Posts Tagged ‘Study Groups’

Landing in London the night before the first day of orientation, I literally had no time to catch my breath before I was swept into the whirlwind that is London Business School! Walking into City hall amidst  a chattering, buzzing group of new LBS MiMs, I instantly felt like part of a community, with the most unbelievably diverse group of people I had ever been around. It wasn’t just the fact that we accounted for more than 50 nationalities, it was the languages, the experiences, the undergrad majors, the internships, the perspectives. Coupled with the fact that everyone was incredibly warm, curious, open, energetic, and just plain fun, I knew that this was going to be one of the best years of my life.

I quickly learnt the art of time management. It’s quite incredible, the number of activities one can sign up for on a daily basis. Class, club activities, recruiter events, case study sessions, parties, sundowners, and the general discovery of this wonderful city. It became clear however, that as alluring as they all were, I had to carefully plan my day so as to meet all my commitments. The result was a very populated calendar, but very fulfilling days.

And yeah, I must mention my study group. To provide some context, every MiM is assigned to a study group of about five or six people. Since we are given a plethora of group assignments, simulations and presentations, one ends up spending a lot of time with their study group. I simply loved mine. It’s amazing how it was never a competition, but always a collaboration; how motivated everyone was; how much you can learn from each other; how deep, enduring friendships develop. Yes, we spent hours locked up in one of LBS’s many meeting rooms debating on the finer points of statistical modelling, but also spent a memorable evening dining on chicken and wine. I speak nostalgically because I’m going to be assigned to a new study group next term. While I’ll miss my old study group, I’m excited because I know I’m up for a whole new fascinating experience.

To be perfectly honest, I had no idea how much one could grow in such a short time. I’ve only spent 3 months here at LBS but the experience has been immensely transformative. I can’t wait to see what the second term will bring!

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Almost two years ago I started my MBA. The application process for it started a year or so before that. I remember being bewildered by the number of business schools to choose from and that, aside from location and their ranking, they all seemed pretty much the same. Students and alumni at every school claimed they were amongst the best for reputation, for recruiting, and for academics. And to an extent these claims were all true.

But that didn’t help me narrow down my application list. Instead, my application short list was based largely on the impression made by the wholly unrepresentative sample of students and alumni that I met from each of these schools. It seemed like the best method at the time.

With hindsight, now I can confirm that, yes, the top schools are all very similar on the surface. But with a little digging it’s possible to find a large number of differences between business schools. Those differences may be small things like whether a school hosts free drinks each week or how you select your electives. As you add up all these differences though and then compare schools, you’ll definitely see distinct pictures of the schools emerge.

Why should you care? The first reason is that you’ll likely be studying there for two years. That’s a decent chunk of time so it’s in your interest to find the place best suited for you. That can be hard; you may not know what is ‘best’ for you now. Also, chances are that if you enjoy business school at one place, you would probably fit in and be happy at another school too. But still, the little things can make the difference between a good time and a great time.

The second reason, and arguably more important (or at least more Machiavellian), is that it will help with your application to that school. If you have a good knowledge of what really sets that business school apart, that will impress in your essays and application.

So what actually are the differences between the top business schools? You could ask questions like ‘What’s the best thing about this school?’ or ‘What’s the worst thing?’ Boring! I often asked these types of questions and I would get similar responses at whatever school I visited. But I want to make life easier for you. Here’s where I’ve observed some big differences between top business schools. It would be in your interest to think about and learn the answers to these questions before applying to your chosen business schools.

Academics

Is the school better at any particular subject area?
Every business school offers courses across every subject area. But some schools excel at certain areas. Kellogg is known for marketing, LBS is known for finance. In these departments at these schools, you’ll likely benefit from better professors; more elective options; and access to influential outside speakers. You may not necessarily improve your employment prospects in these fields (nor harm them in others), but it could mean you get a far better education in these subject areas. The subsequent benefit being that you become more knowledgeable and better connected than your peers at other business schools in that subject area.

How rigorous are the classes and how many hours outside of class are required?
Some schools have a higher workload than others. This can also vary within subject areas at a school, for example, finance courses may require more outside work than marketing courses. Academic rigour is good, but if you’re constantly hitting the books in the library, when do you get to take part in clubs, socialise with classmates, and search for the post-MBA job? There is more to the MBA than just the academics.

