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Mid-MBA resolutions

Posted by: Nick
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Well, I have accomplished exactly that which I set out not to do; I have gone many, many months without posting anything, either to the London Business School blog, nor to my own.  Shame on me.  I think its time to make some mid-MBA resolutions.

But first, before we get to that, I think I had better fill you in on the last two terms of my MBA life.

Some highlights:

  • Most of my classes were superb.  I am continually impressed by the knowledge level of the professors at this school.  While there were some exceptions to the rule, most of my classes were enjoyable, and provided me with a high level of learning.
  • Spring break was spent with a small group of my classmates on a certain Communists island in the Caribbean of the Southern coast of Florida.  Good times had by all!
  • The Managing Organizational Behaviour audit is a project that all study groups must complete as a part of their MOB class.  It is basically an outside consulting project, where the study group must source a client, and then perform some type of audit for them, looking at Organizational Behavioural issues.  My study group, C7, had what was probably the furthest client from London; we were hired by a small chain of kickboxing/fitness studios in Iowa, USA.  Myself and another study group member were flown out to Des Moines by the company, and spent one week there conducting our research.  The end deliverable was an academic paper to our professor, and a 23 page report to the company on what OB issues they are currently facing, what issues might arise with their expansion, and how they might resolve those issues.
  • The Market Strat simulation was great.  Each group was given control of a virtual company producing an imaginary type of electrial product.  Some companies started off as large, market leading companies, and others (like mine) started at the back of the pack; little money and few customers.  Over the course of a few weeks, we had to decide how much money to spend on marketing, what segments to do, what other types of products we would develop, etc., etc.  In the end, each group was judged not for its final position, but how it had performed relative to the other groups in a similar starting position.  Great fun, and a welcome change from sitting in LT9 all day.
  • Some classmates and I decided that we didn't actually feel like taking one of our finals, so instead we booked a week long sailing course down in Souther Portugal along the Algarve.  (Actually, what happened was that we booked this course months in advance, planning around our classes/exam, but after we had booked it, one exam was moved).  So, with two LBS chartered boats, 10 LBS students, and 2 sailing instructors, we spend one week in the sun and waves learning all of the basics of skippering a boat.  In the end, we each earned our RYA Day-Skipper license!  One of the best trips I've been on!
  • Our Operations and Technology Management course sent us down to Venice, Italy for a two-day long field trip to see a coal power plant and learn something about Lean Management (something I had PLENTY of in my last job).  Most of us extended for the weekend… so basially I got to explore Venice largly on the school's dime (they paid for our flights and hotel for one night, the rest was one us). 

Well, I know that those few bullet points can't possibly summarize the past 10 months of my life very well.  There is so much more to tell, but I will have to let it rest as is.  My two resolutions for the upcoming school year are:

  1. Read more case studies prior to class.  For those incoming 2011's… I can't stress enough how much better your classroom experience (let alone not having to worry about whether the prof will cold call you) will be if you just read your case studies!
  2. Blog.  More.  School & personal.  'Nuff said.
  3. Make more of an effort socially – during the past two semesters, I've become somewhat of a recluse when it comes to school activities.  I need to attend more Sundowners, parties, conferences, etc.  Shouldn't be a problem since next term I only have classes on Monday evenings, and all day every other Friday. :-)  I'm going to try to get a 2nd internship during that time to add to my CV, earn some money, etc.
  4. I'll be spending Spring term of this year (Jan-early April) in Barcelona on exchange at IESE.  I resolve to see as much of the surrounding area as I possibly can! :-)

Well, I guess that's it for now.  But how am I spending this summer, you say?  I am interning at Shell Chemical in London, in a strategy analyst role.  It is very interesting working in the largest company in the world (according to Forbes, July 2009).  I'm learning a lot, and have already been sent to Rotterdam, Netherlands once.  I'll be going back in a few weeks to present the findings of my project. 

Ok, now its time to end this post.  I've been putting off schlepping my bike across London to have it repaired, but I guess I need to get on with it.

Nice to be back!

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Whew, where do I begin?

Posted by: Nick
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I can't even remember when the last time I blogged was, either on the school's blog or my personal one.  I'm sure the school admins are regretting selecting me as a blogger… I shall do my best to redeem myself in the coming term.

