Thursday, December 28, 2006

1st anniversary of my blog

One year ago to this day (if I'm not mistaken - in any case I believe it was a few days after Xmas), I started this blog, not knowing where this would go. So I just wanted to wish my blog a happy 1st birthday :-).

I was inspired to start this mainly by the blogs of The Divine Miss N and Rusgirl, as I found them to be very helpful (whenever I didn't know how to do things, I would just copy their source code, paste it into my template and modify it a little bit :-) ). I think I was the first blogger of the class of 2008, though Moe almost beat me to it (his blog has sadly closed down since then due to some hacker attack). Then there was Wheels, who never showed up in our class and stopped blogging in June (though he did show up at admits weekend). Where are you?

Then there were Ellen, Jorge and FM, enthusiastic in the beginning but somewhat less once classes started. But of course, we are still a large group of active bloggers in our class, namely Patxi, Karlitos, VJ, Linda, and our recent addition, Genie! So the new admits should have plenty of resources here to find out about life in London and ask questions - congrats again, guys & girls! And this is just the class of 2008. Obviously, the veterans of the class of 2007 - Suzy, KV, Al and Myles, are also part of this happy family ;-).

Let me end on this happy note, I have enjoyed having this blog and getting to know more of you and so... expect me to continue :-).

Happy holidays and a happy new year!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Good time to get into investment banking?

I'm not sure how to interpret the record bonuses paid out to investment bankers these weeks. Most journalists, and also quite a few investment bankers I've talked to, take the way things are going well now as proof that things will go badly very soon. I don't know if this is a realistic assessment though. What I observe is that most financial journalists are embarassed they didn't see the tech bubble bust coming in 2000, and now they are predicting a crash just in case one happens - this time they will have predicted it! The only indication I have so far from the ground that things might not go so well is that Bear Stearns has decided not to recruit Summer Associates next summer and has canceled their career presentation at London Business School on short notice. I don't know what the reasons are. I know Goldman plans to hire ~40 summer associates for their London office (IBD and FICC) next summer, so those numbers look good.

So I actually think so many people predict a crash right now mainly to insure themselves against embarassment should a crash occur. In fact, I think we might have plateaued a bit but soon things are going to rise even faster. I think the record bonuses may be a symptom of something very different, not a bubble, but a symptom of how the spread between the stars and the "underperformers" is getting bigger. I'm not talking about investment bankers strictly, it is a common phenomenon that the highest earners in most countries see their income growing disproportionately, while the bottom earners are losing purchasing power as time goes by. Capital is getting more and more concentrated in fewer hands. So in essence, if this is true, it is a great time to become an investment banker. If the world is more and more split into the lucky and the unlucky ones, it matters more and more which side you join.

These are just some thoughts I'm going through, I'm still alert that many insiders are telling me this is not a good time to enter, but in the end I notice among all courses at the MBA and in general my strongest interest lies in finance and economics, so I want to go into that field. As I mentioned in my last post, I have to take some serious career decisions right now. Luckily since classes are over I had a lot of time to think and reflect. The funny thing is, after 4 months of going here and there mentally, I am back to where I started: I definitely want to leave consulting, and the only field that excites me is Global Markets/ Sales & Trading. It is funny how you can get confused and end up at square 1 again, but I guess at least now the decision is more thought through than in the beginning. So milkround is coming up and my plan is to focus only one 4 or 5 banks that have a great programme in markets. January will be busy!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

You know the first term is over when...

- people are throwing farewell parties and wish each other happy holidays
- you start looking for Christmas presents
- you sleep 9h every night plus take long naps in the afternoon
- you finally get to see the Velázquez exhibition in the National Gallery that opened in early November

- you get to check out some a cool vintage dresses on Portobello Market
- you finally write to your best friends back home
- instead of complaining about assignments, you are sad that time passed so quickly
- you scan the job postings on the Career Services website, realise you have signed up to dozens of company presentations and that you should start writing cover letters soon

- you go to Royal Albert Hall to sing Christmas Carols
- you know it will soon be time to take some serious career decisions
- you start thinking about what to pack and prepare for the flight back home

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Weird happenings in the finance world

Why is Morgan Stanley buying up hedge fund in the dozens recently, when Goldman Sachs has just created a hedge fund clone that will emulate hedge fund investments for only max. 1% of annual fees (versus 2%+20% performance in current hedge funds)? Hedge fund fees are bound to go DOWN.

In other interesting events of the finance world, I met with a managing director yesterday who heads some trading desks for a large investment bank in the City. I know him through a personal contact so he was very honest. He told me he would never go into investment banking if he was in my position, that it wasn't intellectually challenging and had no future. He said the future is in technology/automation and in Asia, in nothing else. If I can't stop it, he said trading is the way to go, all else would be useless, boring and terrible. Trading he said was still the least bad option, but a horrible environment for women. Very honest advice, but also a bit surprising to come out of someone who is in the job himself.

In any case, I'm continuing my exploration of finance jobs and am slowly but surely finding out what I would like or not. On Friday Goldman Sachs is hosting a full day event for female MBAs in their offices that I'm attending, even though we have the accounting exam in the afternoon. The good thing about the exam is, there is less and less to study the lower you set your aspirations :-).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Time to celebrate success

London Business School teams are very successful at the moment, winning global competitions. My stream mate Cindy was part of a team that won the HSBC Global Deal Competition in New York, beating schools like Columbia, Chicago and Kellogg. But I was especially happy that my friend Amit won the Alpha Challenge, a global stock picking competition, beating teams from Stanford, Wharton, Columbia and others. Pretty impressive! I can't believe how these people did it, it's not like we had a lot of spare time recently to fly to other continents!

