Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year! 
Here's something you can't do in December in Boston

Thursday, December 30, 2004

I received an e-mail with some questions and I thought I would post my answers here for all to see. My responses are altogether too brief, but unfortunately the job search is taking all my time these days:

Q: I currently work for [a consulting firm] doing IT consulting work - however, my goal is to enter the Strategy Consulting arena. I believe that most HBS students/applicants are career changers (I believe you are one of them) - do you think this is a disadvantage while applying to HBS - are there others that want to make a similar shift in consulting (IT to Strategy)?

A: As long as you have a clear goal in mind and it is consistent with your experience and the rest of your application, you should be all set. There aren’t a lot of IT consultants in general at HBS, at least not compared to Strategy Consultants. I don’t know why that is…

Q: What kind of community and leadership activities (inside and outside work) were you involved in before HBS?

A: I had relatively little in the way of EC activities. Fortunately, HBS knows (or assumes) that most applicants work a lot of hours, so it wasn't a big deal.

Q: What are your thoughts on acing the GMAT - I take it in Feb. How did you prepare?

A: I used the Kaplan GMAT prep book and another book recommended by Montauk that I can't remember or find on Amazon. Plus the sample tests on the GMAT website. Everyone is so different with regards to test preparation that my style probably wouldn’t help anyone else...

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

It seems that the holidays are generally a time when you go back to your hometown and see all your old friends, in addition to spending a little time with the family. For a variety of reasons, my holidays are always just the opposite. I spend a lot of time with the family and maybe a little with friends. I think this is mostly the case because of the sheer size of the family these days. I have four parents, three siblings, three step-siblings, three in-laws, and a wife. That makes for a lot of stuff going on, especially as my brother's birthday is the day after Christmas.

Anyway, that's the big reason I haven't had any time for the blog. Also, seeing as I am hanging out with my primary audience, it's a bit superfluous.

I have some thoughts I want to get down about some books I've read lately and how they conveniently tie in to a few cases from LEAD, but that'll have to wait for another time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Some plans fall through, some are improved 
Well, our cheapo plans for Barbados fell through. Some part of the trip was sold out for the week we chose. Given that it's spring break, that's not too surprising. I have a feeling, though, that perhaps we paid too little in the auction and so they refused to honor it under the guise of a sell out for that week. In any event, we're now trying to plan something with other couples, perhaps a DIY trip to BVI.

On a brighter note, I busted out on continental.com right at the beginning of the 24 hour online check-in window and scored the best seat in the plane. The Boston-Houston flights always use the planes with two exit rows next to each other, where the front one has two seats and the back one three seats. So, the person by the window in the second exit row has no seat in front, and can completely stretch out. Tomorrow evening, that will be me. It sure beats the seats we had when we booked the flight, split up middle seats in the two rows right in front of the bathroom. Exit row is so much nicer.

Also good news, I am in the championship game in my fantasy football league, matched up against the #8 seed. Things look pretty good, and I could wind up with a late $120 Christmas present.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Semester in Review - or, How I learned to stop worrying and love HBS... 
I wanted to end the semester with a post about what I’ve learned, since I figure after four months and $20k I must’ve learned something. Well, after a little reflection, I think I have learned a few things. There’s nothing revolutionary here, nothing transformational, but it’s not bad for a first semester.

Finance 1
• Since I took the CFA Level 1 exam, I didn’t learn much in Finance that was new.
• I did apply a lot of what I learned in the CFA to real world problems, and that was very helpful.
• I gained a lot more confidence in building models and spreadsheets, even though I already considered myself pretty good in excel.

Financial Reporting and Control
• Cost and responsibility accounting were entirely new to me, while the financial accounting portion was not.
• It was interesting to approach all three accounting areas from a general management viewpoint, where the issues are slightly different, and more interesting, if you ask me.
• Knowing how much a product costs to produce or how much profit a customer generates is very hard to measure. Poor cost accounting systems can lead to very, very poor business decisions.
• Compensation and auditing have a direct and powerful effect on the way the business is run. There’s no easy answer or best way, and I think this will be a key issue in management for a long time to come.
• Taking even a single step across the line and down a slippery slope is to be avoided at all costs. The biggest financial accounting scandals start with a single toe over the line.