It is impossible to write about everything I've been up to in the last few months.  I suppose you will have to be satisfied with a list of highlights.  So, without further ado:

  • First term's classes – well, what is there to say?  They are over (with the exception of Corporate Finace which has extended a few weeks into this term).  I am amazed, I mean positively floored, at how much I've learned since school began in August.  And this was only the first term!  I can now use various frameworks to analyze a company's strategy, calculate bond prices, explain to you how exactly a company handles warranties in its accounting books, and why exactly Lehman Brothers is like an unlucky camel*.  WACC and CAPM are no longer meaningless acronyms, and I can tell you everything there is to know about women's lifestyle magazines**. 

  • Exams – pure stress, but good outcomes overall.  Apparently in professor-speak, "This year's exam will be exactly the same as last year's" really means, "They will in no way shape or form be similar".  Se la vie.  Overall, I got good grades, and I learned more in the week studying for exams than I think I did all term.
  • Travel – What would be the point of living in London if you couldn't travel frequently?  I continued sailing with the London Business School Sailing Club in the Solent Sun Sail Regattas.  I gotta tell you, sailing in the English Channel in the middle of November is a freezing cold, wet experience.  It was lovely!  At the end of the term, a college buddy from the US came over and we spent a week partying in London and Amsterdam.  Good times had by all.  I went home to Philadelphia for my first Christmas there in four years, and then I spent a fantastic (but cold!) week in Morocco with some classmates.  Marrakesh and Fes were spectacular, but I advice you to A) not go in January… you are NEVER warm as most buildings are not heated, and B) don't let the snake charmer guy put a King Cobra around your neck.  I don't care if he tells you it doesn't bite and had its venom removed that day!!  It is still a highly unpleasant experience which may require a change of pants afterwards!!
  • Internship recuiting – now the real fun begins.  Almost every day one or more companies are here on campus to give presentations about themselves and recruit for summer internships.  It is a strange sight: well dressed students walking around campus in, dressed for the corporate part, trying desperately to hide their neuroticism ("Did you hear anything from XYZ company yet!?"), and sporting the bloodshot eyes that come with trying to balance five core courses (Discovering Entrepreneurial Opportunites, Managing Organizational Behavior, Corporate Finance, Marketing, and Decision and Risk Analysis), 1-3 electives, company presentations, internship research, and the general "networking" that is required to land said internship.  At this time of year, most students subsist on a diet consisting purely of chicken skewers, spring rolls, crab puffs, or any other h'or durve that the school's catering facilities provides at the networking functions.  I personally am going for industry, not banking or consulting, so my real fun doesn't begin for another week or so, though I have started attending presentations (to learn about the companies, not for the free food, I swear).

Overall, my experience at London Business School so far has been almost entirely positive.  I absolutely made one of the best decisions of my life coming here, and I am already sad that time is flying by so quickly.  The summer is fast approaching, and with that graduation after that.  I know it really still is 1.5 years away, but it feels too close nonetheless.

Alright, time to head up to Sundowners.  AB InBev is hosting it tonight and providing copious amounts of delicious, free beer.  Lets hope they have some internship opportunities afterall! 

* Quote of the term – "Lehman Brothers is like unlucky camel who gets screwed by polar bear" ~one of my professors

** No, I am not generally in the habit of reading Vogue, Cosmo, or Marie Claire… my group did a market research report for Managerial Economics on the UK's Women's Lifestyle Magazine market.  Needless to say, I will NEVER go into the publishing industry.

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So many clubs, so little time…

Posted by: Nick
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My shins are black and blue, my knees have soft mushy spots which hurt to touch, I can feel muscles in my back that I didn’t know existed, my forearms feel like rubber, and I have a red scratch under my eye from getting punched in the face by a French girl.  No, I didn’t have a rough night out in East London… I spent the weekend sailing with the London Business School sailing club in the Sunsail Regatta in Portsmouth. 

It has been a long time since I’ve been in a sailboat where I was doing something more than just relaxing, sipping wine, and taking in the sun.  This was racing and I had forgotten how physically taxing (and exhilarating) it can be.  With all of my bumps and bruises though, I got off easy; my classmate MK, who was on the other boat, got in a fight with a sailboat and the sailboat won.  Basically, the main sheet caught his neck as they were jibbing and it smashed his face into the deck.  He’s a trooper though, he was in class the next day, bandages and all.

Well, as fun as I had during sailing, Krish already told me he had written a blog post about the whole experiences, so I’m going to use this as an opportunity to segway to the topic of clubs in general.