To be honest, I don't find this term very stressful, unlike some others (Karlitos made a related post). If you had a tough job before the MBA, the MBA is a vacation. In comparison to my job, it is very relaxing and there is zero serious pressure. The only pressure you could have is the pressure you put on yourself. But still, there are things to do, so even though I have lots of evenings off and enjoy my private life, you cannot really leave London a lot. Second year will be different obviously, as KV's example shows :-). I look forward to it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Trip to Cambridge

It is very good to take some time off once in a while and escape Marylebone, the area where London Business School is located. Yesterday, we took a trip to Cambridge to visit a friend and former colleague of mine who is doing her MBA at Judge Business School.

I had heard that Cambridge is nicer and sweeter than Oxford and I agree, it is a very small and beautiful, relaxed town. People seemed very cheerful and happy there, and people walk slowly and don't push you around as they do in London.

I think we got to see almost all the colleges. My favourites were Pembroke College and King's College, though from what I've heard the MBAs usually end up in smaller or lesser known colleges. We had lunch in St Catherine's College where they offer subsidised food, very cheap and quite okay.

In the midst of these old buildings, I had a fascinating talk with my friend's boyfriend who is doing a master's in polymere engineering. Crazy stuff! Did you know they have developed biodegradable mobile phones by now and even contact lenses that turn into water at request? Suddenly I remembered I had met a Colombian girl in Hamburg who works for a polymere company in Hamburg that develops biodegradable shoes and stuff like that, these products don't only dissolve, but if you throw them into your garden they suddenly turn into plants. This is great stuff and I definitely need to look into this field, though I doubt I will ever study it I think it is a fascinating investment opportunity.

We also went river punting which I highly recommend to anyone who visits Cambridge. You get to see all the colleges from the back and can also watch crazy Chinese tourists trying to punt themselves. Obviously, lots of students as well who struggle not to fall into the water.

Being an MBA student obviously I was also curious to visit Judge Business School. It looks like they have very generous sponsors, it is located in a very artsy building that used to be a hospital but has now been converted to a business school. The architecture is very nice and colourful.

What did I learn about Judge? It seems to be very collaborative and friendly with only 110 students per year. Also, the class seems very diverse in terms of backgrounds, they have an age range up to 50 years (vs. 36 at London Business School) and according to my friend many people from charities and public services. The conflict now is that they want to move up in the rankings, which would mean reducing diversity (chuck out those non profit guys for a GMAT800 IT consultant). Let's see in which direction they go, but I definitely liked the school.

They are also going to the MBAT tournament next year so we will meet some more of the class. So, this is what's happening in my life "outside of London Business School".

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Finally: New Dean appointed

Just a quick update for those wondering who will replace Laura Tyson as our next Dean:

It will be Robin Buchanan, senior partner at Bain & Company (he's been partner since 1990 so seems to be a very senior guy). He has an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Sounds like a great choice. Especially the people in our school interested in consulting are very happy, but I think overall you can definitely expect things to go forward.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Midterm reflections on classes so far

6 weeks into the course, it is time for a reflection on the MBA core courses so far to follow up on my first impressions.

The class I enjoyed the most. The only thing that upsets me is that I always think economics would have been the perfect undergrad for me. But at least now I get to study a little bit of it. The interesting thing is that I did not expect to like it, because I had a 5 day crash course in Microeconomics during my Mini-MBA taught by Besanko (back then I did not know he was a big guy in Microeconomics) and it was too much, it is not a subject you can absorb easily within a few days, especially because this professor liked maths and graphs even more than our current professor :-).

What I like about Microeconomics is that it is very challenging and also very relevant. In which other subject do you deal with very strategic topics such as pricing and market entry but actually discuss based on facts and formulas rather than exchanging random opinions (which can happen in strategy class - more about that later). We have only just covered the basics and are starting game theory now (our professor's favourite topic), but I have a feeling I will learn more about strategy in Microeconomics class than in strategy class

Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility
The cases chosen for this class were excellent. I think all of them touched on extremely relevant and contentious topics that we might be confronted with. We started out with minor ethical dilemmas (such as putting information in a favourable light to sell at a higher price (is this how business works or not?), but then moved on the more political topic of corruption: what should an individual manager do in a situation where he is urged to bribe and it may be the only way to get a contract? Should managers act differently when they are expats? And in the very end, we got to topics of Corporate Social Responsibility, discussing pharmaceutical firms' responsibility to give away cheap drugs to developing country's and also Walmart's responsibility to the environment, its employees and its suppliers' employees. All of the cases were quite controversial. My favourite phrase of a classmate was "but we are just assuming this is corruption. I would prefer to call it relationship building!".

What left me a bit frustrated was that in the end I haven't advanced at all in this class. Yes, I have heard other opinions. But I have in no way been able to make up my mind. I still don't have a strong stance on these topics and mostly I still don't know if it makes sense to do what seems on the surface to be the "moral" thing to do. But it is still fascinating to see the diverse opinions. When you work together with people you sometimes assume everybody has the same moral values, but it was quite clear there are very different views. So I think it is great that we have had this class, but I can't say I have a clearer view on what is the right thing to do in all situations, it's tricky.

