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On the train

Posted by: Gonzalo
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I was a bit lazy this morning and only left the flat at around 820 as opposed to the usual 720. Given that I was already running a bit late, I decided to take the scenic route to work and strolled down to West Hampstead to take the Thameslink into Farringdon station. I started a new book yesterday, reading in Spanish for a change, something my brother recommended: “The Savage Detectives”. I made my way to the rear end of the platform which is normally less crowded, boarded the train and carried on with my reading / pretending to read for the next 13 odd minutes (You can’t really read for 13 minutes). I looked up and there was a guy with a Vargas Llosa book. Well that is random, I thought. Maybe I should start a conversation? No, I shouldn’t, that’s just weird. The train called at Kings Cross, the fellow reader-in-Spanish stayed on so I took the plunge asking which book he was reading. In the four minutes from Kings Cross to our common stop at Farringdon we figured out we share our name – Gonzalo – and of course a mother tongue, but not a profession, nationality or post code; so much for destiny! A truly random event one could argue. I commute to work every day through different routes and at different times, and he was diverted from his everyday route due to a delay in the Piccadilly Line. Alas, I’ll probably never see him again but we had a nice chat today. When modelling a business decision, one could argue that even more variables interact (i.e. time to leave house, route to take to work, walk to West Hampstead or not, decision to talk to stranger, decision of stranger to engage in conversation, etc.) and sometimes the unexpected happens. When only conservative scenarios and upbeat forecasts are considered, the range of potential outcomes might be reduced. I guess being aware of this issue is one of the points of the Decision Risk Analysis class we are taking as part of our second term at LBS.

While I was having this very odd conversation with my architect name-twin which clearly created some interest from our fellow commuters I was feeling quite warm. At first I guessed it was due to my 20+ minute walk to take the train but then I realised it was the train’s heating system which was clearly well above the required temperature. Beyond making people sweat and grumpy, this is just poor usage of energy and it adds up to the carbon footprint of the rail industry. One would imagine that modern trains which are properly maintained wouldn’t experience this issue but the UK fleet is certainly not modern (with some trains over 30 years old). Angry passenger groups and activists tend to blame the “rail barons” for this lack of investment but I would think it is more related to the structure of the industry during its inception in the 90’s. This is a gross oversimplifications but during privatisation, a few companies gained control of the ‘rolling stock’ and they exert quite a lot of supplier power over rail operators who don’t exactly have a menu of options to choose from as there are no substitutes at the moment. Add this to the fact that the government is trying to cut costs at every corner and the possibility of widespread investments in new trains vanishes. The first sessions of the Strategic Management module introduced business model and industry value creation / capture analysis frameworks that could help solve problems like this in the long run. Beyond the static analysis of one of Porter’s forces, I am quite interested in the interaction between them (in this case between suppliers and regulator) and the ideas it generates for everyday businesses (i.e. development of new suppliers for trains).

It looks like this will be another fun term at LBS

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End of First Term

Posted by: Gonzalo

So, just like that, the first term of the EMBALS2015 came to an end. At the beginning of the term I didn’t really know what to expect but: so far, so good.

I have said this before and I will say it again, I really enjoyed the Developing Effective Managers and Organisations (DEMO) module – and from the looks of our Christmas Party so did some of my fellow classmates. Our lecturer was kind enough to share with us takeaways notes from each class which became the backbone of my study for yesterday’s test. My key takeaway from the first term overall is to be prepared for each class. I kept up with all reading materials and I feel that made all the difference to my learning experience – I even did some pre-reading for Accounting and Finance (where I knew I was weaker) before Orientation Week! During the Christmas break, I will be making a dent on the second term’s reading list which seems more quantitative than the first.

I also enjoyed Managerial Economics, in particular the lecturer’s use of newspaper clippings to underpin some of the key messages from each topic. I will take the liberty to share some of my own as they touch on the message from the quote I shared in my last post:

“The figure of economic activity as a race or contest is somewhat vague in its particulars, but it would appear that, as a race, it has no finishing line and therefore no natural end”.

