at whatever school I visited. But I want to make life easier for you. Here’s where I’ve observed some big differences between top business schools. It would be in your interest to think about and learn the answers to these questions before applying to your chosen business schools.

Academics

Is the school better at any particular subject area?
Every business school offers courses across every subject area. But some schools excel at certain areas. Kellogg is known for marketing, LBS is known for finance. In these departments at these schools, you’ll likely benefit from better professors; more elective options; and access to influential outside speakers. You may not necessarily improve your employment prospects in these fields (nor harm them in others), but it could mean you get a far better education in these subject areas. The subsequent benefit being that you become more knowledgeable and better connected than your peers at other business schools in that subject area.

How rigorous are the classes and how many hours outside of class are required?
Some schools have a higher workload than others. This can also vary within subject areas at a school, for example, finance courses may require more outside work than marketing courses. Academic rigour is good, but if you’re constantly hitting the books in the library, when do you get to take part in clubs, socialise with classmates, and search for the post-MBA job? There is more to the MBA than just the academics.

A word of caution: it’s a universal truth that the workload of MBA students initially is high, so making a comparison against the first semester won’t be useful. Instead, ask about the workload after the first semester or after the first year.

How many core classes are required?
Some schools require you to take a prescribed list of classes in your first year, with little exception. Others provide you with more flexibility. If you’re looking for a well-rounded learning experience, the former is good. But if you want to become an operations management guru, you may want the latter so that you can skip straight to the electives that matter.

Are their streams/sections/cohorts? How are they chosen? How do people interact and socialise within the sections and between sections?
Most business schools have some concept of a section: a group of 60-90 students you do the majority of your classes with. Usually schools try and create a mini version of the United Nations by amassing a variety of nationalities and professions. The personalities of sections even with a school can vary significantly, so what you hear from current students may not be reflective of your own experience. But nevertheless, find out whether people enjoyed it.

Are there study groups? Do they matter?
Some schools place you into a study group that you keep for your entire first year. These are an even smaller cross-section of your stream. Other schools change study groups every semester or even in every course. There are tradeoffs between the two approaches: the same study group for the entire year can lead to great friendships, it’s also easier to share the workload around. On the otherhand, you miss out on working with a greater variety of personality types and may miss out on friendships being formed.

Some schools have courses where a large percentage of your grade is based on work you do as a study group. At other schools it’s just an informal group for discussing the classwork. Think about which you prefer and find out which approach your business school takes.

Are there any unique requirements?
LBS and INSEAD both require you to learn a second or third language. Some schools have components that require you to study overseas for a week as an international business experience. Is this something you want? Or is it an unnecessary burden for you?

What are the campus facilities like?
Places like Columbia, NYU and LBS are in the heart of major cities. It’s a great experience being in New York and London, but it comes with the concession of being constrained by space. Some schools also share their facilities with undergrad students. Does that then mean it becomes a challenge to find a desk or study room in the library? Or perhaps the bench press in the gym is always in use.

How are electives allocated?
Some business schools have a bidding system, at others you must rank your preferred courses, others still probably leave it to some mystic incantations to determine which courses you’re allocated. It’s important to know how courses are allocated to better understand whether you’ll be able to get on the courses you want.

Who are the good professors and will I be able to study with them?
Every business school has its rockstar professors who feature on various top lists. Chances are you want to take a course offered by one of these professors. But will you be able to? Some of these professors only teach to the Executive MBAs, or teach at a satellite campus on the other side of the globe, or they only teach once a year (which may then clash with your overseas exchange/extended internship/beach holiday). Even if you overcome those hurdles, can you then get on the course (see previous question)? In short, if there is a particular professor you want to study under, find out how easy it is to take their courses.

Clubs

What clubs are on campus?
Clubs are a great way to learn and extend your ability in both professional and social pursuits. If you’re founding a startup, get involved with the tech and entrepreneur clubs, or if you want to become a consultant, join the consulting club. They’ll help you immensely move ahead in your chosen industry. They’re also a fantastic way to meet people and have fun. I immensely enjoyed my two years as part of the rugby club.

Of course, if a club isn’t on campus, you could always start one and you’ll certainly gain some great skills in doing so, but those skills may be more in organisation and admin than in the actual industry, sport or hobby.

Which ones are active? In what way are they active?
Even if a club exists on campus, how active is it? If they’re only organising activities or meeting once a semester, it’s not going to be a great place to meet people and develop new skills or have fun. On the otherhand, an active club is a fantastic way to meet new classmates, network with alumni and learn about an industry or have fun taking part in a sport or hobby. Also find out what the club does, for example, if it’s the media club, do they just organise a yearly conference and a trek somewhere, or do they also organise more regular events.