I was quite disappointed to find out we would be taught actual accounting (recording transactions) as opposed to financial statement analysis. I assume they assume you need to learn bottom up and put balance sheets together yourself in order to understand them better, but I think if we used all the time we spend on pretending we have an ice cream shop and record transactions actually learning the theory and conventions of financial statements and digged into financial ratios, risk analysis etc., it would be much more fruitful. At my company, I had the great privilege to be taught in Financial Analysis by Kellogg professor Art Raviv, and the one phrase I remember very clearly from him is "Accounting is a myth, accounting is fiction, accounting doesn't exist!" and then went on to teach us how to actually dissect financial statements and get to the truth behind them. That was much more fun. We are getting a new teacher next week though, let's see if his approach is different. I'm upset though because I think accounting is very important and not many people are good at it, so it is a useful thing to learn, the problem is so far I haven't been able to get enthusiastic about what we are doing and haven't learned anything in the class.

I haven't made my mind up about this class yet. It is definitely a very hard subject to teach. The cases are good and we watch a lot of videos, which is fun. I think I have to do some outside reading (the professor posts many optional readings on portal but I've never managed to have a look at them so far). It may be a subject where you only get as much out of it as you put in, so I need to put more effort into it. Next week we have our strategy group assignment, let's see if I get into it then.

Finance I
Obviously, I came to London Business School because I wanted to learn Finance. Our teacher is great and the speed is extremely fast. Despite some initial knowledge and my interest in the subject, I find it quite challenging and I learn a lot in every class. The first group assignment was great, we did a valuation of the Airbus superjumbo, and it was exciting to do the valuation at a time that you read about the delays and their impact on the breakeven in the FT. I wish I had more time to study finance, we learn so much and I get by, but I fear I might forget lots of it next year, so I hope they repeat the content once in a while.

So overall, my impressions are mixed. I've learned a bit less that I hoped to and have caught myself reading FT or writing sms to friends on my Blackberry in class, and that is something I really did not want to do, but sometimes we don't learn anything interesting and I have to do that, I am impatient and need to do something, either leave the classroom or read or write, whatever keeps me busy. Next weeks will be busy so I might pay more attention in all classes from now on.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Lehman Brothers Investment Banking Workshop

Better late than never, let's write about the ibanking workshop Lehman Brothers held in the Canary Wharf offices on Wednesday. Thanks, Women in Business Club for setting this up! The way to Canary Wharf was one of the most exciting parts actually. Some idiot must have left his bag on the train, and while we first waited in Canada Water to have the bag evacuated, they suddenly decided to evacuate all of us rather than the bag and we had to leave the train and the station immediately. Then we were wandering around Canada Water for half an hour trying to find a cab or a bus, but it was to no avail. In the end we went back to the station and at some point they opened it up again and we could finally reach Canary Wharf. You almost walk into Lehman Brothers offices as soon as you leave the station, which is very convenient.

They brought us up to the top floor (31st) which had an impressive and beautiful view over the night lights of London. 10 of us were half an hour late and the panel was ongoing. There were Managing Directors from each division - Investment Banking, Investment Management, Fixed Income, and Equities. After the panel, we moved on to a drinks reception, and many more Lehman employees joined. There were analysts, associates, several women from the recruiting team and more senior bankers, so it was very easy to talk. I especially enjoyed talking to an equities trader who is trying to get more women interested in trading. He was telling me that every woman who walks through the doors of Lehman comes with the wish of doing sales, no matter what their personalities are. He urged us to open our minds and examine our strengths, and he said it is more than okay not to decide upon the role we think fits us best. You have to know what the roles are and what your strengths are, but according to him you have to keep an open mind about where you would fit. I like this approach, because it can be hard to make such a decision from the outside, it is much easier from the inside.

Overall, the evening was very informative and friendly, and many of us on the way back were impressed by the effort they had put in providing us with honest information and informal contact (as well as delicious drinks and canapés!).

Why has my memory blurred a bit by now? Because, on Friday I had the luck to be shown the Deutsche Bank trading floors in the City! I loved it! To be honest, I would have loved to stay right there and go to work :-)). What did I love about it? Well, I had some preconceptions about trading floors, or let's say I had seen another trading floor once many years ago where I didn't feel comfortable, but this one is NICE!

First of all, hardly anyone was wearing a suit, most were smart casual. Then, there were lots of women, I'd say 30-40%. People were young and seemed very cheerful. Another stereotype is that people eat greasy fast food in front of their screens, but actually they have a pretty stylish café in the middle of the trading floor selling smoothies, juices and salads, nice! Then all the country teams had their flags either on the monitors or on the walls next to them, it revived my memories of the world cup in Germany :-). Also, instead of ten screens and twenty telephones the traders all just had two large and very new plasma screens and one phone (plus mobile I guess), so it all seemed quite relaxed and healthy. Add to that the fact that they had beautiful exhibits of modern art on the ground floor and I must say I was very impressed. I hope to go back soon.

The coming week there are luckily fewer events, one big one is the stock pitch of the Investment Management Club on Wednesday, but sadly I'll miss it because I have to recruit some undergrads for my company in the evening. It is funny switching back and forth between the roles of recruiter and candidate :-). On Thursday we have our Microeconomics midterm exam and then Sundowners, the timing of the exam is great, right before our happy hour in the MBar, so you can walk straight from the exam into the bar and celebrate, well done!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pictures from Diwali party

A few weeks ago, some classmates of mine complained that I never post pictures of the class on my blog. Then I posted some pictures from Tatoo on my blog, and others came to me and complained why I had posted pictures of others but not of them on my blog! :-). So it sounds like there is demand for more (maybe not from the viewers, but from the objects ;-) ). In any case, I think even for applicants it's nice to have an idea of the MBA students of a school. So here are some uncommented pictures from the Indian Diwali party a few days ago...