A word of caution: it’s a universal truth that the workload of MBA students initially is high, so making a comparison against the first semester won’t be useful. Instead, ask about the workload after the first semester or after the first year.

How many core classes are required?
Some schools require you to take a prescribed list of classes in your first year, with little exception. Others provide you with more flexibility. If you’re looking for a well-rounded learning experience, the former is good. But if you want to become an operations management guru, you may want the latter so that you can skip straight to the electives that matter.

Are their streams/sections/cohorts? How are they chosen? How do people interact and socialise within the sections and between sections?
Most business schools have some concept of a section: a group of 60-90 students you do the majority of your classes with. Usually schools try and create a mini version of the United Nations by amassing a variety of nationalities and professions. The personalities of sections even with a school can vary significantly, so what you hear from current students may not be reflective of your own experience. But nevertheless, find out whether people enjoyed it.

Are there study groups? Do they matter?
Some schools place you into a study group that you keep for your entire first year. These are an even smaller cross-section of your stream. Other schools change study groups every semester or even in every course. There are tradeoffs between the two approaches: the same study group for the entire year can lead to great friendships, it’s also easier to share the workload around. On the otherhand, you miss out on working with a greater variety of personality types and may miss out on friendships being formed.

Some schools have courses where a large percentage of your grade is based on work you do as a study group. At other schools it’s just an informal group for discussing the classwork. Think about which you prefer and find out which approach your business school takes.

Are there any unique requirements?
LBS and INSEAD both require you to learn a second or third language. Some schools have components that require you to study overseas for a week as an international business experience. Is this something you want? Or is it an unnecessary burden for you?

What are the campus facilities like?
Places like Columbia, NYU and LBS are in the heart of major cities. It’s a great experience being in New York and London, but it comes with the concession of being constrained by space. Some schools also share their facilities with undergrad students. Does that then mean it becomes a challenge to find a desk or study room in the library? Or perhaps the bench press in the gym is always in use.

How are electives allocated?
Some business schools have a bidding system, at others you must rank your preferred courses, others still probably leave it to some mystic incantations to determine which courses you’re allocated. It’s important to know how courses are allocated to better understand whether you’ll be able to get on the courses you want.

Who are the good professors and will I be able to study with them?
Every business school has its rockstar professors who feature on various top lists. Chances are you want to take a course offered by one of these professors. But will you be able to? Some of these professors only teach to the Executive MBAs, or teach at a satellite campus on the other side of the globe, or they only teach once a year (which may then clash with your overseas exchange/extended internship/beach holiday). Even if you overcome those hurdles, can you then get on the course (see previous question)? In short, if there is a particular professor you want to study under, find out how easy it is to take their courses.

Clubs

What clubs are on campus?
Clubs are a great way to learn and extend your ability in both professional and social pursuits. If you’re founding a startup, get involved with the tech and entrepreneur clubs, or if you want to become a consultant, join the consulting club. They’ll help you immensely move ahead in your chosen industry. They’re also a fantastic way to meet people and have fun. I immensely enjoyed my two years as part of the rugby club.

Of course, if a club isn’t on campus, you could always start one and you’ll certainly gain some great skills in doing so, but those skills may be more in organisation and admin than in the actual industry, sport or hobby.

Which ones are active? In what way are they active?
Even if a club exists on campus, how active is it? If they’re only organising activities or meeting once a semester, it’s not going to be a great place to meet people and develop new skills or have fun. On the otherhand, an active club is a fantastic way to meet new classmates, network with alumni and learn about an industry or have fun taking part in a sport or hobby. Also find out what the club does, for example, if it’s the media club, do they just organise a yearly conference and a trek somewhere, or do they also organise more regular events.

Are there fees for joining or attending events?
Some clubs charge membership fees for covering their costs. These can sometimes be in excess of $200 per club, especially for sports clubs. Sometimes clubs may charge to attend visiting speakers on campus. I would say that almost always it’s worth whatever the club is asking. But perhaps those fees are the difference between exploring an area you’re vaguely interested in, and not.