Leadership and Organizational Behavior
• For some reason I was vaguely disappointed in this class, but I think the standards and expectations for leadership training are set quite high at HBS. That’s a good thing.
• Balancing work and personal life is not always possible, or may not ever be possible. Perhaps it’s better to speak of tradeoffs than balance.
• If you can start a company and foster cult-like loyalty from your employees, you can make some serious money. I have problems with this approach, but it seems to be very effective.

• This was a real eye-opener of a course. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you build the best product, people will buy it. Not only is that not true, but you can use marketing to outsell a superior product.
• Marketing adds significant value to an organization, and is at least as important as operations or the product itself.
• You can have lots of fun with data and statistics in marketing, it’s not just touchy-feely and artsy stuff.
• In order to successfully bring a product to market, many different companies with many different agendas must all come into alignment. The best marketers understand that and get the alignment right.

Technology and Operations Management
• There was nothing groundbreaking for me here, as I was engineering in undergrad.
• Matching operations to the business strategy is critical. JIT, for example, is not objectively the best system. Some business models are incompatible, and it would be a mistake to blindly apply the latest gimmick.
• Execution is critical. I’ll take a well executed bad strategy any day over poor execution of a brilliant strategy.

Section Life
• There is serious value in bringing diverse viewpoints to the classroom. Hardly a day passed when someone didn’t make a comment that surprised and educated me.
• The atmosphere was not aggressive and unpleasant, not even in the first month when everyone is getting used to the case method. I felt a need to prepare so as not to let down my classmates, but I knew I could say anything and no one would criticize or attack me. They might disagree, but it was a discussion of ideas and never got personal.
• The section environment rules. Even though I spend less time outside of class with my section than some, I still feel like I am getting to know 88 great people really, really well. I can’t imagine what kind of bond will exist after another semester.

This has been a really great semester, and I don’t feel much uncertainty as to whether I made the right decision to come here. The job search process is driving me nuts, and I’m procrastinating way too much, but other than that I have no complaints. I am really looking forward to the time when I have my summer internship offer in hand and then the pressure will be off and I can just enjoy myself. Even with that anxiety constantly lurking in the back of my mind, this has been a great four months.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

$20,000 worth of education 
Well, yesterday I completed the first $20k of my MBA education. I'm not sure I feel $20k smarter, but whatever. Finals as a whole weren't too bad, although I don't think I did as well on marketing as I would have liked. Actually, I feel like I could have aced or bombed all of my finals, so I'll be really curious to see what my grades are like. We don't find out until right before next semester, though.

Jie and I have tentative spring break plans finally set up. We wanted to go with the HBS Sailing Club on their trip to the British Virgin Islands, but I don't have much confidence that they will get the trip put together in time to get decent airfare, so we opted instead for a trip to Barbados. We got the trip off a vacation auction site, and are just waiting on final confirmation that the room and airline seats are available for our travel days. If it all works out, we'll be spending 7 nights in Barbados at an all-inclusive resort.

I made the mistake of ordering Christmas gifts semi-last minute from Amazon. They still haven't shipped, after four days, and I'm doubtful that they'll arrive in time for Christmas. I e-mailed them and asked for better shipping (at their cost, of course), but they would only give me an Amazon gift certificate instead. I really need to work on ordering gifts further in advance...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Disaster Strikes 
New seating chart is out. Next semester I'll be center section, worm deck. I need a drink.

4 down, 1 to go 
Well, finals are almost behind me. Accounting was today, and it was probably the most challenging one yet, although it wasn't too bad. Finals week in general has been pretty nice. Finals don't start until 9am, so I've been getting to bed around 11 for a solid 8 hours of sleep. Studying hasn't been a big issue either. All told I've probably put in 6 hours for my 4 finals, which is about what I would put in for 4 cases. The difference is that I only have one final a day, as opposed to 2-3 cases.

That's the beauty of the case method and open book finals, I think. It's just another case so you work it like you would a normal assignment, except with more structure and detail. You don't have to waste time remembering anything because you have all your cases and books in there with you, if you care to lug them to school.

Today for Accounting we did have to go through the idiotic printing procedures again. I don't see why I couldn't stay home and upload my exam like we could yesterday for LEAD.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I set out to create a post that brings together all of the applicant advice I have so graciously shared over the last 10 months or so for all those poor souls who are working on their round 2 apps right now. Well, apparently I am not the benevolent host I thought I was, because this blog is almost entirely devoid of advice on applications. To be fair, I did write several things on the long-dormant MBA Advice site, but none of that wisdom made it's way here. So, in order to completely avoid studying for my LEAD final (or, gasp, looking ahead to FRC), here is some unsolicited advice:
Finally, for those of you interested in HBS, the key is: leadership. Someone once described it to me this way: At HBS they want to know that you are on this leadership trajectory, that you will be a great leader someday. You don't have to be far along the trajectory now, just on it. HBS is all about educating future leaders, they take it very seriously. Showing that you are on your way to becoming such a leader is a good way to improve your odds.

