Posts from our Masters in Finance bloggers
I spent most of my life in ‘Chennai’, a city along the south eastern coast of India. Hot and humid sums up its weather – the only thing I still loathe about the city. The day I left to London I gladly thought I’d had enough of sunshine.
London is much cooler during Autumn, though it progressively turns to biting cold during the winter. It’s been one roller coaster ride as far as the weather goes in the last few months. Initially, London weather taught me to check for weather updates everyday. A day of sunshine, followed by a day of rain and then a couple of days of snow. However the transition from winter to spring has taught me much more – to check for weather updates on an hourly basis. Recently there have been quite a few days where it rained in the morning, got too warm and sunny during the day and was exceedingly cold in the night (in different permutations too!).
Slowly I started to empathise with the London obsession for sunshine. It’s dark and cloudy most of the days that sunshine is a welcome respite. Everything from people’s mood to their day revolves around the sun. I was mistaken to think I’d had enough of sunshine. Living in London, you tend to fall in love with sunshine especially when it is such a magnificent feeling to have it caress your face particularly when there still is a nip in the air. I’ve seen Autumn and Winter in London, looking forward to the most evasive Spring!!!
As a MiF student, my elective horizon mostly includes materialistic side of things, so the closest I got to entrepreneurship was through Financing Entrepreneurial Business (FEB) and PE&VC. I will focus on the former.
If you need a sexy £1bn idea for a start up – FEB will not give it to you. The class will, however, nurture growth of the body parts* required to venture out independently. The remaining components of a successful businessman recipe (according to the CEO of Marks & Spencer’s) – brains and heart – you will have to provide yourself.
FEB is one of the hottest courses, offered to most programmes. And yes it can be “soft” and “situational”, and there is no recipe for success. It’s based 100% on business cases – all of which written in LBS – and every discussion followed by a leading character from a case briefing on what happened next and answering questions, which adds enormous value #ibetHBSdoesnotdothat!
One of the cases covered erecting a gas pipeline in Baltic Sea to compete with the mighty incumbent “Gazprom”. On the way to class I formed my recommendation to the start-up company along the following lines: “you guys are nuts – forget this suicidal idea, flee to an uninhabited island and pray for the serious men in black to not pursue your case”. I have then seen that very guy who came up with, what appeared to be, a very profitable idea – and he looked very fit, more than just sane.
These days B’ schools position themselves as essential for career growth acceleration (think consulting, investment banking and increasing number of industrial titans), with majority of graduates spending their lives looking after one side of business only. But essentially, borrowing some Shakespeare, “what’s in a name?” – a business school should teach how to manage company’s affairs throughout, from its dusk to dawn.
At the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, and knew that sooner or later (rather later than sooner), I will definitely establish something with my name on it – like a coffee shop which my grandchildren will run. Talking about coffee shops – if you work in the City you probably know the place that has THE best coffee (and tea – served with a timer to ensure the real experience) and THE best atmosphere - Association on the Creechurch Lane. And you know what – the founder is an LBS alum – MBA 2004 graduate, investment banker in his previous life, who also took the FEB class. He was kind enough to share his curious experience, while his team was brewing an excellent flat white for me:
- Were you planning on being an entrepreneur before joining LBS? - ”Yes, I always wanted to build my own business and almost jumped into a venture prior to coming to LBS (but glad-fully didn’t because it was not a great idea). I have never been excited about a ‘career’ or been motivated to be an MD in a large organisation“
- Did you see LBS as a “tool” to increase your chances to succeed? – “Not particularly. LBS for me was a time to take stock of where I was and think about where I wanted to go. It’s an expensive way to take time out, but I felt it would be a more fruitful time than another two years in consulting (which was my pre-MBA job)”
- Did LBS inspire you? – “LBS confirmed for me my interest in entrepreneurship and at the same time my lack of enthusiasm for a structured career. Having said that, I spent the 6 years after school in structured environments (investment banking and then PE) – these were places to ‘park’ myself waiting for inspiration to come!“
- You mentioned that in reality it’s different from what you anticipated? How? - ”I am not convinced plans and strategies often work out exactly as put down on paper, which is fine because I don’t think that is the purpose of building a strategy / plan – the purpose is to educate yourself and generate justification for moving in one direction and not in another. Hopefully you get the broad brush strokes right, if not the details. For me, the specifics have turned out different than I expected, such as where I spend my time and the way customers have responded to our offering has been somewhat different than expected (some things more popular than I thought, other things less popular)”
- Any advice?