Extracurricular

Can I go on exchange or study overseas?
There are many benefits to studying in another location and many schools provide that opportunity. Some schools offer exchanges to other business schools around the world: LBS students can go on exchange to over 30 partner schools. Other schools offer the opportunity to study at satellite campuses around the world: INSEAD students often split their time between France and Singapore campuses.

Where can I go? How likely is it that I will get to go to my desired place?
If it’s an important factor being able to study away from the main business school campus, you want to find out how easy it is to take advantage of that opportunity. Exchange schools may only have one or two places available to students from your business school and these may been hotly sought after by your fellow classmates. Is the decision based on grades, essays, interviews, or something else? Imagine the disappointment if you select a business school for its exchange programme, only to then discover that you can’t go to your desired place.

Are there weekly drinks?
I think weekly drinks are universally offered at business schools around the world. They’re a great focal point for your class to come together and catch up with people you haven’t seen during the last week (or longer). Often students from different programmes attend, often faculty attend as well, so it can be a great place to meet new and interesting people. But not all drinks sessions are created equal. Ask if many people attend these. And ask if they cost to attend (some charge a fee per semester or year).

What treks are typically offered? Will they break the bank?
MBA students love treks. What is a trek? It’s a fancy word for a trip and they broadly fall into two categories: business treks and social treks. Business treks usually focus on visiting companies in certain industries, for example to New York for finance, Silicon Valley for technology, or Paris for luxury goods. Whereas social treks are about experiencing a new place and socialising with your classmates. Often classmates from the country you’re visiting organise the social treks; it’s a special experience travelling with friends who know all the hot spots to visit!

Treks are a great eye-opening experience and were one of my favourite things at business school. Some treks are generally offered every year, but some only take place when someone can be organised enough. Ask where the most popular treks go (perhaps start planning your holidays now?). Ask how tough it is to get a place on them (there is sometimes a cap, especially on business treks). And ask how much more they’re going to send you into debt. On second thought, you may not want to know.

Jobs

Do the employers I want to hire me recruit from this school?
Don’t take it for granted. I heard of one top consulting company not recruiting from a top US school for a number of years after a certain incident. Also, some locations are better at recruiting for certain industries, for example, the percentage of graduates going into the tech sector from Stanford and Berkeley is much higher than most other MBA schools.

How many people have those employers historically taken? How does that compare with other schools?
One school may have 10 graduates hired each year from a certain company. If this is the company you want to work for, then this may sound great. But ask at another school and you may find 20 were hired from there. Potentially this means that the company has a preference for hiring from the second school and you may be better off there. But you need to look beyond just the base numbers. Take into consideration the class sise. Also, how many of those 20 hires are returning employees? If most of them are returning, maybe the better school for you is the one that only had 10 graduates hired. But take all of this with a grain of salt, as company preferences and hiring tendencies can change from year to year.

How good is the Career Services department at finding potential jobs for you?
There’s many ways to find a job, but one of the fastest and easiest is when your Career Services department is able to get companies recruiting at school and advertising directly on your school website. If the Career Services department is good at this, it may indicate those companies have a preference for hiring candidates from your school.

How good is the Career Services department at preparing you for interviews and jobs?
Good Career Services departments will also run a range of other activities and workshops to help prepare you for your interviews and jobs. These could be: networking and information sessions with companies; help with preparing your resume; practice interviews; practice case studies; practical skills for when you start your internship. Make sure to ask about what the Career Services department does to help students and also ask whether students got any benefit from it.

Other

Do you want to live in that city?
For me, this is one of the most important factors in choosing a school. Perhaps the most important. Your school’s city or town is where you’re going to live for the next two years. Perhaps you want the restaurants, nightclubs, and everything else that the big cities offer. Or maybe you’re happy living amongst the trees in New England.

The location of your school will also likely determine where your post-MBA job is: a West Coast school will get you a West Coast job; an East Coast school gets you an East Coast job; and a European school most likely gets you a European job. This is because it’s much easier networking and interviewing with employers when you’re in the same location. This is obvious if you’re in different countries. But you could be surprised by the difference even between New York and Philadelphia if you’re looking to find a job in New York. It’s much easier and cheaper catching the subway than catching a train from Philadelphia for a coffee chat in Manhattan.