Next post (hopefully tomorrow) on the Lehman Brothers Women Workshop in their Canary Wharf offices. It was a great and very insightful event so it is definitely worth posting more about it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Women in Business Conference 2006

Yesterday we held the Women in Business Conference at the London Business School. What an experience! It was very high profile and I met and listened to some very impressive women:

1) Vivienne Cox,
Executive Vice President and CEO, Gas, Power & Renewables and Integrated Supply & Trading, BP

Vivienne is one of the top people at BP and also an excellent speaker and a very nice person. She spent some time talking about renewable energy, but the most interesting parts were her advice to succeed (and I think that goes for men and women alike). Her advice was: "find something that only you can do and know what only you can do". This is useful for two things:
- If you ever want to work flexible hours, go home early or in any way appear to put in less time than others (e.g. when you have children), she said it is crucial that you are still the best person to do that job. So you have to know what you excel at and make sure you leverage this skill on your job. That way, you are in a much more favourable negotiating position than if you are easily replaceable
- If you're a boss, you may find yourself in the position of having 1,000 things on your to do list and you may get overwhelmed by all the work. So knowing what only you can do also means that you know which things others can also do by exclusion. So her advice was if you are overwhelmed, only do the things that only you can do and delegate the rest. Also sound advice

2) Dorothee Blessing, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs IBD
Many who saw her agreed that Dorothee was the jewel of this conference. Finally, an example of a very smart and ambitious women who loves her job, has a big family (three children) and is an extremely good and helpful person. Her answers to the questions from the audience were very insightful and she listened very closely and thought very hard to give just the right answer to that person.

She shared some wisdom of hers that I will never forget. Lots of us were wondering "how is it possible?" to work fulltime in investment banking, travel around the world and have three children? Her answer was that the main problem is not about being a women. She said the most important thing is to know what you want in your life. This gives you determination and also makes you do only the things you love. In her case, she said she always knew she wanted a big family, no matter what. She then joined Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt and simply loved the job, so she also wanted to continue in that job. She said if you know exactly what you want and love your job, you will find a way to make things work.

The conclusion to this is that maybe many women who say they can't handle job and family or they need to withdraw from work because it doesn't work never loved their job in the first place? Maybe we just use children as an excuse to leave a place we didn't want to be in anyway? I'm not claiming it is going to be easy and Dorothee wasn't. I just found it very insightful that instead of agonizing over how hard it is to be a woman, we would do well investing this time in figuring out what exactly we want and which job we would really love, and then I completely agree with her that you will find a way to make it work, because in that case it is worthwile.

I am very thankful this busy MD flew in from Frankfurt to share this with us. She has changed the way I think within an hour, and how often can you say that about people? This leaves me now with the task of figuring out my dream job again - ouch!

3) Networking
There was also plenty of time to network in between and after the session. Apart from having more time to talk to my lovely female classmates (they are all so nice, so this is always great, even if I do it every day :-) ), I met an Irish alumna who is now CEO of her software startup, and funnily enough also a MiF alumna from Hamburg who is now a freelance consultant in Hamburg. I also met again a Goldman Sachs recruiter I had met already at a dinner two weeks ago, and it was a pleasure to talk to her again, and then I got the chance to talk for the first time to our excellent Finance professor, Francesca Cornelli. She is one of these rare persons simply everybody has to like. She is also an excellent teacher, the pace is fast but I enjoy the class very much. I came with some previous finance knowledge but we go much further than the basics I had in every lecture. We are in the 3rd week now and already dealing with calculating forward rates, it's great

The weeks ahead are going to be BUSY. It's not so much the workload from school (though there are five assignment piled up), but more the fact that every evening there are events, so if you want to take advantage of them you only have the weekend to do any work. The events for the coming days:
- Indian Diwali party on campus, including dinner, fireworks and Bollywood dancing
- Lehman Brothers Women's Workshop in their Canary Wharf offices
- Scholarship drinks reception with the Dean and the corporate sponsors of the school
- Lunch with the MD of HR of Deutsche Bank in their offices in the City
- Undergraduate recruiting at London School of Economics, Oxford and Cambridge - since I have time I am helping out my company to recruit smart German undergrads for our German office. Some of them might be lured by opportunities in London so we have to work hard to lure them back to Germany. I think I am well suited for this because I studied in the UK and actually applied to the London office out of undergrad, but somehow the German office found out and convinced me to forget about London and come to Germany

Apart from that - still working on figuring out the right path in my life. Yesterday I decided to take a day off from this. If you look at it from an outsider's perspective, all this talk about "should I do Consulting or Investment Banking?" probably sounds completely stupid. There are so many people in London who are designers, art dealers, architects, journalists and so on, and to them I assume it all sounds the same. What I'm doing now is I'm talking a lot to other McKinsey people and then to lots of other people, often with finance background. Among the McKinsey people (we are 8 in our MBA class) I think as good as 100% want to go back and think this is the best thing to do. Of the other people I talk to, many also think it makes sense to stay a couple of years longer. It's funny how fast things can change. I'll keep my mind open for a few more months and go to all the networking and informational events, so far they have been very helpful in giving me an idea of where I would enjoy working and where I most likely wouldn't.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pictures from London Business School - Pictures of Diversity

Yesterday we celebrated the best event at London Business School so far - TATOO! Wonder why it's called TATOO? Well, this is why:

TATOO is a celebration of the diversity of the school, and each country or region prepares food, drinks, songs, dances or whatever they feel like to present to the school. The clear winners for me?


