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London Life

Posted by: Olly Nguyen

Primrose Hill at dawn. I think it’s rare for a spot in London to be more majestic, and London is certainly a city full of majesty. I’m drinking in a panoramic vista which stretches on my left from Stratford almost 10 miles in the east, across the jagged mountain range of the City of London, and out across to the Royal Parks in the west.

The tip of the Shard is obscured by a single low-hanging rain cloud this morning, which nevertheless is pierced by the brilliant morning sun. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the view of Manhattan from New Jersey, except instead of shipping containers criss-crossed by train tracks, my foreground this morning is the verdant green carpet of Regent’s Park criss-crossed by the tracks of my fellow joggers.

Just beyond Regent’s Park, hidden from my present view, is the grand John Nash-designed Sainsbury building, icon of London Business School. We do have some startlingly attractive environs.

School is back in session for the Spring Term, the first week of which is internship recruiting week for my MBA class. I’m sure this is of much interest for anyone interested in business school, but as I’m confident that we’ll revisit this topic over the next few months, I’m just going to leave you with this little teaser. ;-)

Instead, I’m thinking about London itself. In the frenzy of term-time, whether it’s the height of exam week, or the depths of recruiting season, I think it becomes a little too easy to take the incredible location of our business school for granted. Even for me, practically a native Londoner, sometimes a treasure like Primrose Hill can be a mere kilometre away from campus but feel way too far away when that last paragraph on your fourteenth cover letter still needs to be edited.

And yet, the London location is truly one of LBS’ competitive advantages. We enjoy world-class cuisine, exceptional culture and night-life, a plethora of desirable potential employers, and, of course, those startlingly attractive vistas. Location is, I think, an oft-overlooked but crucial aspect of any decision to uproot one’s life for even a period of two years. I’m pretty sure that even my busiest classmates will attest to that, and also would probably report that the payoff from relocating to London in particular is wholly worthwhile.

I probably can’t do London justice in the context of this simple blog, so I’ll stop here, but I do encourage any readers that if they haven’t made the trip to our great city yet, then they really must do so post haste. And for those who have been once already, come again. I assure you that there’s still plenty to discover here.

 

“I have conversed with the Spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.” – William Blake, 1757-1827

 

*P.S. – if you want a taster of the view to which I refer, clever Google Street View has some great views: just use 51°32’21.9″N 0°09’40.6″W

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Term One. Done.

Posted by: Olly Nguyen

It has been a mad, gasping, frenetic rush to the finish line, but it’s here. We are at the end of the Autumn term, and the close of the first term of our MBA! We finished our finals over the weekend, and the sense of relief mingled with joy is palpable. This week carries with it a sense of moment that we last had four months ago, gazing up at the vaulted ceiling of the Old Billingsgate Market in the City, on our very first day of Orientation.

So in the spirit of reminiscing about the whirlwind of this introduction to MBA life, a little, light-hearted list of memorable MBA moments so far – coordinated with my most overused emojis.

Emoji Face with tears of joy – crying with laughter emoji. There have been far too many of these moments – our Stream C whastapp group is generally a hoot, but I probably most consistently laugh because of the brilliant LBS balls comics in the Daily Nash (our humourous newspaper).
Emoji smiling face with halo – angelic emoji. Also there have been many moments of kindness. The environment at LBS is intense and high-pressure, for sure, but it’s also incredibly collaborative. An MBA 2016 taking 5 minutes just to chat to me and cheer me up on a low day springs to mind.
Emoji open mouth and cold sweat – cold sweat emoji. The corollary to #2 I guess. We appreciate the kindness when times are a little bit manic. I think this one sums up our collective feeling upon discovering that we had three back-to-back finals over 36 hours. On a weekend.
face-screaming-in-fear – horror emoji. Then there was that week when we had 2 corporate finance tutorials due, a study group case, accounting questions, a strategy assessment… plus having to prepare a presentation to be delivered to the entire student body.
Emoji with cool shades – cool cucumber emoji. The feeling of getting A+s in said assignments (and an amazing response to the presentation).
emoji-heart-eyes – heart-eyes emoji. Also many of these, but one to call out is the amazingly persuasive speech that my stream-mate Julien made in week one, to convince us that the business does have a social responsibility… our future kids were appealed to, people wept and love was all around. But more seriously – it was an inspiring, statesman-ly speech worthy of Aristotle. Bravo.
1437169987-uncomfortable-emoji-2 – awkies emoji. The look on our professor’s face when she realised that the EasyJet corporate promo video that she just played to us was created by our stream’s ad guru…
Emoji Sleepy face – sleepy emoji. If you’re doing business school right, there’s probably not enough time for this!
Hug face -handsy-happy emoji. A special one for Mallika: this emoji really does represent so many things, but I chose this because it reminds me of the perpetual thrill of being at business school. It’s still sometimes dream-like that I can wake up everyday and meet, debate with and enjoy the company of some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever had the privilege to be associated with.
The school determined that as a group we would be communal, courageous, ambitious, eclectic and engaged. Looking back on this term, these are certainly labels I’ll happily apply to all of us here.