i) on starting up “Have enough funding to manage through your worst case scenario and strike a balance between listening to others and believing in your own convictions (that balance should be informed by your understanding of what you are good at and what you are not good at)”;
ii) on investing “Spend the most time getting to know the people leading the business you are investing in (in most cases it is the people you are backing) and make sure your expectations are aligned in all business outcomes”;
iii) on MBA’ing “Know why you are doing the MBA – tell the business school what you want, but be honest with yourself why you’re doing it – it’s too much time and too much money to be doing it for the wrong reasons”;
iv) “Starting your life as an entrepreneur has a wonderful honeymoon period, which is very novel and exciting, but after a few weeks this is replaced by a sense of responsibility that absolutely nothing happens unless you drive it. That is exciting and daunting – it’s good to have a business partner through this period so you can motivate each other. If you are all alone (as I was) you need to hold firm to your convictions in your business ideas and why you left behind perfectly good employment to do something so uncertain“
* guts / balls – pick your own
Yes it a demanding elective, yes it is highly computational, yes the math involved is tedious, yes it takes hours to finish the assignments (as much as 10-15 hours on a specific assignment 3), yes it is a challenging course, yet not impossibly so. Prof Suleyman Basak with his impeccable course planning, smooth delivery of lectures, supporting mentoring role, encouraging mails urging us to work on fixed income 24×7 and his incredible sense of humour makes you feel it is absolutely worth all the effort. He loves attention and succeeds in getting it. He does not encourage his students to particularly socialize in class and talks about transitivity just before Valentine’s Day. He loves his Kit Kat dark choc, diet coke and dumplings. Towards attaining a ‘WARRIOR’ status, one should first choose this elective and finally clear the exams. We had our exams the day before. Hopefully each of us attain that status with relative ease! This is a tribute to a wonderful Professor loved by all!
There is always so much happening on campus – academic/career/social events. Attending these events is just one side of the coin. What about all that goes into organizing and conducting the events? Many of these are managed and run completely by students, either through clubs or by the Students Association. How can just one student handle such massive school-wide events, of course, its team work. What about the lives of those on the committee of such events? This is a clear perspective of the lives of such students.
Usually it’s a group of people on the committee with each person responsible for a specific task. Whatever the size of the event, massive effort goes into executing it for the students. There are meetings that have to be attended and work to be finished at home. Sometimes a technical glitch while other times a seed of doubt sitting in the mind, contribute equally to additional work and unplanned delays. The pleasure in serving the students community is unparalleled and it is this spirit that keeps those involved going. Managing the pressures of a job hunt, project/presentation deadlines, exam preparations and networking along with such students community activities tends to push the mental boundaries of an individual. Multitasking is, thus, certainly not overrated. In fact, it is the only saving grace!!!
Personally, being involved in such activities has served as a platform for self discipline. I realized over time that compartmentalizing work is the way to go, looking at everything together at the same time can get quite maddening. Though I’m a person who thrives on impulsiveness, I realized that maintaining a daily work plan and schedule helps get work done effectively. Through involvement in student related activities, it’s my observation that I’ve gained as much as I’ve contributed and it surely is a fulfilling, fun and valuable experience!
The ongoing search for internships/jobs, the required interview preparations and the emotional investment going into all this is clearly palpable. It is so much of hard work and dedication, almost involving perspiration. Networking is so critical, especially in cases of career shifts. The last four months were the most intense in terms of balancing coffee chats with group assignments, company presentations, CV reviews, one on one counselling with career services, core subject exams, Christmas & New Year break!!!
Opportunities are minimum given the subdued markets, while competition is intense. Obviously the scenario can’t get any more challenging than this. From a school of 500+ students, around 100 may end up with internships. Does it mean that the remaining 400+ are any less smart? Of course not!!! It’s just peer pressure that might make us feel this way. A job or an internship is certainly not the only parameter that determines the success of a person. Honestly I’m sure everyone is working on their plan B and/or C.
Entrepreneurship emerges from incredible passion. Many a times it is born out of turbulence. I’m sure such trying times end up planting the seed of entrepreneurship in the hearts of those that dare to think beyond jobs and internships. I’m sure it is possible to make any business a success by just harnessing the LBS network. True, not everyone responds favorably to mails or calls, but surely a handful do. These few are sufficient to help lay a solid foundation. I wish to see entrepreneurs blossom all around me, hopefully I will be one someday! Go LBS go, let’s make the market!
Can accounting relate to something other than journal entries, trial balance and final accounts? Can it ever not relate to a share capital a/c, a goodwill a/c, a sinking fund reserve a/c, a redemption reserve a/c or the saving grace, a ‘suspense a/c’? Well, Financial Accounting and Analysis at London Business School made me see accounting in a new light!
We had a case study every class and only case studies for exams. These case studies highlighted the critical role of accounting policies of companies as well as their considerable impact on the financials and consequently on the valuation metrics. A close watch on the revenue recognition, depreciation and expensing policies of the company coupled with one-time items which claim to construe exceptional earnings distortion, would certainly go a long way in assessing the sustainability of current operations of the firm and also, in forecasting its future earnings potential.
When Prof. Ahmed Tahoun proposed the format of the exam, we were actually quite certain that he was joking. He also added that we would enjoy writing the exam and that the questions would make us smile. True to his promise, the questions did make us smile, though the paper was quite long making our tired muscles scream and complain towards the end of the three-hour exam! It was a refreshing new perspective on an age-old subject!