The Russians served excellent food (something I had not expected!), the fact that they didn't serve vodka wasn't their fault (we could only get drinks from the MBar and the student associations, even the German stall couldn't serve beer!), but what I liked even more were their costumes, their dances and their music. Everybody enjoyed watching them very much.


The Indians prepared a little dance/play about a flirting game, it was a lot of fun, they had beautiful costumes and the music was beautiful. I know they practiced many times of the last week so I was also impressed by their time commitment, since we are all quite busy right now, and I think it was very sweet of them to sacrifice all their spare time over the last week to show the school community their dances. Thank you, India!


What can I say? Excellent food! The cheese was great and the burning crèpes even better! The French sure showed everyone that they know what good food and hospitality are!

And... my classmates!

And how could I forget? THE BAND!

It is a bit ironic when future investment bankers and management consultants start singing Rage against the Machine songs ("F* you, I won't do what you tell me!"), but hey, a bit of nostalgia should be allowed, right?

Overall, a beautiful party! And now back to work - fast!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Career choices

One of the very frequently asked questions on campus is "what do you want to do after your MBA" or in my case "are you going back to consulting?" Some have a very clear and consistent answer to this, others don't know and therefore don't like the question. In my case, the answer is usually quite clear but not very consistent. Ask me now and the answer might be very different from two months ago.

I came here with the aim of working in global currency and commodities markets. Though I'm still very interested in these markets, I have also become very interested in equities over the last weeks. Then I read an excellent account of the hedge fund industry – Hedgehogging (Penton Audio) by Barton Biggs, founder of the hedge fund Traxis Partners. It is very insightful and truly hilarious and generally made me very interested in fund management.

As if this wasn't enough to keep me distracted, I am unsure if leaving consulting at this moment is smart. Leaving now, I would enter the field of finance as an associate and I'm not sure how I could progress from there, especially in more specified fields such as investments. At the same time, I am constantly receiving good bye emails from colleagues who are about 2 years ahead of me and they seem to move over to very interesting jobs in private equity/venture capital and investment management. So now I'm exploring this option. I know some partners in the corporate finance and private equity practice so it would be quite easy for me to work on projects in this field to prepare for the move.

To make this decision, networking will help a lot. I am currently reaching out to colleagues, business school classmates with consulting background facing the same choices, alumni of my company who moved over to investment banking and hedge funds, as well as classmates with finance background. The common consensus among most I've talked to so far is that it makes more sense to stay in consulting for a while longer, at least in terms of career.

The problem with consulting is that, since it is a quite accelerated path, the longer you stay the less attractive outside options become. The good thing is I really like the people from my company. We are a group of 8 ex-analysts in our class and I like all of them very much. On Thursday we are invited for a dinner by the London office and in two weeks I'll help out recruiting undergrads from Oxford/Cambridge/LSE for the German office (this is a challenging task since competition from London-based consultancies and investment banks is fierce). So I'm reminded a bit of the book Monkey Business: Swinging Through the Wall Street Jungle. In it an ex-ibanking-analysts goes to business school convinced he will never go back to M&A. But then he is lured into a summer internship on Wall Street by a more prestigious bank thinking there it will be better. He hates the summer internship and returns to the 2nd year convinced he will not return. But then school starts, he's invited for dinners and events, receives an offer with a nice bonus and suddenly finds himself back where he didn't want to be as a fulltime associate.

There is no conclusion to my post. I could write a conclusion now and next week the conclusion could be different. I think once I've talked to about twenty people hearing their thoughts, opinions and experience I will advance. There is still about half a year to make a decision.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

First Impressions of professors and core courses

The core courses have finally started. So far, I've had Microeconomics and Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility. Here are my thoughts so far. Both professors are of extremely high calibre. We also had a glimpse of an entrepreneurship professor at a careers service event last week and he was also extremely bright and entertaining. So my overall impression of the faculty is excellent. I would even say that I am positively surprised, despite my high expectations. Unfortunately, mbaprof is not telling the tale from the professors' perspective anymore. I assume he was found out and told to stop blogging? Now let's talk about the courses:

Microeconomics: I had been told by a 2nd year that this professor is controversial, so some people love him and others are very upset about him. I enjoyed the class immensely, it was very entertaining and the dry matter of supply and demand was discussed in an original way. I heard some people were confused or upset that he made everything sound very difficult, but I didn't notice that. Also, the professor is great at discouraging waffling, so if someone talks just to talk he makes a bit fun of them, which is mean but will be good for the quality of class participation.

We seem to get a lot of extra work and homework in this class, but I think that helps to learn. Also, I enjoy learning, this is better than working, right? I don't really understand when people moan about every class and every assignment. Why pay $80,000 tuition fees if you don't want to learn anything? I think it is just a social thing and everybody thinks they have to moan about studies to fit in, but I find it ridiculous, we're not in high school (or are we? There are some high school stories going on, but I don't feel like writing about them. Let's just say some people forget they are not 16 anymore).

