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What is HEC’s MBA Tournament (MBAT) all about? MBAT is an annual tournament in which Europe’s top business school (LBS) and some marginal and unimportant ones of a lower order (HEC, IE, Said Business School (Oxford), Judge Business School (Cambridge), Bocconi, IESE etc etc) come together on HEC’s campus in Jouy-en-Josas, close to Paris, and compete in sports ranging from rugby to dodgeball to salsa. A tremendous talent show, and a great opportunity to socialise and network with the other programmes! By now, I recognise MBAT participants from the MBA programmes, the Masters in Finance class, and so on, whenever I walk across campus. Fantastic parties and a fantastic team spirit all along were the trademark features of this tournament.

We MiMs entered the MBAT in strong form. MiMs celebrated their talent on the dancefloor (Congrats Sandra!), on the badminton court (Kudos to Aditi), in chess, dodgeball, squash (with Robbie relegating the competition to another league), cheerleading (a stunning choreography planned, practised and performed by a team led by Nadine). Ines dived for the beach volleyball team and the football pitch got rocked by Federico as goalie and Panos as striker.

And I celebrated my lack of talent with a boat party on a windy racecourse in Choisy-le-Roi outside Paris. A total of zero non-participating spectators witnessed us toiling on the water, underlining rowing’s claim to fame as an evergreen crowd pleaser.

Although, I have to say, entering the 20th edition of HEC’s MBA Tournament (MBAT) was the most expensive rowing regatta I’ve ever entered – £400 for an aggregate 1,000 metres and about four minutes of racing; this we covered with 150 strokes, bringing the CPS (Cost per stroke) to two quid sixty-seven pence and the CPSec (Cost per second) to £1.67. And if you haven’t noticed yet, I am SO much looking forward to our Management Accounting class.

By now you will ask yourself:

‘Michael, why didn’t you play another sport? Why didn’t you play a fun sport in the first place? Why rowing?’

The answer is that everything that involves a ball is not for me. Check it out – if you want a sure win in football, put me in one team and then join the other.

The rowing competition was easy, with Oxford and Cambridge fielding the strongest crews. Who would’ve guessed. But for an old oarsman with 15 years experience like me, they were no match. Except for, errh, the Winklevoss twins, which happen to be the inventors of something that became a site called Facebook, and, well, Olympic rowers of the two-by-two-metre format.

As we had never trained before, I guess a third place for LBS, with borrowed rowers from 1) Cambridge for the first and 2) Oxford for the second heat, was a great outcome. It fills me with great pleasure that our girls’ crew beat the first HEC crew by miles ;-), and equally, that we had the second fastest time of the day (1:56 min/500m in what was an old bathtub).

The greatest achievement of that day, however, was not our medal nor the girls whipping HEC nor the Oxford crew who TWICE managed to only narrowly avoid ramming us in the final heat. The prize goes to the LBS novice crew, who rowed the first 2,000 metres in their lives, half of that under racing conditions – chapeau!

I have to give honourable mention to our bus drivers at this point, which shuttled us from the hotel to the HEC campus, and to the final party on the Champs-Elysees. Phrases like: ‘Hey! This map just contradicted itself!’ simply deserve to be immortalised, because. They proved time and again that a bus ride scheduled for 30 minutes can be extended to anything between an hour and an hour and a half.

But all in all, the MBAT was an extremely cool experience I wouldn’t have liked to miss. It didn't matter that we became second overall, with the cup going to HEC for the first time. What mattered was that this was a fantastic opportunity to network and to make new friends among the other programmes, as well as with the other schools. Mission accomplished!

You will have to excuse me now, I have to get back to catching up with my newly-won MBAT friends. One of them promised me a jug of Pimm’s if I play football for the other side.

P.S.: Please excuse the sarcasm along the way. Rowing IS a brilliant sport to watch. And HEC is a brilliant institution mirroring the brilliance found at London Business School with a distinct, continental European flair.


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Paris Marathon

Posted by: Michael

Why blog about a marathon? What to put? “I ran a lot, and then I had to run a lot more”? And why should I blog about a marathon here?