Are there fees for joining or attending events?
Some clubs charge membership fees for covering their costs. These can sometimes be in excess of $200 per club, especially for sports clubs. Sometimes clubs may charge to attend visiting speakers on campus. I would say that almost always it’s worth whatever the club is asking. But perhaps those fees are the difference between exploring an area you’re vaguely interested in, and not.

Extracurricular

Can I go on exchange or study overseas?
There are many benefits to studying in another location and many schools provide that opportunity. Some schools offer exchanges to other business schools around the world: LBS students can go on exchange to over 30 partner schools. Other schools offer the opportunity to study at satellite campuses around the world: INSEAD students often split their time between France and Singapore campuses.

Where can I go? How likely is it that I will get to go to my desired place?
If it’s an important factor being able to study away from the main business school campus, you want to find out how easy it is to take advantage of that opportunity. Exchange schools may only have one or two places available to students from your business school and these may been hotly sought after by your fellow classmates. Is the decision based on grades, essays, interviews, or something else? Imagine the disappointment if you select a business school for its exchange programme, only to then discover that you can’t go to your desired place.

Are there weekly drinks?
I think weekly drinks are universally offered at business schools around the world. They’re a great focal point for your class to come together and catch up with people you haven’t seen during the last week (or longer). Often students from different programmes attend, often faculty attend as well, so it can be a great place to meet new and interesting people. But not all drinks sessions are created equal. Ask if many people attend these. And ask if they cost to attend (some charge a fee per semester or year).

What treks are typically offered? Will they break the bank?
MBA students love treks. What is a trek? It’s a fancy word for a trip and they broadly fall into two categories: business treks and social treks. Business treks usually focus on visiting companies in certain industries, for example to New York for finance, Silicon Valley for technology, or Paris for luxury goods. Whereas social treks are about experiencing a new place and socialising with your classmates. Often classmates from the country you’re visiting organise the social treks; it’s a special experience travelling with friends who know all the hot spots to visit!

Treks are a great eye-opening experience and were one of my favourite things at business school. Some treks are generally offered every year, but some only take place when someone can be organised enough. Ask where the most popular treks go (perhaps start planning your holidays now?). Ask how tough it is to get a place on them (there is sometimes a cap, especially on business treks). And ask how much more they’re going to send you into debt. On second thought, you may not want to know.

Jobs

Do the employers I want to hire me recruit from this school?
Don’t take it for granted. I heard of one top consulting company not recruiting from a top US school for a number of years after a certain incident. Also, some locations are better at recruiting for certain industries, for example, the percentage of graduates going into the tech sector from Stanford and Berkeley is much higher than most other MBA schools.

How many people have those employers historically taken? How does that compare with other schools?
One school may have 10 graduates hired each year from a certain company. If this is the company you want to work for, then this may sound great. But ask at another school and you may find 20 were hired from there. Potentially this means that the company has a preference for hiring from the second school and you may be better off there. But you need to look beyond just the base numbers. Take into consideration the class sise. Also, how many of those 20 hires are returning employees? If most of them are returning, maybe the better school for you is the one that only had 10 graduates hired. But take all of this with a grain of salt, as company preferences and hiring tendencies can change from year to year.

How good is the Career Services department at finding potential jobs for you?
There’s many ways to find a job, but one of the fastest and easiest is when your Career Services department is able to get companies recruiting at school and advertising directly on your school website. If the Career Services department is good at this, it may indicate those companies have a preference for hiring candidates from your school.

How good is the Career Services department at preparing you for interviews and jobs?
Good Career Services departments will also run a range of other activities and workshops to help prepare you for your interviews and jobs. These could be: networking and information sessions with companies; help with preparing your resume; practice interviews; practice case studies; practical skills for when you start your internship. Make sure to ask about what the Career Services department does to help students and also ask whether students got any benefit from it.

Other

Do you want to live in that city?
For me, this is one of the most important factors in choosing a school. Perhaps the most important. Your school’s city or town is where you’re going to live for the next two years. Perhaps you want the restaurants, nightclubs, and everything else that the big cities offer. Or maybe you’re happy living amongst the trees in New England.