The shear number of active clubs at this school is crazy… its almost impossible to keep track of them all.  The trap which many first-years fall into is to join too many.  There are many clubs that I’m interested in, but I realized within the first few weeks that I was going to have to prioritize and only participate in those I really wanted to be involved in.  Trying to fill professional, social, and sports needs, I have joined the following clubs:

  • Venture Capital Club – one of my main professional goals is to work in Venture Capital, preferably in Renewable/Green Tech or Nanotechnology.  Though this is a lofty goal (it can be very difficult to land a VC gig right out of school) but the VC club greatly increases your chances of breaking into the industry.  There are numerous speakers, entrepreneur pitches, and competitions.  I’m particularly looking forward to the VCIC competition in the Spring Term where we form fictitious VC funds and evaluate real entrepreneurs’ business plans.
  • Energy Club – As I have a strong interest in renewable energy, and I may not be able to land a coveted VC job, I’ve started looking into working for a big energy firm such as BP in their alternative energy group.  I’ve been learning quite a lot about the industry through the clubs events, and I look forward to more.
  • Entrepreneurship Club – I’m still holding onto that dream of starting my own company right out of school (yet another pathway into VC), but I’m having trouble coming up with a winning idea.  The entrepreneurship club’s  speakers and competitions help bring ideas to the surface and offer inspiration.
  • Squash Club – I used to enjoy playing racquetball in college, and squash is the next closest thing.  Amazingly enough, the London Business School squash club has full access to the Lord’s Squash Courts!  The opportunity to play at such an exclusive club is invaluable, not only for the experience, but also for the people you may find yourself playing squash against!
  • Student Ambassador – ok, so its not really a club, but it will be taking up a considerable amount of my time.  A former student ambassador, Dana McNabb, was instrumental in my decision to apply to London Business School.  I decided a while ago that I wanted to help prospective students learn more about the school, just as she helped me.  I’ll be attending information sessions, giving campus tours, and generally making myself available to answer questions about the school.  You can see a listing of all Student Ambassadors here.
  • Sailing Club – as I mentioned above, I had a great time sailing and want to do as much of it as possible during my time at London Business School.  My boat, skippered by the incomparable Miranda, came in 3rd place last weekend out of about 20 boats!!  Each year the sailing club takes a spring break trip somewhere to go sailing… last year it was Thailand… its up to us this year to figure out where we want to go.  I’m thinking Vietnam sounds good.  Today I start a seven week Day Skipper course taught at the school, covering maritime basics such as navigation, etc..  Its the first step towards getting my Skipper License which will allow me to rent boats and take them out.

Well, there are a few other clubs I ‘dabble’ in (Poker, Rock n’ Roll, and Wine & Cheese come to mind), but these are the main ones I’m making a strong effort to be active in.  I’m at least making sure I go to all of the meetings and events, but once you start factoring in class trips, friends’ birthday drinks, company networking events, etc. it become hard to keep all of the balls in the air. 

By far one of the best aspects of London Business School is the extremely high level of involvement that the student body has in clubs and activities.  There is something for everyone offered at the school, and if there is a club you want to join which doesn’t exist, the school makes it quite easy to start a new club!

Oh, and it should be noted that I didn’t do anything to deserve getting punched in the face by said French girl… it was entirely by accident… I was manning the Genoa sheet, pulling it in after we tacked.  She slipped the ratchet handle onto the winch before I could get the sheet through the locking clamp.  I then leaned in to try and get the sheet over the handle and onto the winch while she was turning the winch handle, and as her fist came around, she caught me square in the eye.   Ouch!

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I’ve been rather lax…

Posted by: Nick
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I’ve been rather lax with regard to my blog posting.  When I was researching schools, I would follow some bloggers’ blogs almost religiously and I found myself getting annoyed/disappointed when they would stop posting or post intermittently.  Being a blogger myself, I understood only too well how difficult it is to post on a regular basis; sometimes you are too busy and sometimes you just lack inspiration.  That said, I made a promise to myself that once the MBA started, I would keep posting on a regular basis because I know how much reading others’ blogs helped me.

I’ve decided to take a crack a "Day in the life" post.  The difficult thing about this however is that each day in the life of an MBA student is so varied that it is difficult to write about a typical day.  The best approach to this will probably be to write a series of these; the reader will then be able to see how different each day can be.

So, here’s my last Thursday in detail –

7:00 am – alarm goes off.  During the first two weeks of school, I had absolutely no problem getting out of bed.  I think that was due to the excitement aspect of being back in school again.  Now the excitement has worn off and I’m cursing the alarm clock.  While eating my cereal, I read and to see how much more of the financial world has collapsed today.  Crazy stuff going on!  I make a mental note to start looking at alternative careers to finance, because the prospect of getting an internship in finance this summers seems rather dim.  Quick shower to wake myself up, and then its time for stats.