Because a MiM talked me into doing it. I don’t think I would ever do such a crazy thing. And I mean, just now, when I waddled down the escalator slope at the Eurostar terminal that is meant to provide maximum convenience to travellers, I realised how crazy it was, because right now, I am walking like my great-grandmother, and this slope proved to be a big challenge for me. My hips and knees are positively destroyed.

I won’t bore you guys with the preparation. It means running lots and, in the last week, eating lots of carbs. Pasta and banana, cake, jam sandwiches, some more pasta, all different combinations possible. Spaghetti with a banana, jam and cake crumbs sauce is not too bad!

But yesterday, when I was walking towards the start in the morning sun, dressed in a smart rubbish bag with “Jogging” written all over it in font size 500, I could not believe I was really gonna do this. Since it was the first time I was gonna run 42.195km, I had no clue, and ended up in one of the faster groups of the c. 40,000 people that filled the Champs-Elysees on that morning. Spirit was awesome! The elite runners got started first and were already a distant group of stickmen disappearing at an alarming pace by the time I crossed the start line myself. I mentioned that I was standing with a group too fast for me. So, what that meant is that you’re like a rock in a river of runners. I seemed to stand still, while everyone else seemed to fly past me.

The funny thing is that once you’re on your way you will be drawn forward by the other runners and the spectators. I had no idea whether I was gonna make it, my longest training run had been for two hours. So, up to that time, everything’s fine. The sentiment is great, lots of spectators are cheering you, and your metabolism feels like you could go on forever.

I was deeply, deeply impressed by the groups of runners who were drawing disadvantaged people on carts. They get constantly applauded by spectators and also, the runners passing them. It is amazing to see how much determination and willpower people can develop. Chapeau!

My aim was to finish in four hours, but I knew that was probably ambitious. In the first half of the course, I gained time on this, constantly feeding on water, oranges and bananas. But come the 25 kilometer mark, my knees started to feel the strain. I was running at good pace, but I could not have made larger steps than what I was doing at the time. And from there, my speed went down, and the last 15k were difficult to accomplish. At 35k, the helpers were handing out some isotonic sports drink, for the first time during the race. I thought that this would certainly help. But ewww! – the stuff was sweet enough to glue your mouth shut, and I threw the bottle away with perhaps slightly more energy than needed.

I crossed the 40k mark at 3h 58min, just beating the 10kph split, but the last two kilometres were without doubt the hardest. I knew I had a problem when one of the drawn carts I mentioned above strode past me. And in the Bois de Boulogne, one of Paris’ big parks, there aren’t many spectators to keep you fired up. You have to make your way out of the woods beforehand. Marathon running seems to be a good analogy on life in general.

Et voila! The street is lined with people cheering and making you forget how much it hurts. I run past my old uni, Paris Dauphine, and see the finish on Avenue Foch, right in front of the Arc de Triomphe. For some reason, getting from the 42k mark to the finish is not a problem. It might be the photographers or the cheering crowd, or the carpet you’re jogging on.

Suddenly, it is over. Automatically, I keep walking, and in this walking fashion, everybody receives the t-shirt, the medal, the poncho to keep you warm, water, bananas, oranges and – a nice change – apples. My legs scream at me to sit down, and I happily oblige. As I sit down, it dawns on me that I’ve really made it. I have some water and then, I eat my apple. It tastes like Christmas, seven times over.

So again, why put this on the MiM blog? Because it was a MiM who convinced me to sign up and prepare for this event. I don’t know if I’m gonna run a marathon again soon, but I’m certainly happy to have done the first one. When I changed my facebook status to “DONE!” a fellow MiM replied: “Nice work. Now get ready for the New York Marathon!” Even the longest way seems to begin with the first step.

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‘Course not. At London Business School, one of the feelings I had to get accustomed to was that people are smart. Like, really, really smart. And charming and well-spoken and so forth. And about half of them come from non-business backgrounds. How unfair – I have a first in business admin and now I don’t even seem to have a tangible advantage!

But here comes the effect the courses will have on you. My initial reaction was – “Hey, I know this stuff already!” And then I listened some more. And I felt – “I know this stuff – sort of”. Phase three is when you say: “That would’ve been really useful had I known it before.” Ultimately, you admit that you don’t know about 75% of the matter you are being taught.