Business Ethics: This is certainly a topic many moaned about before it started... "what's the point?" "you can't learn ethics", "it has nothing to do with business"... The class was great though. Obviously we started out talking about Enron, Arthur Andersen and the like. It turned out we had someone in the class who once interned at Enron and then worked on a Parmalat deal at an ibank. Then there were four or so with experience at Andersen, and also another one witnessing bribes and corruption at an aerospace company. So I think everyone saw that it will affect everyone directly or indirectly and we cannot afford to say we don't care about these matters in business. The case discussion was controversial, as expected. I look forward to the next case discussion, which will be about bribery.

Tomorrow we have our first Finance class, finally! Today was also the meeting of the Finance Club, which was impressive. They organise lots of events, such as modelling and excel training, interview training, sessions on "life as a trader" or "global currency markets" held by global investment banks. It will be very useful! Tomorrow is also the 1st meeting of the investment management club. So there are events every day and it is very exciting.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Steering towards desaster

Business school life is very tempting. Every day, you get emails from people organising something. The mountaineering club organising trips to Wales, the surf club offering trips to Cornwall, the Latin Club announcing Salsa lessons, the Investment Management Club hosting a stock pitching contest, then every weekend there are house parties, house parties and more house parties. Right now I am very enthusiastic and am signing up for lots of interesting events
  • I signed up as a volunteer for the Women in Business conference hosted at the end of October. There will be panels about Microfinance, Success Factors and, above all, about my new favourite topic, Personal Wealth Management and Financial Planning (more on this topic to follow soon)
  • I formed a team of four to participate in the Venture Capital Investment Management competition, we are a great team and I hope we have time to do a good job, because I think we definitely have an edge
  • Yesterday we had great fun at the "girl's night out", about 70 female MBA2008s showed up and we had a great night, it was so nice to meet some more girls I hadn't met yet
  • Today is Sundowners - the first happy hour hosted by the school for staff and students including free drinks!
  • Today is also the club fair - where we can sign up to even more events
  • Tonight is also another house party in Swiss Cottage
  • Tomorrow we invited about 10 people for dinner - all the MBAs/MiF who live in our building
  • Saturday night is yet another house warming party
  • Sunday is the kickoff for the Women's Football club
  • ...
You get the idea! So far it's a lot of fun, though I suspect at some point this will all end in desaster :-). I will actually be a bit less busy than expected because I just found out they have canceled the Russian language course due to lack of demand. I am extremely upset about this, because I was determined to speak Russian by next summer. My last trip to Uzbekistan was great - but it would have been much better if I had been able to talk to people! So I am determined to learn Russian but now the issue is complicated. I might use next spring break to do an intensive course in St Petersburg.

Anyway, I'll keep myself busy. In case my frequency goes down, I am especially happy to announce a new MBA2008 blogger, Genie! Thanks, Rusgirl, for pointing me to her. As it happened, we have two Russian girls in our class and I didn't know which one Genie was, but I did find out last night at the girl's night out, so there is no blogger left "in hiding" now.

Friday, September 22, 2006

10 questions (not!) to ask at recruiting events

Knowing that I was off to business school, I volunteered to take part in a recruiting event of my consulting company in May. Actually, we call these events "sourcing events", where we "source" new candidates to apply for a job with us. This is distinct from actual recruiting events where you would conduct interviews. So there I was on a Saturday morning 9am after a very tough 80h working week, having come home from the airport the night before.

First, a principal from the Swiss office made a very interesting speech about the sports industry (basically, the big money behind FIFA, Olympics; Basketball etc.), and then there was a free brunch for all the candidates with about 5 consultants mingling with the candidates to answer their questions on consulting and our company. What struck me was that some candidates gave me very bad vibes and some gave me very good vibes. Some made me feel bad, angry or shocked at their naivity, others made me feel at ease. Obviously, based on these observations I would make recommendations for the candidates or not. After the event, I thought about why I got a negative impression of some and a very positive one of others. I think this is helpful for anyone attending recruiting or networking events.

What not to ask at a recruiting event...
  • Do I have to have studied business studies to apply?
  • Isn't it horrible to sleep in hotels 4 nights a week? I could never do that!
  • But do you really work so much? Isn't it tiring?
  • But do you recruit natural scientists? (upon my affirmation) But I studied advanced robotics, can I do advanced robotics work in consulting? or another girl but do you have molecular biologists? (upon my assertion that we have just about everyone you could imagine in my company) Well, I don't think so because my university was the first to launch a molecular biology degree 3 years ago
  • Do you like your job?
... and why not...
Regarding the last question, it is actually the most valid of the list and can give useful insight. However, since I didn't like my job very much at the time, it made me feel bad. It made me feel bad that I had a job I didn't like, and it made me feel bad because I was in a dilemma about what to say. Obviously I cannot say that I don't. So I can say yes, you learn a lot, but that it is definitely a tough job. So the problem I have with the last question (do you like your job?) is that it can put the other person in a defensive and uncomfortable situation, and you should always try to make the "recruiter" feel at ease.

The first four questions are terrible, because rather than show interest in the job or the company, the candidate is looking for reasons NOT to like the job. I found that many students who had no idea about my job only wanted to hear about the negative aspects of the job or threw around prejudices they had heard. Some questions also stem from insecurity. Instead of saying that they have a background in computer science but they would love to learn more about business, they ask "but do you hire scientists? But can I do robotics?". Some also showed a high degree of inflexibility. Some candidates had a background in biology or medicine and asked if they could apply their knowledge in consulting, and I started telling them about work for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, but they would insist "but can I do molecular biology?". First, it shows a lack of interest in a wider range of topics, and it also shows a high degree of ignorance about the business world.

