Thursday, October 27, 2005

a.k.a. DIP Week 
Next week is Hell Week, the week people love or hate around here.  For those with sponsorships or who are going back to their summer employer it means trips to Vegas or other exotic locals.  For us poor souls without a job it means 2-5 hours of interviewing each day followed by (or interspersed by) hours with nothing in particular to do.  I got pretty lucky this time around in that I basically have one interview per day, though hopefully that will be complicated by 2nd round interviews.

My focus this year is on consulting and general management positions.  I’m looking for something more challenging than typical general management jobs, yet more socially interactive than something like investment management.  I’ve been practicing my case interviews over the last few weeks with classmates and I think I’m doing pretty well at this point.  Now it is more about execution than preparation.

Thanks for the submissions on the Hedge Fund names.  Our top choices are Bringing Down the Class, Milken the Market, J.T. Marlin (think Boiler Room), and then Highwater Mark (which would be perfect for me but doesn’t work for my teammate).  Hopefully with one of those clever names we can induce massive inflows and then go to work outperforming the class.  That’s the idea, anyway…

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Who knew TV was so exciting? 
It’s funny that I wrote my cynical post yesterday, as I had a great day of classes today. In International Financial Management we learned about an American company that partnered with a local figure to launch a TV station in Eastern Europe. All was well and profits were rolling in and then they found out their partner had ties to the Russian Mafia and the former secret police of his country, and he managed to screw them out of their investment. Fortunately, international courts came to the rescue and the local government wound up leveraging an additional tax on the citizens of the country to pay the settlement to the American company. A very interesting case.

Then in Dynamic Markets we finally reached the point in the semester where we form the Hedge Funds that we will use for the rest of the year. I’m teaming up with a guy from my section, we planned since signing up for the course to work together, and we’re looking forward to kicking butt. Anyway, we have to think of a catchy name for our fund so that we can market it to our fellow classmates and try to gain inflows to put to work. Our initial thoughts are either Short Term Capital Management (an obvious play on LTCM) or something using our initials… Any ideas for catchy hedge fund names?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Comment of the Day 
I suppose it comes off a little arrogant to pronounce something I said as the comment of the day, but so be it. This was a good day in terms of comments for me, so I might as well celebrate it.

Anyway, today my old study group got together for our second reunion breakfast. After talking about our wives, how much we drank at the tailgate this last weekend, and other standard conversation we finally got around to the inevitable topic of 2nd year conversations: how EC classes are going. I think the reason this comes about is because inevitably people are disappointed in their classes. The reasons are numerous, but I think I really distilled the issue down to its essence in one simple comment:

“There really just isn’t that much to learn about management.”
- Mark

We laughed about that for a while, that perhaps I should be featured on the HBS website with that as my soundbite, but the fact is that in a definite sense it seems to be true. HBS is a general management school, and in that context there just isn’t that much in-depth knowledge to be learned about leadership, strategy, marketing, etc. Since you aren’t trying to learn the nitty gritty details of each specialty, but really how to manage each process, the lessons are general and apply to many situations. As such, after the first 10-15 cases in each class you reach the point where the major methods have been introduced and it is just a matter of applying them in a new situation, which makes for a less interesting class. So, every EC class is bound to be a little disappointing once the heavy duty learning stops. Finance, accounting, and tax can be different, but it depends on the class.

Anyway, after that I went on to my next class where we had Andy Bryant, the CFO from Intel, in class visiting. Our homework had been to create 3 slides on Intel’s biggest problems as if we were presenting to the Intel board (instead of just 2 of them, our professor and guest). Anyway, I think that Intel’s biggest problem is that their core business, which is all they have been able to do profitably, is growing slower. That isn’t really a problem, except that management doesn’t accept slower growth and is fighting it tooth and nail with their billions in free cash flow. I told them to be happy with their 10% PC market growth and give cash back to shareholders…not exactly what they wanted to hear. Fun discussion, though.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

What was I thinking? 
Props to my sectionmate A., who rescued me in class today when I committed the unpardonable sin of raising my hand for a “numbers” comment without even having run the numbers.  Man, I must be off my game, I never would have made a mistake like that last year.  Fortunately, I was able to do most of the numbers in my head on the fly and my neighbor was able to help me out with his calculator when I needed it.

Helping those around you with comments in class is a somewhat dicey proposition, and many people will have no part in it.  I guess the biggest concern is that the professor sees you doing it, though most don’t say anything even when it’s obvious.  I try to help all I can, though I’ve been told I’m a loud whisperer, so maybe I should try written notes instead.  Too bad no one can read my handwriting…

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Astros won the pennant! 
The Astros won the pennant!

The Astros won the pennant!

The Astros won the pennant!