Here is where your environment helps you. I’ve learned a lot from lectures, but I learned perhaps even more from my peers. The diverse backgrounds of the student body create a wealth of knowledge that is readily on tap. As a MiM, I’ve found it extremely helpful to speak to the more experienced MBA’s, Masters in Finance students and so forth. Your study group keeps you on your toes all the time. I’m taking every single professional development course I can get my hands on. I do some things I’ve always wanted to do, like acting classes. My outlook on business has changed completely, and so has perception of myself. And – this time around, I am enjoying every single day of my course. We’re halfway through our programme, and I wish time would pass a lot slower.

So, on balance – was it the right decision to come to London Business School? I knew that getting a masters degree was the right choice at the right time. But I reckon that I’ve got a lot more than I bargained for. They say converts are the most fervent believers. And by now – I am a believer.

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In my view, the problem about studying is that you spend a good two years of your degree essentially learning how to study – and my final year was crammed with technical training and what I’d like to call the real stuff.

Essentially, I was trained in basic techniques for two years, got a huge amount of subject knowledge in the final year and then found myself within an analyst training programme that was like an executive MBA and brought everyone up to speed. At the end of ten weeks of sitting in the stuffy training centre at Smithfields meat market, every last “I’ve got a masters in Shakespeare” spoke banker lingo. So why study business if you get taught seemingly everything you need to know by your employer?

Let’s revisit my idea of learning everything in the last year of a business degree – essentially, with a one-year masters degree, you double your training time used on teaching advanced, truly value-adding concepts. And this time, it’s at masters’ level – this time, our professors mean business. At London Business School, where most students are coming out of two to six years of work experience, your background is taken into account. Coming out of an investment banking job puts you right in the limelight. And unfortunately for me, our professors are aware what you’ve done before.

The problem with being an investment banker is that everybody you meet always wants to talk about the economy, and “the Crisis”, and what is gonna happen next. Honestly, try it out – become an investment banker and then go to a dinner party and try having a conversation with people. It will invariably hinge around your job – and to what people think you do.

And people always assume you will know everything about just about anything and will expect that you speak knowledgeably about any industry, the gold price, WTI (“Texas light sweet”) forwards, and that crazy son-of-a-gun M&A deal that happened in Libyan telecoms last week and how that’ll affect the long-term regional value creation aspects in the TMT sector.

If you’re really unlucky, you find yourself having been singled out, separated and monopolised by someone eager to fight a pitched battle over LBO valuation nitty-gritty, while you try to convince the waitress to bring you two mojitos at once to make your situation more bearable. No wonder investment bankers normally stick to their own kind.

So, there and back again, do I really know everything?

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When you’re coming from a business undergrad background, you might not see the point in doing a postgrad degree in business. After all, you’ve probably studied all the subjects before. Chewing through marketing theory and business strategy again might not seem that appealing to you.

But here’s a thought – I discovered that so many opportunities are only open to me now with a masters degree. Once you’re out of uni you’ll probably spend a lot of time exploring the opportunities with an undergrad degree – and you might miss some really good ones, just because you don’t fulfil a seemingly statutory requirement only. There’s more to it than it seems.

In the UK, the job market seems to be very permeable for people with degrees in science and arts of all sorts and virtually all employers welcome applications from people with bachelor’s degrees. That is not the same everywhere. In France, graduates are expected to have a “Bac plus cinq” level education before the job market takes them seriously. In Germany, where people were told that their previous five-year diplomas were equivalent to a three-year bachelor course, employers quickly looked beyond the Bologna conversion and asked for masters’ level education in the ideal candidate.

So, you will ask what benefits the postgrad in business brings for an undergraduate with a business background. In my previous IBD job, I met linguists, architects, electrical engineers, physicists etc etc. You get the gist. And they didn’t seem to have problems with business at all.

In cynical moments, I think that I should’ve studied something fun instead of biting myself through accounting, getting innumerable group projects done for marketing, strategy, corporate finance, managing a student firm and at the same time writing a dissertation about M&A in the cement sector.

OK, I AM a nerd but even for me, my concept of fun is somewhat different. Frankly, I couldn’t wait for the day my last exam was over.

So why on earth should I choose to come back for more?

to be continued…

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Posted by: Michael
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PING! This is Michael going live!

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