Does the school provide much financial help?
An MBA is a big financial investment and often you’re going to need financial help to pay for it. To what extent does your school help you? It may be that they have a large endowment and most students are provided some sort of scholarship. Or maybe the school has partnerships with banks or other institutions to offer you loans. Not all schools are able to offer this financial support, so if it’s important to you, make sure to ask.

Conclusion

There are no doubt many more questions you could ask to learn more about the differences between business schools. In fact, comment below on what other differences you’ve discovered.

Now that you have a better understanding of where the differences, my final advice is to dig deeper and find what makes your potential business schools different from each other. It’ll stand you in good stead for your application and to have a great time doing your MBA.

Follow me on Twitter at @jrjclark

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My first impressions…

Posted by: Tapiwa

Three weeks in and I am loving it! I could not have been happier with the decision to come to LBS. The environment is exactly what I hoped for – dynamic, warm, engaging and collegiate. On a daily basis I am interacting with so many truly exceptional MBAs from every corner of the world that I am both humbled and inspired!

In lectures I almost feel sorry for professors juggling the enthusiastic contributions of 80 articulate MBAs eager to bring some new insight to classroom debates. From the campus corridors to Facebook pages, collaborations spring up continuously on everything from the latest clean technology idea to how to negotiate the best student discount for the London Underground.

In the background, the programme office elegantly attends to the intricate details of over 400 individual timetables. Invitations to networking events with top firms pop into my mailbox almost daily. Student led club activities ranging from Entrepreneurship to Finance to TEDx compete for my evenings. I am literally exhausted from partying. Quite frankly, virtually everyone on campus is enormously accomplished, enthusiastic, enterprising and genuinely nice. This is going to be an exhilarating two years!

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THE SLOAN WAR GAMES

Posted by: Ritu

Term 1 ended in a tizzy! I have never had a more challenging academic tenure or a more demanding social life, packed neatly into 3 months. Come April, I packed memories of my Term 1 ‘all-nighters’ in the library and the Windsor Castle pub and headed home. Term 2 will definitely be easier…

Term 2 whizzed past in a ‘motion blur’! The core courses were significantly reduced and my electives occupied a significant mind and time share. Electives meant studying with a new cohort of people – with a new study group of mixed blood… from courses across the school. This was a bitter-sweet experience! The term 1 battlefield was still fresh with blood shed during Sloan study group ‘guns and roses’ sessions. We had called each other names and sworn ‘life-long’ enmity, yet combated deadlines together in the still of the ‘last’ hour, drunken each other under the table and sometimes even found soul mates! And here was this new cohort of young blood (MiMs, MIFs, MBAs and Exec MBAs) to deal with to pass Term 2 electives. Let the war-games begin!

If you have studied business education or worked in a study group before, I have probably lost you to nostalgia already. Some of you might even be calling your soul-mate long distance just about now! So adieus amigos!

For the rest of you, study groups are extremely tricky swamps. ‘No-hierarchy’ flat groups, forced together without any ‘for-profit’ motivations… often resembling ‘headless’ chickens with sharp and shiny canine teeth!

However, interacting with the younger LBS blood in Term 2 study groups made me come face to face with my ‘mirror-mirror on the wall’ moment…

In one’s twenties, a business program mirrors ‘who and what’ to expect in your new workplace and arms you with ammunition to best deal with the external enemy to reach given goals.

At a more mature age (and you thought I would reveal our age? Fat chance!), a business program mirrors ‘who and what’ we have become fighting that workplace. It arms us with ammunition to best deal with the internal strife and redefine goals (as we all know by now – monetary goals are mere carrots; there has to be more to this rat race).

Term 3 will be all about stepping back from the battlefield, arriving at that elusive goal that would probably define a deeper meaning and lunging forward.

As the Sloan class of 2012 dives inward, the clock is relentlessly ticking away and we must remember to savour the last few months with our sworn enemies and soul mates! For, at the end of the day, isn’t that what life’s really about?

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I’m now four from eight.