After reading the excerpt above I kept trying to find a job-hunting target industry where these races based on some form of never-ending counting or accumulation do not prevail. For a while, I thought that academia or some form of research and development job might be my solution – but then I read this article. Don’t get me wrong, some form of output tracking is fine, I do a lot of work around KPI analysis as part of my job but one of my colleagues always warns me about the dangers of “death by KPIs”. I then thought that if it is all about volume of output, what happens to quality considerations? This week I stumbled on this other article. Randy Schekman is quoted here criticizing top-tiered journals that use measures of citations as a proxy for quality by stating that: “A paper can become highly cited because it is good science – or because it is eye-catching, provocative, or wrong.” It would seem that counting is pervasive – how to row against that current? I’ll start with moving my own and my assistant’s yearly objectives away from just focusing on output. With my study group, we agreed at the outset of the programme that we would aim to enjoy the EMBA experience, not just trawl through it.

After reading Schekman’s critique of some academic journals (especially the mention to eye-catching and provocative as factors related to publication) I recalled a BBC documentary I watched about my home country. A journalist represented Peru as the “cocaine capital of the world”. I remembered being incredibly upset by the portrayal of my country as just a drug paradise. Circling back to DEMO, I think I was upset because a number of people will always remember Peru as tied to drugs due to the availability heuristic. The story presented by the BBC was vivid – with clips of a police operation and chats with drug producers – and was aired shortly after two British ladies had been imprisoned for drug smuggling in Peru. Why can’t the press include some good stories to present a balanced picture? I’d take being tied to Machu Picchu, trendy cuisine and even Paddington Bear ahead of cocaine! Note that I am being deliberately obvious in my choice of symbols that could be tied to Peru, there are many great things about the country, and no shortage of calamities either. A short reflection led me to think about ratings, viewership and the counting goes on… This bitter memory led me to do something this morning though, I gave my first Kiva loan to a Peruvian farmer in need of a new cow, so thanks BBC for increasing milk supply. I was feeling very good about myself and then I saw two features of Kiva that made me think about DEMO again. They asked me to donate (15% of the value of my loan) and to share the story with my friends through Twitter. I fell victim to both commitment and consistency and social proof influence techniques by donating to Kiva and spreading the word by tweeting (and now here again).

Clearly, I have memorized those DEMO takeaways, time for a break

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Over the last couple of weeks I spent quite some time visiting the offices of two operating companies co-run by the transport group I work for. This meant a lot of time spent in trains, hotels and meetings. I am rather afraid of flying so I really enjoy my train rides. The scenery on the train from Manchester to York is quite peaceful and gave me some time to read and reflect on some impending choices I need to make. As a substantial proportion of LBS students, I have some doubts about my future career that I hope to solve in the next couple of years. Since the start of the EMBA programme I have frequently been thinking about what kind of job I want to have for the next couple of years. I probably started thinking more about this after we were asked to write about our dream job and eulogy back in Orientation Week.

I fancy myself to be quite rational, but I am aware that this is not always the case. Therefore, I started to write some notes on a piece of paper after the train called at Huddersfield to help me better consider my decision. During my undergraduate degree in Peru I took 65+ modules as part of my Engineering degree (5.5 year undergraduate programme). I would lie if I’d say that I enjoyed Industrial Electricity, Thermodynamics or Mechanical Design, but I quite enjoyed Operations Research. Without going into too much detail, the idea that you can study “systems”, simplify reality with a model and look for better outcomes was quite appealing to me. I am really looking forward to the Decision and Risk Analysis course in the second term to see if I remember anything! Let me now use some concepts from Operations Research to model my decision making process:

Let my goals be: to have a family, to complete my education, and to live in Asia.

Let’s imagine that these can be smartly constructed into an objective function with appropriate weightings. I want to have the best time possible so I will imagine that this function is crown-shaped (i.e. I am a king!). These goals have a limiting effect on my choice set (i.e. feasible region). Articulating these limitations and the ineluctable loan payment, let some constraints be:

• Healthy work-life balance (i.e. working hours less than H hours a week),
• Research-friendly environment, and
• Company with global operations.
• Minimum salary requirement

After seeing some salary numbers during Orientation Week and in the omnipresent MBA rankings, I started thinking a lot about the “minimum salary” constraint. For a couple of weeks I was thinking Portfolio Management, Consulting, Private Equity! I guess it all goes down to my/your “crown”. A series of meetings with Careers Services provided some valuable input as I got information that has further refined my choice set. I’m really curious about what will happen in the next couple of years! As a part-time student my first port is to try to re-shape my current role into what I would like it to be and I am actively doing that.