There are three types of people – those who are focused, those who think they are focused and those who are open to options from the start. Though it’s commendable to have focus, it’s no way a crime to be open to options or to change orientation along the way. Those under the second category are the ones who are more likely to be prone to peer pressure. These are the more talented ones too as they are aware that they are capable of performing well in more than one area, and hence the option of considering alternatives.
The broad areas in finance are investment banking, asset management, private equity and venture capital. Starting with one of these and ending up in another one is quite common. What matters is whether you are equally or more passionate about the area that the reorientation lands you in.
A reorientation based on untiring research and unimaginable efforts at networking with alumni from relevant sectors lays a solid foundation for career progression in the chosen area. While reorientation is natural, it would bear fruits only when combined with a renewed drive. As you will soon realize, most people around you will fall under the second and third categories while only a handful fall under the first. Hence it is absolutely acceptable to change orientation in career goals along the way!
Well, about me? Honestly, I thought I knew what I wanted! Currently I’m exploring my options and weighing pros and cons but I’m nearly where I should be!!!
Momentary insanity made me register for the Dartmoor Vale Half 2012 at Devon, a good 5 hours by bus from London, saving grace being a classmate of mine, Pritish Ray, for company. What I expected was a half marathon like any other. What I expected was a place like London, though smaller in size. What I expected was a good break. What I expected was to be able to handsomely handle the whole trip! But the trip turned out to be all that was unexpected!
As I stepped out of the bus, upon reaching Devon, I felt cold wind caress my face. As we walked around I realized that it was a beautiful, hilly and peaceful locality. Within seconds I knew it was going to be colder than London. What also struck me as I looked around was that the upcoming half marathon in Devon was going to have a similar terrain if not a more challenging one!!! Oooops said my heart, all is well said my mind.
On Sunday morning as we stood at the start line, my only concern was to finish the marathon at a decent time. My personal best is 02:10 hrs. I would have been happy with 02:15 hrs. The first couple of miles were good, then came the never ending uphill. While all the marathoners took to a comfortable pace for the uphill, in my quest to be done with the uphill run, I sped past the others. Soon I was to realize that the uphill lasted for around 3 miles. Boy, was it a tough trail?! If I thought uphill was difficult then obviously I hadn’t a clue about what was to come. Absolutely steep downhill for 3 miles. This is where my knees decided I am not its well-wisher! At 13 Kms my knees gave way, I couldn’t take another step forward running without doing a collapsing act. But I refused to give up, if I had, I couldn’t have lived with myself. I dragged myself to the finish line at 02:32 hrs walking the last 8 odd Kms, which was actually decent timing considering I walked almost half the race. I was badly limping around. I was forced to remain painfully mobile. What gave me a deep sense of satisfaction was the fact that the first full marathoner finished ten minutes after I did!
Ever since this marathon I’ve been unable to run for more than five to ten minutes. This incident brought home harsh realities – my weak core and my badly hurt knees requiring months to heal, ensuring I can’t get back to running immediately! This has also seen me withdraw into my shell with respect to fitness. Usually, I fight back. Maybe it is time to take to swimming, strengthen my core and then have a strong comeback with respect to running. I know there is anxiety somewhere deep down, I just hope it burns me into doing something about my fitness ASAP!
Diwali is an Indian festival of lights and is one that is celebrated across the nation with unwavering spirits. Last Saturday was the Diwali party hosted by the India club. It was grander than any that I’ve attended so far – mouth watering food, incredible crowd, non stop entertainment, packed dance floor, sweat drenched dancers and happy faces! A laude of applause to all the ladies and gentlemen out there who took the efforts to come dressed in Indian attire – you made the day very colorful and interesting. I must admit, LBS is full of gorgeous women and reasonably good looking men To those who are single and ready to mingle, there is a whole world out there, just keep your eyes wide open! The event was a spectacular success and can be summed up in two words INCREDIBLE FUN!
Mere presence at the party was enough to have fun. But I decided to participate in the cultural program for the evening to expand the horizon of my ‘fun’. This year MiFs had two teams giving a dance performance as part of the cultural program – one performed on Bollywood numbers while the other danced to a medley on Kollywood (Tamil) and Bollywood numbers. The performance of course rocked. It was thrilling to witness the energy from a mesmerized audience, those four minutes on stage seemed like a few seconds, magical moments. There were 13 teams dancing and it lasted for an hour. In my opinion MiFs were the best, though the MiMs won. Following are the links to dance performances of the MiFs.
Group A: http://youtu.be/uB_Jat6ej64
Group B: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=romJseT__hA&feature=g-upl
Following the cultural program, the dance floor was made open to all. I danced continuously for three hours till the end. Some of my classmates were surprised to see this side to me, so was I! The songs were doing rounds in my head long after and I woke up with a smile the next day. My mind, body and soul couldn’t get enough.
London Business School does not just promise cultural diversity, it delivers it with style. It makes you feel the spirit of every culture. Open your arms to embrace such mind blowing experiences!!!