That first email that comes through offering you an interview is an incredible confidence boost. You finally realize that firms don’t all start their emails with “Thank you for your application. However…” Your foot is in the door, quite literally in some cases when firms host interviews at their offices. But again, a reality check quickly follows. Afterall, this is only a foot in the door; we’ve been reminded numerous times that this is only the first step along a tough and merciless road (nevertheless, a significant step, that could, I feel, be measured in comparable size to those taken by Neil Armstrong). We’ve been culled down to a select few for the first interview. Following that an even more ruthless cut will ensue, succeeded by a minority who are left standing at the end. It sounds like something even Gordon Gekko would be challenged at.

A series of interviews now face me. But what does a consulting interview comprise of? The core is the case problem. These usually start with the premise that the CEO has asked for your advice to solve their problem, whether that be falling profits, market entry, a potential merger, or some other scenario. Your role, no, your duty, is to identify the crux of the issue and resolve it in the short space of 30 minutes or so.

So how does an MBA student prepare when one has succeeded at making it to this first round? Thankfully, it is not too hard, it just requires persistence. You must first turn your head and open your eyes to see all the hopeful study partners all around. I am immensely appreciative for the collaborative and constructive help of my fellow classmates. They, like you, are wanting to succeed. And perhaps in the most illustrative example of a ‘win-win’ scenario, you buddy up and test each other on sample cases. And you do this until you are verging on being repulsed by their company and constructive feedback. You wonder if you even want to be a consultant after you have long forgotten and given up counting the number of cases you have burned through. In these weeks of recruitment you will see the best and worst of your classmates – the built up pressure and stress in their frayed nerves and short tempers, the highs from crushing a case, the lows from screwing up the maths worse than their thirteen year-old cousin. Don’t forget, they see the same in you.

And through all this, you strengthen those connections with your classmates; an incredibly perverse bonding experience.

Now bring it on.

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Relevance Watch

Posted by: AK

Never did I understand any news article better than the one I read early this week. And I typically tend to read a lot of these articles. The biggest barrier to properly understanding an article is the “artificial” culture of immediacy around. My attention span has reduced so dramatically that I seldom take the time to understand “so-what” from any of these articles.

But then early this week, one of the courses at the school – Financial Accounting – forced me to read a news article thoroughly, and make sense of it. As a part of the course, every study group (group of 6-7 people that works together on all the assignments in the first year of MBA) is required to search and share articles that are relevant to the course material. We call this searching and sharing of articles as the “Relevance Watch”! And it was during one of these hunts, that I re-read an article – (probably) first time ever in my life – to make good sense of it.

The article was about Kingfisher Airlines in India. Kingfisher is facing declining business, holds huge debt (that doesn’t seem to be getting paid off), and is allegedly following bad accounting procedures. The business has been losing money year-after-year but the management counters the argument by announcing a positive EBITDAR. The long held operating leases, and other non-cancellable cash obligations, if added to the liabilities, make the company’s equity value negative. The management is taking steps to convert some of the debt (such as optional convertible debentures) into equity. Finally, the airline is capitalizing maintenance costs of engines of aircrafts that are under operating leases – which doesn’t seem to make sense. Although the company thinks that the accounting practise is in-line with other international airlines such as British Airways and Malaysian Airlines.

The article was interesting, but what I found more interesting was the fact that I took the time to read re-read the article and learn from it – something I should be doing more often. Am glad that the London Business School is changing my habits, which I hadn’t even thought of changing in a long time.

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While its +30C in London, Dublin is true to itself with “rain drops keep falling on my head” ©. Which is actually not that bad when you have a mammoth assignment for FAA. And when I say mammoth – I mean mammoth:

(i) Problem set featuring 6 exercises (which take 1 hour each on average) and are “scored based on accuracy and evidence of effort”;

(ii) Group report comparing 2 companies in different jurisdictions. We decided to pick H&M vs Inditex (Zara) to bring some style into financial statement analysis;

(iii) News watch briefing, which we might even have to present in front of the whole class;

(iv) Read 172 pages of textbook, Fin Statements of 3 companies and some other bits and pieces.

And one last point – everything that could be done in a group (i-iii) should be done in a group… (would like to use this opportunity to say hi to Cherry, Joao, Tim, Zu and Preetham! You are a really cool team!)