Happy Holidays and safe travels to everyone.

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Networking.
It’s a polarising concept, for sure. But it’s one that, for success in life generally, let alone B-School life, is extremely valuable.
It’s something that I’ve personally found deeply frightening, but lately, I’m growing to appreciate the importance of networking more and more.
For this post, I wanted to share a few networking lessons which I’m trying to work through.

1) Having a relevant connection. When I was in Singapore, one of my classmates kindly connected me to a business that I found really exciting – (an impact investing hub). The meeting was supposed to be with the CFO, who appeared to have forgotten that we were meeting, and came almost 10 minutes late to the room where I patiently waited. After introducing myself and my background and my interests, he made about 30 seconds of polite small chat before suggesting that he include one of his direct reports in the conversation. On returning, he promptly excused himself as something urgent had come up. I was obviously a little embarrassed, but nevertheless, the CFOs delegate and I actually ended up having a very robust conversation, thanks to her having an MBA connection to Oxford, and her interest in a report I had written in a previous life. I realised afterwards that, the connection with the CFO just hadn’t been right, and he was totally correct in linking me with someone more appropriate. I also should caveat that I don’t at all chalk that as a loss or second-best, but simply a correcting of the system. Through my new connection, I am actually still linked in to the CFO, who was apparently impressed with the report she gave to him afterwards. The moral – good networking is a patience game, not going straight for the jugular.

2) Keeping the Options open. A crucial lesson I learned there was how important being open to new pieces of information is. Sometimes it takes several networking ‘leaps’ to get to the right destination. For example, a chance conversation with my former partner at Deloitte led to her connecting me with a director in the firm, with whom I hit it off. Catching up over a drink last week led to a meeting with a researcher in a think tank that I never dreamed I’d be able to meet with. Riding those degrees of separation is super-powerful, though again, is only worthwhile if you’re not just trying to bypass connections to grab an audience with some distant connection.

3) Having a great place. This one won’t help in all situations. Sometimes networking happens at events that you’re attending. Sometimes you have to network on the phone, or passing through the Plowden building columns. But for those times where you have the chance to meet up, one-for-one over coffee, having a good place to do this is key. I’m extremely fortunate to enjoy access to a really spectacular meeting place in central London, but it doesn’t have to be anything grand. The comfort from arranging to meet at a familiar place can give you a confidence boost to really enable those richer and more fruitful discussions. I’ve met people far more senior than I have a right to be inviting, and because I was comfortable with where we were meeting, I think that I was that much more comfortable in how I was presenting myself.

4) Take the plunge. Sometimes, you can’t just lean on your network. Especially at the innumerable events, speaker series and conferences that b-school life affords us, simply strolling up to someone you found interesting and sticking your hand out is the only way to do it. (I mean handshake, not facepalm, by the way). I managed to get a fantastic meeting with a very impressive speaker at a debate I witnessed, by doing just that at the end of the event. A crucial corollary is to think about why they would be interested in speaking to you. I think of this as being different to why you would be interested in speaking to them. That’s kind of a given, since you’re the one doing the approaching. I simply told the speaker that I admired her arguments in the debate, and listening to them made me wonder if she would be interested in the topic of the conference that I am organising. She said she was and gave me her card and we went from there.

I hope some of these examples help to illustrate some aspects of networking beyond obvious. Maybe you’ll work your own rules of thumb out for yourself, I’d love to hear about them! Good luck!

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I’ve got a ton of blog content all of a sudden so you’ll be getting a double dose this fortnight. Chronologically, I need to keep you all updated on LBS shares. We had our second instalment last Wednesday, and once again, the team managed to source a wonderful array of speakers from across the LBS community. I am beginning to suspect that the job is not actually that hard, the school is just populated with so many people who have enjoyed some frankly bonkers life experiences.