List Mania! 
Things that I think are cool:

Things that I think suck:

Sunday, October 16, 2005

With apologies to Peter King 
Ok, after spending most of a Sunday sitting inside and either doing cases or watching sports, here are a few things I think I think:

Woe is me 
The first big temperature change of the year is usually the time when I catch my first cold, but it’s been a while since I’ve been this sick.  It started with a sore throat on Thursday, added a small cough on Friday, and then by Saturday afternoon I was in trouble.  Stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, headache, etc.  Anyway, after lying around all evening and getting a Nyquil night, I’m feeling somewhat better but far less than 100%.  It’s too bad, too, because this is a pretty busy week from a school perspective.  So, as I sit here in sweat pants, a long-sleeve fleece shirt, and a bulky fleece vest I guess I’d better get to work.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Something to carefully consider 
I meant to write about this topic for a while but then forgot about it until I read this post from Will’s blog.  In it he relates how Medtronic is apparently joining a number of firms who do not recruit at HBS.  It doesn’t really bother me that many firms don’t recruit here, after all it wouldn’t make sense for every large company to come on campus.  What is bothersome, though, is the number of firms that don’t recruit here and refuse to interview students from the school.

This may not be a wide-spread issue, but I know that several companies like Wrigley, Campbell’s, and Quaker will not interview HBS students.  When pressed they state that they want to built relationships with a few select business schools and use them to source their MBAs.  I have a hunch as to how this came to be and I think I understand their position, even if I don’t agree with it.  Most likely they recruited at HBS and similar schools for many years and simply got tired of only getting a few applicants for their positions.  They come and set up presentations, perhaps hold dinners, and then when it’s time for the resume drop they get 3 or 4 students, and it’s just not worth the effort.  On the other hand, perhaps at schools that are more focused on their industry or located in their geography they get a great reception and lots of interest.  The difference in the caliber of students is probably not significant, so it makes sense to limit recruiting to those schools.

What I don’t understand, though, is why they refuse to even speak with applicants from other schools.  If someone is from the area, passionate about the industry, and went to another top school then it would make all the sense in the world to work with them.  Anyway, regardless of what I think is rational certain companies in certain industries take that stance with HBS graduates.  So, it really does pay to take a close look at the kinds of jobs and kinds of companies that graduates of a given school go work for, because you don’t want to be in the situation of trying to buck the trend.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Texas 45 - ou 12, and other scores 
I’ve been completely remiss in discussing the fantastic couple of games that my teams put together this weekend.  The Longhorns finally manned up against oklahoma and executed a convincing beat-down of the sooners, the Astros hung on through 18 innings to stick it to the Braves (2 in a row, after all those losses in the 90’s!), and the Texans blew another game and are one step closer to firing Dom Capers and hiring a real coach.

Let’s discuss the Longhorns first.  They held ou under 100 yards of offense through 3 quarters, scored on some beautiful big plays, and didn’t even come close to playing to their potential.  On the one hand, it’s a little nerve wracking to watch your team continue to play sloppy, on the other it’s pretty exciting to imagine them putting together four quarters of their best football.  Plus, when you can hang 96 points on two decent opponents without playing particularly well you know you’ve got something special.  Now we just have to execute and stay focused and there’s really nothing standing in the way of a big game in Pasadena this January.

As for the Astros, it’s impossible to look at what Roger Clemens has done in Houston and not be in awe, and doubly so when you consider the guy’s age.  Those three innings of relief were incredibly clutch, though probably not as much as Brad Ausmus (yes, Brad Ausmus!) stepping up to deliver the series-winning home run with two outs in the bottom of the 18th inning in the longest playoff game in MLB history.  Ausmus has made a career as a good catcher who doesn’t completely suck at the plate (career .255 average, has never hit 10 home runs in a season), so for him to step up and win the game like that is really amazing.

And finally, the poor Texans.  I’ve got confidence in Charlie Casserly, though many people are beginning to question him.  I’ve never liked Dom Capers, for what my opinion is worth, and I’m glad this season is going so badly that they’ll have to fire him.  I heard today that they might bring in Gary Kubiak, the OC at Denver, and I’d be ok with that.  We’ll have to see how this develops.

Someone asked me last night if I would trade David Carr straight up for Joey Harrington.  I wasn’t really sure, but as I think more about it I bet both QB’s would like a change of scenery.  Things couldn’t get much worse for either one…

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Customer Service? 
Jie's parents flew up and back to Austin on Northwest Airlines for this trip. They got a pretty good price on their flight, and they flew out of La Guardia, so we spent the weekend in NYC. That was fun, in addition to being cold and very wet. We did the NYC tourist thing, a first for Jie and me, including the Statue of Liberty, WTC site, NYSE, J&R Electronics, Central Park, etc. All in all it was a really fun weekend, I just wish the weather had been better, because it was lousy.

Not as lousy, it turns out, as Northwest's customer service. When Jie's parents arrived at the Austin airport to start their trip they were informed that their flight had been cancelled and they were now flying on a Continental flight through Houston. Furthermore, Northwest informed them that they had notified everyone of the flight change several months ago. In fact, Northwest was kind enough to send a itinerary reminder e-mail the night before the flight, showing the original itinerary! Anyway, this is just an example of disorganization, not really bad customer service.