To conclude and tied to the notion of salary being a constraint and not a part of the objective: Someone was kind enough to comment on my last post jokingly suggesting a writing career and so did a classmate (!). I don’t quite feel up to that task but I’ll share with you a passage by J.M.Coetzee that I read in my favourite hotel in York. I will confess that I am taking his idea out of context as he was writing about nations and I am thinking about individuals, but I still think it’s relevant:

“The figure of economic activity as a race or contest is somewhat vague in its particulars, but it would appear that, as a race, it has no finishing line and therefore no natural end”.

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A happiness formula

Posted by: Gonzalo

Five weekends done of the first term. A number of assignments need to be submitted, time is getting tight, the social committee is planning a trip to Winter Wonderland, and Movember is visible in the classroom. Good times. I arrived at the concept for this post via two different situations. First, in the last session of the CSR/ethics module our spirited lecturer brought a guest speaker to class. He is an alumnus of the school who has set up a business that partners with the NHS to provide heart related services (RPHC). Beyond being impressed by the idea of his business I was reminded that I have a mild heart problem that has drastically changed the way I approach my day-to-day life since it started in 2008. Second, last Monday I was back in St. Barts Hospital to get an echocardiogram to track my progress. It is always humbling to switch from student to object of study as a nurse was discussing the structures of my heart with an apprentice technician. The sound of the machine is quite relaxing though, sort of watery, so I normally have a short nap while being assessed. Without a doubt, birth and death are the flip sides of the same coin, however, probably not standard in this day and age to spend much time thinking about it at the age of 25.

Anyway, as part of the reading for the last CSR session a happiness formula was proposed by Lyubomirksy et al to be the sum of:

S – a biological set point
C – the conditions of your life, and
V – the voluntary activities you do.

With regards to S, I will only say that I am certainly not the happiest person around by any yardstick. I am confident that my seat-mates in the class, my study group, or my colleagues could confirm that I am a bit grouchy.

I will focus my account of the C’s with two of its elements. On the one hand, I experience lack of control related to my heart condition which flares up in the most unexpected situations and reminds me that I need to be prudent. On the other hand, as I grew up and moved out of Peru, my circle of friends has contracted and now I keep in touch with a few meaningful individuals who I might not see all the time but who with I have a tight bond. With regards to my family I mostly communicate with my parents by Skype and my brother by email but I am probably closer with them now than when I lived in Peru with them. Finally, my girlfriend and I have settled down into our flat and I guess we have a blissful existence. No arguments, plenty of cooking and conversation, and a degree of faith that some things just work. Therefore, the other C that really resonates with me is relationships. In a way, the slowing down that resulted from my lack of control, has resulted in a positive change in my relationships, and an overall enhancement of the C-value of my formula. The adaptation principle in action.

What about the V’s though? I have just written an email advocating “process” KPIs instead of measuring outcomes. Some people might wonder if there is time for V’s during an EMBA, but surely V’s can help assess the quality of this whole process. I argue that there is always time and posit three examples of my own. Isn’t it annoying when someone says they are too busy to do something? I actively choose not to be in that group. First, I have decided that over the next 2 years I will teach myself basic Brazilian Portuguese. How? I will start with Duolingo. Come on, just do it, I try to take a lesson before starting to work, one at lunch, and two the evening. Why? Because in the future I want to work with Latin America and if you research why duolingo exists you might just want to join. Os meninos bebem leite! Os estudantes gostam de London! Second, I am trying to read a non-MBA book a month. Why? Because I think that literature allows us to expand our range of experience. When? Before bed, in the train, after lunch on the weekends, bit by bit. Third, I am going to volunteer for EnglishPEN. Why? Because I think what they stand for matters after growing up in Peru. When? Whenever they reply to my emails asking for further information….

We seem to live in a time of communal paralysis. Everyone wants to “do” but no one “does” in the belief that someone else will. I am looking forward to the last session of Managerial Economics so I can conceptualise this in terms of game theory. To conclude, I just wanted to say that I wouldn’t have embarked on the V’s had my C’s not changed back in 2008 and had I not opted to join the EMBA programme.

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EMBA: Halfway through first term

Posted by: Gonzalo
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The September EMBA 2015 is now halfway through its first term, economics mid-term is next weekend and our Academic Reps are earning their freshly acquired job titles by pushing back some deadlines that would not let the students exert their full talents on the Ethics/CSR tasks at hand. In the midst of all the academic work and as most businesses prepare for end of year reporting runs and planning, I thought I’d share some initial impressions about my time at LBS.