The location of your school will also likely determine where your post-MBA job is: a West Coast school will get you a West Coast job; an East Coast school gets you an East Coast job; and a European school most likely gets you a European job. This is because it’s much easier networking and interviewing with employers when you’re in the same location. This is obvious if you’re in different countries. But you could be surprised by the difference even between New York and Philadelphia if you’re looking to find a job in New York. It’s much easier and cheaper catching the subway than catching a train from Philadelphia for a coffee chat in Manhattan.

Does the school provide much financial help?
An MBA is a big financial investment and often you’re going to need financial help to pay for it. To what extent does your school help you? It may be that they have a large endowment and most students are provided some sort of scholarship. Or maybe the school has partnerships with banks or other institutions to offer you loans. Not all schools are able to offer this financial support, so if it’s important to you, make sure to ask.

Conclusion

There are no doubt many more questions you could ask to learn more about the differences between business schools. In fact, comment below on what other differences you’ve discovered.

Now that you have a better understanding of where the differences, my final advice is to dig deeper and find what makes your potential business schools different from each other. It’ll stand you in good stead for your application and to have a great time doing your MBA.

Follow me on Twitter at @jrjclark

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Honesty Develops Trust

Posted by: James
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I’m reflecting back on the Global Leadership Summit and one lesson I take from it that I didn’t expect to learn is that honesty develops trust. We heard from many speakers throughout the day all with varying opinions. What I found interesting is that it felt that some speakers appeared quite guarded in the opinions they expressed. That’s understandable; many of them have companies to run and speaking their true opinions on various matters may impact their companies or themselves negatively. Sometimes you need to stick to the company line.

Then there were the individuals who appeared to have broken free of these shackles or just didn’t care about the consequences. It felt like they were speaking from the heart: they showed passion about the issues discussed – not just repetition of a company line – and as a result, not only were they engaging, but I trusted them. I wanted them as my advisors, my friends, my confidantes.

The final speaker of the day, Olafur Grimsson, President of Iceland, epitomised this more than anyone throughout the day. His statements, such as “Why are banks considered holy entities?” and “I don’t accept the notion that banks should not be allowed to fail” were spoken with conviction. Perhaps its because he had experienced those tough times in Iceland and seen the impact that enabled him to speak with passion. But haven’t many leaders also been faced with tough choices? Why can’t they speak with that same belief? He ended with the advice to “trust and respect the advice of ordinary people.” Perhaps it’s easy to be refreshing when you’re a contrarian. But in a room full of people with MBA’s and financial backgrounds whom I would expect to be very pro-banking, he clearly struck a cord. For this honesty, he received multiple rounds of applause and a standing ovation from the crowd.

This year’s London Business School Global Leadership Summit will be remembered by many people for many different things. For me personally, I will remember it as a lesson that honesty, especially coupled with passion, enables you to build trust. I hope I can embody that in all aspects of my life as I move forward from studying my MBA.

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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.

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CSR: it’s like an insurance policy

Posted by: James
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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.

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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.

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Three and a half months sounds like a short time. Think back over your last three and a half months. It went by pretty fast, didn’t it?

Tomorrow, I wake up in Shanghai at the start of three and a half months there on exchange. I expect at the end of my time there I will wonder how it’s gone so fast. But now, as I think of the 110 days I will spend in the Middle Kingdom, it seems anything but short. I imagine my first day; explaining to the taxi driver where to go, struggling to open a bank account, get a pre-paid sim card, order food from a non-picture menu. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly looking forward to the experience. In fact, it’s because of all these little interactions that I’m more excited.

Previously, I had been thinking of this as one great big experience. And that is true, but it’s also an enormous series of small, individual events too. Events that need to be swilled around in the mouth, reflected upon and savoured, like a fine wine. Because otherwise it can all go past so quickly and you are then faced with looking back at what you know was a great time, but what is also a hazy jumble of fused events.

As the 2014s start their MBA’s, I offer them my advice: savour everything you do. Take the time to reflect on that lecture, the party, that conference, the job interview. Recall the emotions, the vibe. Remember who was there, what was said… what the weather was like, the smell in the air, the song that was stuck in your head. Let those memories form; if you do, they will solidify with time. Then, when you look back and wonder where the time went, you will be able to answer yourself.

I think that is definitely worth doing. And I hope to do the same on exchange.

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One of the things I’m pretty certain every LBS student puts on their application is that they will participate in organising one of the many conferences we host each year. There is, afterall, a conference for every taste. It sounds like such a great idea at the time and it’s an easy thing to put on an application. Especially when you can point to similar events you’ve organised in the past.