8:00 – 11:30 am – Sit in front of Excel trying to determine the statistical model that predicts store profits for a fictitious retailer called Store24.  The possible variables include management tenure, crew tenure, number of local competitors, sales, etc., etc.  After a few hours, of trying to figure out which root power gives the better adjusted R squared value for our model, I pack up my computer to head to school.

11:30 – 11:45 am – Walk (quickly) from my flat in Saint John’s Wood to campus.  I love the walk… St. John’s Wood is a beautiful area and along the way I pass some Middle Eastern shops which I buy stuff like hummus in.  Today though I’m in a hurry, so I pass by quickly.

11:50 – 12:30 pm – One on one CV review session (oops, I’m 5 minutes late!).  After being given instruction on exactly how the "London Business School CV format" works, everyone in our class prepared a new and improved CV (or resume as we say in the US).  Career Services is one of the most important aspects at any top MBA program, and at London Business School they are top notch.  I sit down with a woman from career services and we go over my new resume achievement point by achievement point.  She has lots of constructive things to say, and I go home with a CV covered in notes.  I’ll have to prepare a second version for another round of "CV surgery" so that I can have a really good CV to post on the school’s portal.  The student CVs will all be visible to employers starting sometime in October, so it is important that we get this right.

12:30 – 2:00 pm – Lunch and bit of a break.  I buy a sandwich from The Bite and sit outside in the quad eating and chatting with classmates.  I use some of this time to reply to emails via my trusty new iPhone (I’d say 2/3 of the class has one… we’re all followers apparently…)

2:00 – 3:15 pm – I head over to the Fairbairn Conference room in Plowden for 1hr15mins of "Networking Skills".  Now, don’t get me wrong… I see what they were trying to do with this, but most of the students felt that it was kind of a waste of time.  Basically we were told that networking is important, that we should do it, and that we should start doing it now.  Hopefully the next session in October which actually focuses on specific skills such as how to properly introduce yourself, inject (and remove) yourself from a conversation, etc. will be better and more interesting.

3:30 – 6:00 pm – Lorenzo from my study group has booked a meeting room over in A-wing for my study group.  We spend the next 2.5 hours discussing our data analysis for the stats assignment and decide on the best model to use and how we intend to split up the report.  I repeatedly curse myself for not opting out of statistics… all I had to do was take an exam which I would have easily passed having been an engineer, but at the time I thought my stats were pretty rusty, so I’d better re-take the class.

6:10 – 7:00 pm – I cross the street and walk over to the gym.  2000 meters on the rowing machine (that thing finds muscles I never even knew I had), and a few weight machines later, I start the walk home to Saint John’s Wood.

7:15 – 8:00pm – get home, shower, change… I’ve got a date tonight (yes, the MBA still leaves time for romance…)!

8:15pm – arrive at my date’s house.  She’s cooked dinner for me and her flatmates, all of whom are either lawyers or bankers.  The four of us spend the evening discussing the crazy things going on in the financial world.  The bankers speculate as to whether they will have jobs in the near future or not.  Again, I make a mental note to look into alternative internships to finance. 

Well, that’s my first "Day in the life of an MBA student".  I hope it helps you get some idea of what we do in school.  I’ll follow this up with others that will give you a better idea of how varied our days are.

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Well, the first week of my London Business School MBA is over.  We are finished with Understanding General Management (someone in the class calculated that that means we are finished with 2% of our total credits) and I will soon be finished with Business Statistics.  I really wish I had opted out of statistics (or sadistics as my Grandfather called it from his days at Wharton) because, though things are worded in the form of business problems, once you distill out the data, the stuff we are learning is very basic for anyone who has studied engineering.  I suppose the only thing I am getting out of the class are some new tricks on Excel which I didn’t know about; new tricks that I am sure will come in great handy over the next few years.

When not in class, I’ve been spending time with my classmates.  Activities have included drinking at The Windsor, drinking at The Volunteer, drinking at The Hobgoblin, drinking at the school’s own MBAr, or going down to Picadilly Circus to go… you guessed it… drinking.  Again, keeping in mind that in the MBA student world, drinking together is an important part of the course and is thus referred to as networking.