I'll conclude with my standard disclaimer: the advice you have just received is worth exactly what you paid for it, and it is based solely upon my own observations and opinions. Oh yeah, good luck!

You would think... 
That at a school as technology focused as HBS, you wouldn't have to print out your final exam and could instead upload it. I mean, if I can simply convert my work into PDF format and upload for my TOM final, why can't I do something similar for Finance? Especially when it would be infinitely more helpful for a professor to have the actual excel file to grade rather than a printed copy. Not to mention the fact that IT support has to spend the better part of a couple of days setting up and then packing up 60+ printers in order to allow all 900 first year students to print. It makes zero sense to me.

On the plus side, two finals down, three to go. Finance was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, or as it could have been. Aside from the printing issue, everything went smoothly.

Sent out my first cover letter and resume last night. That's the first of many, and hopefully I can knock out several more throughout the rest of the day. I've got my LEAD final tomorrow, which is nearly impossible to study for. Also, it is an at-home exam, so I don't even have to step outside tomorrow. That's good, cause the forecast calls for highs in the upper 20's.

Monday, December 13, 2004

22.5 Hours of Fun 
Finals commence today. I've got five finals, one per day, at 4.5 hours each. TOM gets it started, just 54 minutes from now. I couldn't find much to study for TOM, everything is so case specific, so I'm curious to see what it's like. 4.5 hours is a lot of time to spend in one room, so I'm going prepared with my standard brain food: peach rings and cokes. I'm also packing a granola bar in case I need something with substance.

I went from First to Third in the final two games of the regular season in my fantasy league after losing to the two highest scores of the entire season. The playoffs in my fantasy league kicked off yesterday, and it looks like I survived round 1. That's a relief, I was beginning to think that Lady Luck had completely turned against me. It looks like the regular season winner got himself eliminated as well, which is an added bonus.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

HBS Rumors 
A commenter referred me to this post on the Wharton S2S boards, and I thought I would write a response here, since I don't have an S2S account and question the merit in posting something HBS-related over there anyway. Here goes:

1) HBS culture is really competative and 'dog eats dog' . In the class, the professor promote debates between students or force students to get into debates. The person who won the debate gets points for final grade while the loser will lost points and get bad grade. So the classroom atmosphere really competative.
This has a kernal of truth to it, but most of it is noise. There are often classroom debates, some of which get pretty lively, but professors facilitate the debate rather than force it. Furthermore, prof's readily acknowledge that there is no correct answer to a case, and so while one person may argue more persuasively than another, that doesn't mean that person is correct and the other is not. Finally, class participation is based upon some combination of quantity and quality, so the mere act of being out-argued (which is itself a misnomer) does not imply a lower grade. Every classroom discussion I have been a part of has been friendly, and when things do get heated people are quick to talk after class and make sure no feelings were hurt.

2) HBS kicks out 10% (or 5%) of its bottom students, so people compete fiercely to aviod it. They do not share homeworks and are very selective in choosing who will be in their study group. Sometimes you have to submit a resume to be in a study group. There's very little teamwork.
Again, some small amount of truth followed by hyperbole. If you get a 3 (bottom 10%) in too many of your classes (something like half), then you will have to go before some sort of committee to demonstrate the fact that you really do want to be here and that you will improve second year. Before you get to that point your professors will have worked with you to improve, the school would provide counselors and tutors at no charge to you, and the students in your section would have done everything they can as well. From what I've heard about 9 people are generally asked to take some time off before returning for their second year, which is about 1%. Anyone who wants to be here and do well will be able to.

3) HBS is totally no-no place for a little bit reserved person. If you are a little slow or hesitant when you are saying something in class, other students will jump in and try to make his or her points.
Once you are called on in class the stage is yours, no one is going to raise their hand or speak while the floor is yours. Professors attempt to wait a few seconds after asking a question to allow the more thoughtful people time to raise their hands. Additionally, most sections set up "speaking buddies" so that other students can help you improve your participation. You can also work with your professors to make sure that you are called on and get a chance to speak in class.