So how will we do all of this when a 1/3 of the group commutes? (yes, its only 2 people, but I am one of them, so it is of major importance). I will try to be smart here and not give away something, which could in fact be our competitive advantage, and will only briefly mention that Google docs rule! Split the work, share the template and work away! Awesome! Top it up with a conference call on Sunday morning – and your effort and understanding will not remain unnoticed! I guess I should say thanks to Alex Bell as well :)

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Aug 16th, the day I arrived in London, one week ahead of starting my new master degree from LBS. The programme is called Master in Finance, so called [MiF]. 2 months ago, I was not fully convinced by the idea of applying to this programme proposed by my fiancée (now wife~). I hesitated to do so because I was in a great job with an asset management firm in Singapore. Unless it is really a top programme, there is no reason for me to give up my job and spend so much money and one year to do this. But it is a valid request from my wife since she is working in London and we all think it is not good for both of us as a married couple. Anyway, I got the offer from LBS.

After 4 weeks of the programme, I was fully convinced that this programme is definitely the world class and I made a great investment decision. Staffs are helpful; all classmates have great background in financial industry. For example, in my study group, there is one management consultant, two portfolio managers, one private banker and one investment banker. Amazing combination, isn’t it? And the whole class represents 38 nationalities and everyone has a very good track record in their own career. I feel very proud to be part of such a group and I know it will be a journey full of fun and challenge of course down the road.

Out of class, there are more than 80 clubs for your choice. There are finance, investment management, real estate, entrepreneurship, and PE/VC clubs if you are looking for jobs and future business partners. And there are also a lot of other clubs for cultural and sports lovers. I am sure you can find people who share the same interests and passions with you from this wide range of clubs.

I will enjoy myself as much as possible and will share more interesting stories with you guys.
Eddie

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A year ago, while I was researching different business schools to apply to, I came across the terms diversity and study group a lot, while reading about LBS. I always wondered, why LBS the LBS study group experience would be so different and what was the big deal about diversity?

It’s only when I came to LBS, I realized that I was wrong. Unlike many other schools, the people at LBS were truly diverse, in terms of nationalities, professional qualifications, interests and hobbies. Moreover, to my surprise the people were not only smart and accomplished but incredibly friendly and helpful as well. To top it all, each study group is carefully picked to ensure that you spend your whole 1st year doing projects with an extremely diverse group of people.

Still not convinced?? Well, guess what happens when you put the following people in a team and ask them to compete:

•    A Greek Phd in electronics who has designed advanced medical monitoring devices
•    A French animal welfare professional, who is an expert on bears and can speak 6 different languages
•    A Scottish Doctor, who has worked in Hospitals as well as Cruise Ships and is an excellent surfer
•    An American Banker who has spent a considerable time working in Brazil and Dubai
•    A Mexican venture capitalist, focused on investing in social enterprises who is also a wine enthusiast and an avid football fan
•    A Chinese sales and marketing expert with  5 years of experience in selling consumer goods in China
•    An Indian game designer and entrepreneur with some experience in financial services

Well, that is a typical study group at LBS, who typically take some time to get comfortable and then they get together to win bottles of champagne!!!

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My to-do list

Posted by: James

I had spent the previous three months backpacking through Asia, enjoying a long holiday before the hard work and long hours at school began.  I didn’t expect it to be such a quick return to reality though; my to-do list was expanding off the page by the time I landed at Heathrow. Flat-hunting, furniture buying, collecting bags scattered with friends across London, reminding myself how to do maths, meeting future classmates, and perhaps some sightseeing if time allowed.
 
London is an amazing place, steeped in history, but finding a flat so that you can be part of that history can be a soul-destroying experience. I quickly learnt that the standard of accommodation exceeded my initial budget and the value offered was sub-par. But persistence pays off and with some more searching we secured a good pad close to school.  Finding flatmates is a far more enjoyable experience though; LBS organised a flat-hunters pub crawl in the two weeks prior to orientation.  It was a brilliant way to meet my fellow classmates and find those in the similar position of searching of a flat.  Through the pub crawls I found my future flatties, an oil tanker captain and an economic consultant.

Now I just need to tick off those remaining to-do items on my list.

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