My first class, Understanding General Management, was quite interesting.  The course was only a week long because it followed the block format which some classes are offered in here.  Basically, by taking a class from 9am-5pm, we can finish the whole class in as little as 3 days.  This of course wouldn’t work (I don’t think) for something like Finance 2, but for a course like UGM, its just fine.
We started UGM with a case study on Honda.  In the b-school world, its probably once of most famous of all cases.  We were assigned to read ‘Honda (A)’ which paints a very rosy picture of how Sochiro Honda and his cohort Takeo Fujisawa conquered the American motorcycle market in the mid-1970′s.  By the time class discussions began, most of us ignorant students were of the mindset that Honda was a ‘superman’ in terms.  They had entered the US marketplace with such skill, foresight, and wisdom that clearly, as we are all aspiring future managers, we should emulated their overall strategy.
After the discussion died down a little, the Honda (B) case study was handed out to us and we were given the chance to read it.  Boy, did it paint a different picture of Honda.  Wisdom was replaced with recklessness, strategy was replaced with shear luck.  Most of the class enjoyed this image of Honda much more; it painted the founders of the company as men; men with flaws, and in a sense showed us that regular people can accomplish great things.  Another purpose of the dual-case study was to teach us that we should not always believe everything we read in case studies; the bias or intention of the author determines how the final article portrays a company, not reality.  In truth, I expect that the read Honda and Fujisawa lay somewhere between Honda (A) and Honda (B), but I guess we’ll never know.

Airline_simulation_winners_2During the course, we also studying Apple vs. IBM, American Express, People Express (a discount airline that went bankrupt in the ’80s), and the Body Shop.  The People Express day was probably the most interesting.  We broke out into our study groups to run an Airline Management Simulation program on the computer. 
Each team controlled general management matrices such as % revenues to spend on marketing, number of new hires, etc. and the aim was to get the highest stock price after 9 years of operation.  After our first try, we were allowed to sit and reformulate our strategy.  In the end, the winning team received a magnum of champagne, which was promptly imbibed in class.  See, us MBA students even network during classes.
Well, that’s it for now.  I have more drinking networking to go and do.  Haha, actually no, I’m kidding… its only 10 in the morning.  I have to go and finish writing up my study group’s recommendations for a fictional Chinese food restaurant called Red Dragon.  For Business Statistics we had to advise the restaurant on a policy to offer a 10 pound (still can’t figure out how to type pounds sterling on my US keyboard) certificate to customers in a 10 mile radius when their orders were late, and what time limit to place on that guarantee.  Actually a pretty fun exercise, so I guess I am getting something out of Sadistics Statistics after all.

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Posted by: Nick
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Wow, what can I say?  I’m finally here.  It’s been 20 months since I first mailed my application to London Business School for the MBA Class of 2009.  I spent two months waiting for an interview decision, a month waiting for an admissions decision, five months on the waitlist, and then another month waiting for a deferred admissions decision.  Once I received an offer for the MBA Class of 2010, I had another eleven months to wait for classes to actually begin.  Those were perhaps the longest months of my life, during which time I tried to distract myself with a month-long trip backpacking though Indonesia and another month visiting friends and family back in the States. Needless to say, I had an incredible summer.

Now that I’ve arrived  in London, moved into my flat, met my classmates, and begun orientation, I’m finding it difficult to express everything I’ve been feeling lately.  I’m continuously amazed at the variety of my classmates; MBA2010 is represented by 60 different countries and 45 different languages. The level of achievement that some of my classmates have already accomplished is impressive, as well as the mix of different careers.   My classes are filled with surgeons, lawyers, helicopter pilots, bankers, theoretical nuclear physicists, ex-politicians, entrepreneurs, and a famous concert pianist.  I have truly never been surrounded by this many highly accomplished, successful people… and it feels great!

To say I’ve been busy would be an understatement;  even prior to orientation everyone was busy partying networking, usually in the form of housewarming parties, pub crawling in Marylebone, or clubbing in Piccadilly.  Now that orientation has started, we’re spending our days at Lord’s Cricket Ground (its like baseball… sorta… but it lasts days) listening to school administrators and alumni talk about what the next 21 months will hold in store for us, and our evenings doing more… erhm… networking.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I’ve had to find time to go food shopping (for your own sanity, do not do the dollar/pound conversion in your head if you ever come to London… and especially don’t do the RMB/pound conversion); set up internet in my apartment flat; register myself with the 1,000 groups, clubs, and activities I’m interested in; and answer the 1.5 billions emails received each day from the school’s Portal.  To say I’ve been busy would be a vast understatement, and I get the feeling that our level of activity now with pale in comparison to how busy we’ll be once classes begin next week.

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