4)HBS studnets are genenerally chrismatic rather than analytic. Analytic person doesn't fit in.
We've got all types here, including our share of quants and analytical people. The focus of the program is leadership and general management, but that doesn't mean there are only charismatic people.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The proof is in the pudding 
I was just watching a Mercedes-Benz commercial for their annual Winter Sale when I found myself wondering what percentage of their sales occur around the holidays, what types of buyers make the decision to give a Benz as a gift, and how that affects their overall advertising strategy. Perhaps this is a hint of what my Career Team leader was telling me about...

Home Stretch 
We're coming down the home stretch now and pretty much all that's left are finals. I'm not too worried, finals aren't really a huge deal here, they're open everything (except internet), and they give 4 hours, so I'm just not that concerned. I think 1-4 hours of studying each night should do the trick.

I've had several things I want to write about, but I have either not had time or forgotten what I wanted to say, or some combination of the two. Holidazzle was great, Jie and I managed to make it the whole night at a party with open bar and not make complete and utter fools of ourselves. That represents a substantial accomplishment, at least for me.

I want to write a "what have I learned" piece here sooner or later, just to cover the first semester. Hopefully I can take care of it on the two dead days I have before we head back to Texas while Jie is still working and I am out of school. I did my final 1st semester interview with the Leadership study that I am part of here, and it got me thinking even more about how I want to be sure and reflect about what I've learned.

I had a conversation with my career team coach the other night about whether she felt kind of lost at HBS after her first semester. I've had this nagging feeling lately that perhaps I shouldn't be here. I'm still about 80-85% sure this was the right place for me, but it's come down from the 100% of a month ago. She responded that she felt the same way, only she was 80% convinced she shouldn't be here. After the end of the first year, though, and especially after her internship, she had an 'ah-ha' moment and realized what she was getting out of HBS. Apparently that's the 'transformational' experience they talk about. All of a sudden, she said, she realized that she approached problems from an entirely new angle and thought about things in new ways, thanks to HBS.

What is it about 1st semesters that make you want to leave? I felt the same way after my first semester of undergrad... I think someone should go out and figure that one out. Let me know.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Want to work in the UK? 
The British government has this interesting program to encourage graduates at top MBA programs to move to Britain for work. I think it's a brilliant idea, and I also liked their methodology for determining the top 50 programs.

HBS Bloggers Unite! 
A question I often get is why aren't there more HBS bloggers. It looks like some of my fellow students have heard the call and have responded. Will's blog has been around a while but is now on the League site. A 2nd year, Dan, has a site up as well, which started in November, from the looks of it. Good stuff.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Coming up Roses 
Well, after being the only team ranked in every BCS poll not to play in a BCS bowl, it finally happened. Texas will be playing on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl. While I feel for Cal, we've been there and done that, so I imagine they'll get their chance in the near future. Until we get an 8 or 16 team playoff we'll be stuck with this kind of BS in college football. In any event, Hook 'em!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Holidazzle Hijinks 
Well, the week of Holidazzle is almost over, and the section events this week have been truly memorable. I finally got my own dare, which I performed today. I went with a level 2, which was probably a mistake, I think a level 3 dare would have been more fun. Today I went to class in an OU sweatshirt (the only article of clothing I could round up from the 3 former OU students currently at HBS), and after the second class made an announcement proclaiming the sooners to be the best football team for several reasons. It was a good dare, considering how deeply I despise the state, school, and football team of oklahoma. If I've offended any of my readers, I apologize, but you should really move to Texas.

Other section dares today included a guy stripping down to a speedo and sunbathing in the hallway and another classmate donning a Mugatu disciple t-shirt and distributing flyers advocating child labor as a way to improve the fashion industry. Yesterday we had a couple of guys get their legs waxed between classes, as well as a pitch for Viagra.

By far the highlight of the week was a song written and sung by what must be the most creative member of our section. In it was some reference to every member of the section, along with all of the professors. Not only does this guy have a serious talent for song writing, but his vocal and guitar skills are pretty damn good as well. The section was thoroughly impressed, and we gave a several minute standing ovation.

Tonight is Holidazzle, the big ball that marks the end of the first semester. Well, not quite, we do have one more week, but you get the idea. I'm really excited about it, I'm in need of a good opportunity to kick back and enjoy myself.

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