And then school starts. You do decide to follow through with that statement in your application. Albeit, for a conference in a completely different industry. At first you have grand plans for where it will be and who will attend. Do my notes deceive me? Was I really thinking we would be hosting Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, and Rupert Murdoch at the Royal Albert Hall? Well, someone did say you should aim for the stars…

And it was with these grand aspirations that we embarked on preparing the LBS Technology & Media Summit. This planning stage was perhaps the most fun – dreaming up the format, the location, the people we wanted. And it’s probably no surprise that it did not take long for us to get a reality check. Or rather, a series of continuous slap downs like some sort of Stonecutters initiation ceremony.

Over the following months you are greeted by what seems to be more setbacks than steps forward. When you think you’ve found that perfect venue, you realise it’s not available on the date you want, or it’s outside of your budget. And then the same applies for backup options 2 through 10 on your list. You wonder if it’s too late to pull out as organiser. And then when you do have your venue, you realise that you’re now only a couple of months away from hosting it and you must now scramble to find speakers.

The aspirational targets quickly fall away, but you realise if you scratch the surface just a little to get below the rockstars, there is an amazing array of talent right on London’s doorstep. At first it’s like a smorgasband of who to choose from. Where to begin? They all look so good! Inevitably, though some say no, others take an age to respond. And then other suggestions arise later down the road. You do wonder if it’s worth all this effort as the initiation slaps turn into a more of a long grind. But slowly and surely you build up your panels and lock in your keynote speakers.

And then you take a moment to breathe. You look at what you have achieved so far. An excellent venue, an amazing lineup of speakers. You are confident that this will be an exceptional event. There is but one thing missing: the attendees.

With a lineup like this, it should sell itself. There is an early flurry from students. But then it slows. You blitz alumni and students with emails; that helps, but you know you can do better. You become inventive; who else can we target, how can we reach them? It’s like an applied class mashing together strategy and marketing concepts. And strangely enough, after all your hardwork, they do come. And from all walks of life; they fly in from Spain specifically for it, they come from other MBA schools, their visit happens to coincide with their London visit from San Fran, they come from companies I have not heard of.

And you take another moment to breathe. By this stage you have taken the Boy Scout’s motto to heart: Be Prepared. You run through the event in your mind at all hours of the day; sometimes even in your sleep. You wonder what could go wrong, how you would recover. The conference day arrives; it goes by in a blur. You are half aware of what the speakers are saying; you’re furiously trying to tweet their insights (afterall, again, this is a technology and media event). You wait for something to falter; it doesn’t happen.

And it becomes a natural high.

Those times you wondered if it was worth the hours, the stress, the lost hair; you realise that it is. For so many reasons: the knowledge that you’re contributing back to the LBS community; the positive feedback and compliments that you receive from attendees; the opportunity to listen and learn, and sometimes hear heated debate; the fact that perseverance has paid off; the chance to work with your amazing and talented classmates; the ability to push yourself and grow (and potentially fail too).


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Enter the Valley

Posted by: James

In decades to come, people will look back on this time in history and they will ask where you were in the heyday of the internet. You might say something like Silicon Roundabout or Silicon Alley, but those names, that use of Silicon in the title is misleading at best – traitorous at worst; Silicon Valley is the heart where the action lies. Like the days of the goldrush, there is only one true place to be, to be amongst the revolution, in the middle of the action, and that place is San Francisco (or just down the road in the Valley).

And that is where the intrepid travellers of the LBS Tech Trek headed for Spring Break. We set off with our pickaxes and pans, or rather, our iPads and styluses to visit the companies setting the trends for the interweb. Who did we visit you ask? A rock star list of: Google, Twitter, Linkedin, Zynga, Dropbox, Kleiner Perkins, Tesla, 500 Startups, and more.

It was an interesting and eye-opening experience visiting these companies. It is not until you enter the Valley that you start to understand the vibe that reverberates up and down State Highway 101 and around the offices, shops, cafes and homes in the Valley. Conversations in every coffee shop, every restaurant, every street corner mention something about coding, user experience, venture funding or some variant thereof. As it was explained to us more than once, the Valley is a hotbed of innovation that does not so much move through cycles, as it does leap and bound through them. Companies can bounce ideas around, fail, and pivot to new ideas and business models faster than anywhere else possible.

And there lies the second common message shared with us: the acceptability of failure. It is acceptable, nay, it is almost a rite of passage to have failed; risks must be taken to discover what is achievable. Can Silicon Valley be replicated in other parts of the world? We received mix perspectives on this, but it was universally agreed that a prerequisite is that the culture of failure was a necessary building block that would have to be copied. Will it happen? It takes quite a heroic effort to change one’s mindset from risk-averseness to investing in inherently risky ideas. We shall see.