Firstly, the excellent Conrad Woodring spent his speech illustrating the highs and the lows of working and living in Gabon for two years.
As a lengthy aside, Conrad had a background in infrastructure, and before we got anywhere near the African continent, he showed us an image of an oil refinery somewhere around the Gulf of Mexico. I bring this up because, oddly, the miles of steel stretching out to an endless horizon had a certain romance to it. The thought that struck me was about how many people, families, lives were touched by that expanse of metal and concrete and steam. It brought home the marvel of ‘industry’ in its simplest sense – the ambition of humans to marshal themselves in the thousands like ants to build this epic construction which in turn powers the day-to-day lives of many millions. Are these edifices our era’s pyramids? Or perhaps those were yesterday’s pyramids, and today’s pyramids are intangible, digital and financial monuments. Anyways, I digress.

Conrad described life in Gabon: snakes, eating pangolin (an anteater-thing which tastes awful, apparently) suffering from dengue fever, and receiving death threats. As you do. More importantly though, he told us about the ‘Agence Nationale des Grands Traveux’ – ANGT, a newly formed government department tasked with more efficiently and transparently managing the government’s infrastructure spend. Conrad’s tale became a lesson in public sector reform and encountering corruption. He attributed much of the ANGT’s success thus far to the crusading agenda being driven by the new president, a sign of the good that can come from strong leadership.

Our second speaker was a member of staff, Miriam O’Regan. Miriam’s share was part travel guide, part memoir and part call-to-arms, as she related her myriad experiences of volunteering in both Nepal and Thailand. She was passionate, funny and charming whilst she brought home the pathos with photos of the orphans, prisoners and elderly who she shared her time and support with. Her stories were another reminder that there is a world outside the ivory tower – the aspirations of some of the children she taught were to be teachers and nurses, because the children wanted to help others. It’s a truth that altruism is not a middle-class, western conceit.

Finally, the last share, I’ll keep short and sweet – mainly because I’m not sure any words can do justice to my feeling of amazement. Fergus Davidson, one of the Masters in Management, took us on his journey to the North Pole… to play rugby there. The purpose of his incredible trip was to raise money for the rugby children’s charity Wooden Spoon. Not only did he hazard the harsh conditions of the arctic, treat us to some hauntingly beautiful images of the remote tundra, he also casually raised £50,000 for the whole endeavour. I was left wondering whether to be more impressed by the feat or the fundraising!

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So, I am discovering how difficult it is to find content for blogging. As life here at LBS becomes busier by the day, it has been hard to find one unifying theme, other than frenzy!

Friday however, ended up being a perfect day, from a life and a blog-posting perspective. I have three particular moments from the day to share.

First, during ‘Leading through Conflict’. In our group of ten, we were challenged – with ten sheets of newspaper spread out on the floor, each of us was required to touch the newspaper, and have no body part touching the floor. Easy, right?

Then, of course, two sheets were removed. Even with eight remaining, it wasn’t too hard to share across ten pairs of feet. But for the last round, we were left surrounding one lonely scrap of newspaper.

It was pretty apparent we wouldn’t all be able to fit. Before we started arguing about who was going to get to stand on it, I suggested sitting on our chairs to avoid the floor, and holding the paper with our hands. Score one for teamwork.

The course was about managing potential conflicts, but for me, it was a neat illustration of a wider point about the state of the world. In our post-exercise discussion, we observed that we didn’t particularly cooperate when it wasn’t necessary, when there was one newspaper per person. However, when resources got scarce, we not only instinctively recognised the need to cooperate, we also managed to rapidly innovate.

My takeaway was that the normalisation of global resource scarcity should naturally give rise to better and faster forms of social innovation. I came to LBS wanting to be challenged and to explore such ideas further, but I had imagined that only like-minded friends would geek out about social impact with me. It’s heartening to know that this is a place where I can learn specific lessons even from my general courses.

But away from those lofty thoughts, Friday was also an opportunity to come back to the real world, and remember that it’s not all about philosophy at LBS. I then travelled across town to our LBS for London charity, Equal People.

We spent the afternoon in the company of Special Educational Needs users, supervising their use of the internet. We helped them with e-mails, and introduced some of them to YouTube and in turn, they gave us a fascinating and refreshing perspective on life in London.