So keep your doubts about the job to yourself and ask more diplomatic and positive questions instead. These will usually give you the information you wanted, but leave a much better impression.

... and what to ask
  • What do you actually do in consulting on a daily basis?
  • What would a typical week look like?
  • What are the people like in your company?
  • I studied political science and would love to try out consulting - how would you advise me to approach consultancies?
  • I would love to have a better idea of the kind of work you do. What kind of projects have you worked on so far?
  • ...
If you are looking for commonalities in these questions, you will quickly notice that these questions show genuine interest and an open-mindedness. These people respected that I probably can tell them more about the job than any little prejudices they might have heard second hand, and asked with an open mind. They also conveyed a much more positive attitude by asking how to make it happen, rather than listing all the problems there might be. The questions were also very open, engaging me in conversation, rather than abrupt, such as "isn't it horrible to sleep in hotels every week?".

I think it is not about lying or asking only flattering questions. It is about coming in with an open mind and asking the person who probably knows best what the job is like what their job is like. This is very different from coming in thinking that consulting or investment banking is a horrible job and looking for confirmation of this opinion. If you think the job is horrible and you know all about it, why attend the event in the first place?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Feeling inspired - and keeping myself busy

Thanks to Patxi and anonymous guy for your comment on my "eulogy". In the end, I spent almost a whole day thinking about it, and it was time well spent. The good thing is, I don't have to overthrow all career plans I had in mind so far. I have realised that which job I choose does not matter very much at all. People always agonise about which is there dream job, and I think this can be a very difficult approach. There may not even be a dream job for you (this idea is very well presented in a new book called "Working Identity" by INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra).

The traditional approach to find your dream job, as suggested in "Which color is your parachute?", is to think of people you admire and what jobs they have. I never could think of anyone when I thought of CEOs or entrepreneurs I had heard about. It only struck me yesterday who my two role models are - and they are very close. One is my 87 year old grandmother, who used to be an interpreter at German embassies and also a translator of children's books. Some of you may know the English classic "Black Beauty" - my grandmother translated the book into German. But I admire her not because of her job, but because even at 87 she is traveling, working, learning languages, she is a very cheerful person and she is still very curious about life. I admire her for her energy.

The other person I admire (or envy?) is my stepfather, who is a doctor. He loves his job so much that even though he could easily retire, he is now doing five jobs at a time - in two hospitals, in a private practice, giving advice to courts of justice, lecturing at universities and conferences. I admire him because he has found a job that he loves and he can spend 60h working at his age and be a very happy man. At the same time, he travels around the world, plays golf, goes to jazz clubs and generally enjoys life.

What I learned from thinking about why I admire them was that it doesn't mean at all I want to become an interpreter or a doctor. Also, that maybe it doesn't matter if my next step after business school is entrepreneur, investment banker or journalist. I can switch around as much as I want to. I can do new things every 3 years if I want to. Realising this has taken considerable pressure of me. I know feel very free to enjoy life and not worry so much about career choice. Well, I still haven't found the purpose of life and I still haven't found my "dream job". But I know now what kind of life I want to live to be happy when I'm 60 or 80, and that makes me happy.

Talking of enjoying life, these are my plans for the next days:
  • tonight: dinner with our Brazilian housemates (we have 4 London Business School flats in our building and are having dinner together for the first time)
  • Thursday night: traditional English dinner with my study group near St James Park
  • Friday: dancing in a Bollywood club in Soho organised by Indian classmates
  • Saturday: brunch in Notting Hill with friends I made while studying for a masters degree in St Andrews

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Viva la independencia - but do you know where you are going?

Yesterday about 100 London Business School students celebrated Mexican independence day at the Mestizo in North London. It's funny how history passes, and lots of Spanish people came along to celebrate as well, among others fellow bloggers Karlitos and Patxi (though one of the two left suspiciously early :-) ). It was quite crowded and hot in the bar itself so I spent most of the time outside with about 40 other students talking about this and that. Right now it is quite a nice phase, you already know a lot of people and get to know them better, but at the same time I still meet a lot of new people every time I go out, so it is a nice mixture of the known and the unknown.

Other than that, I am constantly postponing my assignment for Understanding General Management that is due on Tuesday. We have been asked to write our own obituary. I assume the idea behind is that we should think about what is important in life and what we want to have achieved when we look back. I feel very offended by this assignment. Yes, one should think about the purpose of life. But unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that there is no purpose to life when I was still in high school, and have been quite successful in forgetting about it over the last ten years. Now I have been reminded of this, thanks to the MBA. I think on a superficial level, it can be inspiring to think about a purpose in life - saving the world, helping the poor, leaving a trace in the world (via achievement or offspring). But to be honest, one does not need an MBA to strive for this. It might even be counterproductive.

Pondering on the purpose of life is quite a demanding task for an MBA student. Few of us are philosophers, and those who are are particularly unlikely to know the answer. In conclusion, what I don't like about this assignment is that the only way to answer it is in a very superficial, conventional way. As soon as you try to find a sincere and more thoughtful answer, you will fail.

Most likely, my obituary will sound like this:
"By the age of 15, she realised she would not find a purpose in life. For most of the time (interrupted only by a short period of time at London Business School), she successfully managed to suppress this truth and therefore lived a happy, long and successful life".