It is a remarkable place and an incredible experience.


A quick nod to the company offices themselves, afterall, the perks received at these companies are legendary. And sure enough, they did not disappoint: Google has a beach volleyball court taking center stage at their offices. But that was only the initial taster we saw; across the companies we visited there were company bikes to ride between office buildings, scooters to glide between office rooms, meeting rooms stacked high with lego, band rooms filled with guitars and drums, m&m dispensers, a coke machines that poured over 100 flavours, and of course the obligatory ping pong table.

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There’s no doubt about it that LBS is a culturally diverse place. I know the statistics get thrown around a lot, something like 90% of students are from outside of Britain and represent around half the world’s countries. Whatever exactly those statistics are, there is nothing quite like being distanced from your home country to heighten your desire to identify with that place.

I look at my fellow kiwis in Britain, and the patriotism – or at the least the desire to identify with New Zealand stereotypes – is unlike anything ever seen back home. There is suddenly a huge desire to watch every All Blacks game no matter the hour of the day, to celebrate Waitangi Day (the closet we come to having a national day), and to dress in all manner of clothing with New Zealand iconography, whether that be an All Blacks jersey or a sheep costume.

To harness all this excitement about our own cultures, and our desire to show it off to others, LBS organises ‘Tattoo’. An evening celebrating the different cultures on campus through food stalls, song and dance, and a fashion show.

And what an evening it was! I arrived nice and early as I wanted to gorge myself on food by eating my way around the world. And I preceded to do exactly that – first up the North American stall with a big fat pig roast! Japan for sushi. China for Peking duck. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore. Then Brazil, and the rest of South America. Iran. Israel. Back to Brazil. Hungary, Turkey. And then finally back to the Australia/New Zealand stall to finish it all off with some pavlova; the debate as to which country invented it first being put to the side for the evening.

Between all this eating and long after my belly was stuffed full, we watched the main event unfold; the Tattoo talent show. And the talent really was incredible. Every country up on stage getting their groove on in some form or another: the Chinese dragons dancing to LMFAO (my personal favourite), the Americans hip-hopping to MC Hammer, the Brazilians getting their salsa on, the Italians singing opera, and many more. Not to mention a loud and fearsome haka performed by the New Zealanders!


The fearsome haka

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I am staying focused. Like a monk trained in on his breathe exhaling, or perhaps, more apt, the athlete envisioning his actions before the big game. I iron my shirt; cotton press, a squirt of water to rid that stubborn crease. I select my tie; yellow with a confident red stripe, tied in a half Windsor. I place my cufflinks through their holes, the right first, then the left; a pair of silver foxes. I slip my arms through the jacket sleeves. Check. Looking good. It’s winter; I choose a grey striped scarf and wrap it around my neck. Good. I grab my coat and throw my satchel over my shoulder. I hear the door shut as I leave the house. I briefly look down at my shoes; freshly polished. I then turn my head up and walk towards my interview… and my destiny.

I can almost see this playing out as a video montage set to Eye of the Tiger. That, or a stand in for the American Psycho intro. But the former sounds much better.

The preparation is now complete. Many hours were toiled away in the first term refining the CV to stand out and succinctly convey our best qualities. We were assisted with the experience of the second year students both formally through the Peer Leadership Programme and informally over cup of coffees. Career Services reviewed them too and then followed up with drop in sessions to complete the tailoring to near perfection.

The cover letters came next. Picking our skills and attributes that would define us as being unique. Carefully tailoring each to specify why we so desired to work for that particular company. The irony was lost somewhere around Christmas that every company we applied to was the company we most wished to work for. Again, the second years and Career Services assisted. This time too, we had the company presentations to rely on. Each telling us why they were different from all their competitors – each stating the same or similar reasons to their competitors.

With these company presentations came the opportunity to network. To meet real flesh and blood employees. Perhaps with the hope of making that impression that could land you an interview job, or at the very least, some additional information to further make that cover letter stand out.

And finally, the interview preparation. Many hours hidden away in the recesses of the library or study rooms, making sure we knew our finest achievements, the best examples of leadership and teamwork, and crushing cases that may be thrown at us. Second years grilled us with difficult questions, career services advised us and ran various workshops, our classmates rallied questions back and forth as practice.

But now, all that preparation is over. I walk into the office. I greet the receptionist. I wait, and then greet the HR representative. I enter the den. There is nothing left separating me from the battle with the beast. The interviewer enters. The door closes. It all begins here.

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