Coming from an Engineering background, I thought I would be more attracted to the quantitative subjects and would muddle through the “softer” Organisational Behaviour courses. I quickly discovered that I would probably learn more from these modules, at least comparatively, and that the discussions in the classroom could feed in directly into my day-to-day work. EMBA 1, full time 0 – from my perspective. We get to apply new nuggets of knowledge to our jobs week on week. A note on the quality of the faculty (both in terms of knowledge and delivery) is due here. I studied at one of the best universities in Peru and at a well-known institution in the UK, and LBS is superior by far.

Someone said something very interesting while walking to catch a train the other day: “If during discussion you have a contribution to make it is worthwhile waiting for 5 other people to speak. Most likely someone will make your point for you.” So much for being special! My EMBA class has people from over 20 nationalities, working in banking, manufacturing, oil and gas, IT, consulting as well as a number of entrepreneurs. You can be sure that there will be multiple ways of looking at the same problem which enriches the debates. The camaraderie was cemented during Orientation Week with the Dubai stream and now the Social Reps are making sure we stay together to enjoy the experience.

One of the things that initially scared me a bit about taking on the EMBA was that several people said that I would have no free time for the next 20 months. I believe this to be a bit of an exaggeration. Probably some discipline on time management and a Study Group that cooperates with the readings make things much easier. I guess it all boils down to the commitment one has to making the most of the programme. I don’t see spending half my Saturday reading or going to work at 7.30am to get some stuff done early as a big sacrifice. I am here to learn, become a better professional, expand my horizons and in the process have some fun.

All things considered, I am confident I have made the right choice.

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After about 2 years attending an Executive MBA program at London, I felt like I needed to end it on a high note. Having completed almost all my electives, I wanted to achieve a threefold final purpose: 1. working again with a faculty I did enjoy learning from, 2. bringing something practical from LBS to my company and 3. deepening into a subject useful for my career path.

Finishing my Executive MBA, one of my concerns has been to look back on these two years and show my company that the time spent away from the office was worthwhile. Moreover, at this stage, enjoying a very interesting job, I wanted to be sure about what would be my next job and be able to provide HR department an accurate image of my expectations.

After some realignments done on my project’s outline with David MYATT, I worked closely with my colleagues at the office in order to use Strategy and Managerial Economics academic frameworks in our professional context. It lead to a double production: a) a thorough assessment report on Energy Efficiency markets my company is targetting, and b) a practical approach to figure out how profitable it is to break into some submarkets.

At some point, I smoothly met my three objectives. And it turned out to even go beyond my expectations. Indeed, this work not only offered me the opportunity to base discussion on tangible content about my next job, but people who read it also invited me to share my thoughts more regularly. That’s why I decided to launch a professional blog on Smart Energy Efficiency, in order to help SMEs sell Energy Efficiency solutions (http://smartenergyefficiency.eu/).

I haven’t chosen yet what will be my next job. All I know is that Independent Project elective has been for me the highpoint of this Executive program. It has simultaneously made my Executive MBA’s payback more tangible for my company, and shown what I want to do next very explicitly.

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I have just come back from London where I attended one week long orientation for EMBA and I can’t tell you how happy I am.

I am not only happy with my decision of joining London Business School but also could see the enormous value LBS EMBA is going to add in my life in the next 20 months. I am ready for transformation, I told myself excitedly and I am proud to be part of LBS.

Looking back, few months down the line, it was beginning of September 2012 when I started my research of applying to top B school for EMBA. I started my research by creating a list of what I wanted from a school, apart from world class education and FT ranking of top 10. My list had few very important non negotiable criteria’s and few “good to have” criterias. I was looking for a school that could give me the most diverse classroom and international faculty as in the EMBA you not only learn from faculty but from your classmates too. The other things in my list were: more campus visits, a campus near India and once in a month study block. I also wanted the same MBA education and degree but in EMBA format.

I was also apprehensive about Middle East campuses of LBS and other schools but through my research I figured out that in LBS the faculty and education is the same in London and Dubai campus. By joining Dubai campus, I could do 3 core modules in London and a choice of doing electives (6 to 8) in Dubai, London, Hong Kong University, or Columbia Business School. I chose London Business School because it had everything I was looking for and now after orientation week I can say that by joining EMBA and LBS I have taken the best decision of my life.

