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.

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