I think this ended up being a great B-school moment because it was a real-life example of how the diverse social and learning environment at LBS does not just stop at the campus threshold, and that away from academic theory and career goal-seeking, it’s important to step outside of what can sometimes feel like an ivory tower existence.

Finally, as I wandered back through Notting Hill, I stopped by a Vietnamese street food stall. It was 4PM and I hadn’t managed to grab lunch so I was starving.

Whilst waiting, I remembered an article about one of my strategy professors researching the behaviour of market stall traders in India. I struck up a conversation with the owner about where she would like to set up shop – it turned out that they’d in fact been seeking to open a fixed premises, but weren’t sure about where the best location in London was, and whether they should target lunch trade or dinnertime…

A real-life business, identifying their market, understanding their customers and making choices which will affect the way they run their business… sounded a bit like a strategy case to me! I left them with an e-mail address, and took away an awesome bún thịt nướng (pork noodle salad). I am already looking forward to sharing some of my b-school learnings with Nha Trang kitchen.

As a group, at LBS we describe ourselves as eclectic, engaged, ambitious, communal and courageous. Friday had a little bit of all of that, and it’s these encounters that I think really typify the LBS experience.

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An evening in conversation with…

Posted by: Olly Nguyen
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Hi! My name is Olly, and I’m privileged and excited to start writing this blog and sharing my experiences with you. Since this is my first post, I figured a bit of background would be helpful.

I’ve joined the LBS MBA 2017 class, one of 417 this year. I’m a US/UK dual national, (being born in the former, and working in the latter for the past 6 years). I spent my career at Deloitte in London, working on a variety of new initiatives, ranging from our CFO Transition programme to consulting in the social enterprise marketplace.

Term one has well and truly kicked off. I was debating what to describe from a fascinating first few weeks of Pre-term, but yesterday happened to attend one particular event that I think perfectly illustrates why it is so fantastic to a part of the LBS community. So I’ve got to tell you about it.

My thought process goes something like this: it’s 18:00.  Wednesday evening. It’s raining. Not only do I have a surplus of H20, I’m innundated with options to spend my evening. Do I attend the Finance careers talk about networking? Or follow a couple of classmates to explore the retail and luxury goods sector? What about that club kick-off meeting? There is of course that old standby, the ever excellent Windsor pub…

Happily, I received a reminder to an event I had completely overlooked: LBS Shares. After almost a snap decision, I arrived at one of the cosier lecture theatres not knowing much more about the event other than three people affiliated with the school were lined up to speak, and one of them was about politics (which had sold me).

We started with James Covey, an MBA2016, who had chosen to share with us why he believed that we should be interested in Politics. James had grown up attached to the US Diplomatic corps, and convincingly painted a picture of his memories of the stark contrasts in living conditions in the centre of Washington DC, which ultimately led to his working on the Obama election campaign in several states, and eventually on to the US Department of Energy. James’ delivery had a penchant for dry comic timing, and his content was backed by both knowledge and passion. Given my burgeoning interest in the role of politics in the world, I was just saddened that there wasn’t time to turn the questions into a protracted debate!

However, James was ably followed by a member of the faculty, Professor Daniel Effron, who shared with us some of his research interests – specifically the ‘last chance to cheat’. Professor Effron questioned our assumptions about the most likely parameters for individuals to engage in dishonest behaviour. His fascinating experiment results clearly indicated that there was a propensity for cheating at the last possible juncture. It was clear that this sort of insight might be extremely relevant for general managers seeking to curb delinquent behaviour in their organisations.

Finally, one of my classmates, Farai Mwamuka, MBA 2017, regaled us with how Hip-hop was a driver for his success. In all honesty, I’d never considered such a unique motivator, but Farai’s account of his interactions with music, from being a regular listener of music growing up, to incorporating a budding rap career (cruelly dashed short) to producing and even touring, all while also earning himself a degree!

LBS Shares is a great way to meaningfully encounter the almost ludicrous diversity of backgrounds that the LBS community has to offer. The physical proximity of the speakers and the fact that they were part of our community meant that asking questions was easier and more fruitful than many of the speaker events that I’ve attended. It was a simple, powerful example of why being at London Business School is such a humbling yet exciting opportunity.

Thanks for reading – do let me know if there are any topics or experiences that you might be interested in hearing more about, as I’m rather new to all this (blogging and MBA-ing)!

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