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My first impressions

Posted by: Nav

The first day of school is always special and I was really excited on my first day as an Executive MBA (EMBA) student at London Business School. Heavy snow greeted the London and Dubai EMBA class, who had come together for the first day of the orientation week on a cold Sunday in January. The weather could not dampen the enthusiasm of the 130 students who had gathered in the Dining Hall for the welcome address – there was a buzz in the room with handshakes and enthusiastic introductions.

As the week progressed, I realised why London Business School was described as an ‘aah’ school by the Dean in his welcome address (‘aah’ being the standard reaction when you mention LBS as your alma mater!). You look around the class and every student is an Achiever– a mix of entrepreneurs, directors, VPs, project managers and students in various other leadership roles. I absolutely love the class debates where everyone has a different perspective on analysing a case study – viewpoints that are so different to mine that every lecture has been a great learning experience.

Another impression I have carried from the Orientation week is that the quality of teaching is absolutely fantastic – I really enjoyed the Leadership Skills course run by Dr. Margaret Ormiston and the Understanding General Management course run by Dr. Yiorgos Mylonadis. The teaching standards set in the first week are high and if all our professors are this good, then it will be a really enjoyable (and challenging!) 20 months.

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Preparing for the start of the term

Posted by: Dominik
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Before the first term started we were already loaded with course information and list of required readings.

It became clear to me that the most important during the EMBA course will be the ability to navigate through this sea of available information and focus on the areas that are most relevant to me and my business.

The process that took place in my head while prioritizing my activities became a key learning experience of the EMBA programme so far – I had to define clear objectives for my professional aspirations in order to be able to successfully manage the priorities.

Of course, as most of the people, I couldn’t define the exact role or even the industry that I wanted to work in the future. It’s normal if you don’t know the answer to this question – during the EMBA programme you will receive sufficient support to help you concretize these goals.

Much more important is to use the preparation time to define your “own vision” for your professional life, the values you want to live your life, your inner “north pole”.

The sooner you have it the easier it will be for you to navigate through the EMBA programme and manage your life.

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I have been at my new location in Philadelphia for a few weeks now. It has taken me some time to take in new impressions and rebuild those daily routines we don’t notice until we’re in a new environment and have to learn how to do them all over again: where is the supermarket, where do I get coffee and when does the gym open in the morning?

But I have come to the point where I feel I have settled in enough to start with some initial reflection. A new environment almost unavoidably makes you more curious not only about all the new things around you but also about how you relate to them and ultimately about yourself. And curiosity may be one of the best ways to reflect on new impressions and old habits in an open minded and positive way. You discover “just how much of “you” was based more on geographic location than anything else”, as Chelsea Fagan put it in her great article “What Happens When You Live Abroad” on Thought Catalog. And I don’t mean for that to sound negative, it’s just an interesting observation to make when you realize how much your environment reinforces certain behaviors and how little deliberate choice is involved in adopting them.

Reflection on its own though can be futile, which is exactly what tends to happen on a busy work day when we briefly remember that we really should do xyz more often only to forget it almost instantly and move on to the next urgent thought that grabs our attention. Therefore, I decided that changing some of my habits should be one of the main goals I set myself on this sabbatical. The mechanisms of habits have interested me for a while and an increasing amount of material is published that provides fascinating new insights: Charles Duhigg’s “The power of habits”  or Tony Schwartz’s HBR blog post, where he describes them as “the only way to get important things done” are some of my favourites.

And one particular habit has been on my to do list for a while: I was invited to a talk about “Positive Leadership” by IE business school professor Lee Newman and to be honest, I was expecting the standard, bulky and impractical content that often results from academic research in leadership. But professor Newman’s talk contained an insightful combination of cognitive psychology, decision biases and practical advice. It’s a humbling experience when someone can demonstrate a whole range of shortcomings of your brain with a few experiments in about 15 minutes time. The talk concluded with the introduction of Mindfulness, a concept from psychology that I think is best described as “the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment.”

When I left the talk that evening about four months ago I had made the decision to try mindfulness myself. It’s certainly very different from any habit I previously adopted which makes this both challenging and exciting. I wouldn’t call myself very spiritual and certainly not very religious but my understanding so far is that mindfulness does not fit in either of these categories. Instead, it may be similar to Alain de Botton’s “Religion for Atheists” approach which suggests that “rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them – because they’re packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.”

I have decided that this is certainly worth trying and a great use for the additional time and freedom I have during my sabbatical. To keep myself motivated and anyone who is interested updated I will share my experiences here over the coming weeks. I will be using a book called Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman which takes you through an eight week introduction with practical exercises and background information.

Google

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