This morning in New York we decided to check the flight status right before they left for the airport. I'm glad we did, because their flight was delayed by 30 minutes for mandatory crew rest, which meant they would miss their connection in Minneapolis. We weren't notified of the delay, which was a little irritating, but whatever. Anyway, so Jie gets on the phone to Northwestern to get their flight changed so they don't have to spend 5 hours in Minneapolis waiting on a connection to Austin. The NWA guy is generally uncooperative and puts her on hold for several minutes at a time so he can check for alternatives. First he says why don't we go to JFK instead for an on-time flight to MSP leaving earlier, but we explain that they can't make it there in time for the 45 minute check-in window. At this he responds that they would have to fly stand-by. Huh? Anyway, Jie argues that we would be on-time to LGA but we can't make JFK, and they didn't notify us, and so on. His response? A terse line informing us that we would have to resolve this at the airport and *click*

I'm not sure how much it has come up, but I used to be a manager in a customer-facing call center. Now, my workers and customers were more savvy than your average call center techs, but it is the same basic environment. I learned a few things about how to get the most out of a call center based on seeing the reactions to different kinds of callers by the staff on the inside. It sums up to this: if they don't like you, you'll get the slow, tortuous path to problem resolution; if they get invested in your problem and don't dislike you, miracles can happen. Anyway, I called NWA back and got Jie's parents on a better flight than their original (left later, arrived earlier, stop in DFW instead of MSP) on American. So, after offering that shread of credibility, here are my recommendations for dealing with call centers:
  1. Assuming you've got a legitimate issue with their service, start by calmly telling the rep that you are extremely hacked off at their firm for reasons x, y, and z. Give this new rep a chance to solve your problem, even if you know they can't. This gets them invested in your problem, even if only by dint of the sunk cost of their time.
  2. If the rep can't solve your problem and gives you a line about how there is nothing they can do, then tell them that's fine, you will suffer the abysmal service of their firm this time, but you will never use their services again (remember, still calm), unless, of course, they can send you to a manager for further assistance. The primary purpose of this is to get your rep to act as your advocate with their manager, rather than just handing off an irate caller. It improves the attitude of the manager immensely.
  3. Once you are working with the manager, you basically repeat step 1. A nice tactic to add in here if you can is to suggest solutions. It's only possible where you have information on alternatives (like you do with flights), as it offers that subtle message that you will know if they aren't looking into something. Hopefully this manager will pull the strings to get things taken care of, if not you have a couple of options. You can either try to escalate again, which is only advisable in a high stakes situation (like business services rather than personal stuff), since you need clout to make a 2nd level manager take any notice at all.
  4. Option 2 is to finally lose your temper, and say all of those nasty things that you've been thinking this whole time. There is a time and place for this, but hopefully the manager you're dealing with is competent enough to resolve the problem before that time. Of course, there will always be times when truly nothing can be done, in which case I hope you didn't get nasty, because you probably ruined someone's day for no reason. Just something to think about...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Career Catharsis 
Ok, change of heart, I will blog after all.

I’ve been bizarrely quiet about my summer experience thus far.  The primary reason is that I am an outed blogger, so to speak, so I have to watch what I say to a certain extent.  (Interestingly enough, I was discussing this just this morning with the old blogger Joey, who is also an HBS student, who had no problem staying anonymous.)  Anyway, my summer went pretty well.  Jie was in Boston for the summer because she had to work, so I went down and stayed with my parents.  I was working for an investment management firm, which I was excited about but had a few concerns as well.

The concerns, as astute readers may remember, centered around the amount of interpersonal interaction I would get in investment management.  My career team, people from the industry, my career coach, and others all told me that this could be a deal killer, and in fact it more or less was.  Now, the firm I was working with was extremely team-based, and I worked with some great people (one guy in particular turned it from a good experience to a great one), so I could see myself returning after school.  I couldn’t, however, see a long term career in investment management.  Now, there are two ways that can go, one is that I could stay long enough to make my millions and then who needs work, and the other is that I should look elsewhere because at it’s core IM is a destination industry.  To make my decision a no-brainer, the firm I was with restructured after I left and so it’s highly unlikely that they will even have a position for me.

So after all that I was back to the drawing board.  Now, since everyone and their dog had predicted that I would not find eternal bliss in IM, I decided to actually listen to where they were recommending and I looked into consulting.  I resisted initially because I didn’t want to follow the MBA herd, but what I found was encouraging.  In consulting I could find interesting work, indulge my desire for high-level problem solving with a dose of numbers thrown in, and I would get to work closely with lots of bright people.  After an absolute mania of networking events I think I’ve found my full time career, and now it’s just a matter of becoming an expert in the case interview and away we go. Of course, there are several interesting general management positions that I am looking in to as well, so it’s not all consulting.

In other news, the Astros won game one against the Braves in the NL Division Series, and Texas plays ou this Saturday at 1pm EST in Dallas.  I hope the Astros do well, but I would trade my first-born for a Texas win.  I’m having dreams about the game already.  I have butterflies in my stomach.  The wait is killing me.  (One advantage of the NFL: I don’t care who wins, so it’s low stress…)  Come on Texas, take care of business!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I just watched my first episode of Numbers, and boy is that a bad show.  Of course, I also thought CSI was terrible and look how successful that turned out to be.

School is keeping me busy, and Jie’s parents are in town, so no real updates this week.

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