As you can see, it is not the most motivating of all assignments. Luckily I will forget about it very soon.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunny weekend in London

Life is still very relaxed here. Unexpectedly, it turns out we don't have any "real classes" till October. We are spending our time during the week mainly on preparing our CVs for the CV book, getting introductions about leadership and management and other such issues. The only real course would have been Business Statistics, but I'm waiving that one, so I have 5 free days over the next two weeks. It's really not very busy yet in academic terms, so I get to go to the gym everyday, which is very nice.

Contrary to weekdays, weekends are very busy. On Friday we had our first off campus party. A classmate who owns a house in Clapham threw a big party in his house, which I think about 60 or 70 of our class attended. Moe was so kind as to share his vodka with me, so I had a splendid time :-), even though one of our classmates who apparently was a DJ in his pre-MBA life didn't show up.

On Saturday I went to Harrod's food section with my husband to get some good cheese, which is not so easy in your average British supermarket. I love Harrod's food section, if I could I would buy all my food there. Last night three Indian classmates had a little dinner party. We were in a group of about 10 or 15 people, enjoyed Indian food and lots of wine and had a very good time.

Today was the warmest day in London so far, and I went to Hyde Park Speakers' Corner. If you want to see freedom of speech in action, this is the place to go. It is all quite useless though, as the speakers seem to be mainly fanatics who are not interested in listening, and the same goes for most of the listeners. The highlights were an American Muslim preacher claiming that men and women weren't equal ("because my wife doesn't pay any bills, but I pay bills") and an English guy claiming that Christianity was the religion of peace, and Islam was the religion of war and violence, unsurprisingly he ended up surrounded by a group of 5 Arabs shouting at him.

Then there was a Jamaican who claimed he was an angel (little did he know that he had another angel listening to him :-) ), and an English woman who simply insulted her audience. Overall, an interesting experience, I am constantly astonished how much energy people spend on trying to convince others of their religious or political opinions, since in my experience it is a completely useless effort and a big waste of time.

Then I had the great pleasure to meet a Maroccan friend who is just starting her MBA at HEC. She wrote me once because of this blog and since then we had been emailing once in a while. So this was the first time we met in person and I enjoyed it very much, even though there was not enough time. When I started this blog, I was mainly focused on helping other applicants, I hadn't considered the fact that I would actually make friends this way, but now this "side effect" is highly welcome :-).

Overall, the weekend was excellent, it is simply impossible to be bored in London. The great part is that the weekend continues on Monday, since I am waiving statistics :-). But I have two cases to read, so tomorrow I actually intend to do a little bit of work as well.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Escaping the comfort zone during Away Day

Yesterday we finally had our "Away Day". We were not told what we would be doing, only that we had to be at the school at 7am sharp and take off to the countryside!

The whole day was all about challenging ourselves and about team work. We did some very challenging stuff, like rock climbing and also climbing a high pole and jumping down. We were secured by ropes obviously, but for someone like me who has never even been on a rollercoaster, this was definitely a high adrenaline activity!

What I enjoyed most, apart from the high adrenaline, was working in our team. They put two study groups together, so we got know our own study group closer but also had the chance to meet more people. Again, the diversity of our team was impressive. Put together an Israeli engineer, an Egyptian investment banker, a British ex-soldier, a Russian automotive manager and many more, and you know what a high performing and diverse team is! We speak 9 languages within our study group alone! Not a bad record for a team of seven MBA students!

Tonight it's my turn to prepare dinner for my flatmates, after enjoying a delicious Chicken Khorma prepared by our Pakistani flatmate on Sunday. I'll make stuffed bell peppers in beef and tomato sauce. It's my favourite dish, and I hope it turns out well. Sharing a flat with two classmates has turned out really well, it gave me the possibility of living very close to school for an affordable rent, and it's fun to enjoy dinner together and remind each other of all the things one can forget, such as reading cases, showing up to careers service presentations, picking up documents from the school, waking up at 6am etc..

Thursday, August 31, 2006

London orientation

So, finally the MBA has started. Technically, I don't think it starts till October, these first 4 weeks will contain mainly introductions, preparations, skill development, leadership training and team building, which is good, because it gives us time to get to know each other and learn how to work together before we get busy.

Stephen, Patxi and Karlitos have already described the orientation so I just want to mention the parts that most impressed me:

- the lecture by strategy professor Costas Markides on "Ten things I wish I knew when I did my MBA" (he holds an MBA from Harvard Business School). There was lots of useful advice and many many occasions for laughter. I can't wait to attend his classes

- the international citizens game. As Patxi mentioned, the "German engineer" (who is actually a philosopher) was hilarious and I think I owe the bottle of champagne I won to him (all of us Germans won a bottle of champagne each, a very generous gift, given that we are for the first time 10 Germans in the class). There were lots of memorable and funny presentations from the regional groups, there was Spanish flamenco, Canadian singing, British umbrella handling advice and an introduction into Japanese greeting and drinking habits (see picture).

- numerous drink receptions. I enjoyed meeting lots of classmates. As Patxi mentioned, the class is very diverse and some have very interesting and unusual backgrounds, so that is definitely a plus.

- We were told however, that diversity is also a major predictor in the study group so I am also a little bit relieved that our study group is not that diverse. The countries covered in my study group are India, US, Egypt, UK, Germany, Spain and Russia. Probably, for a US school that would count as very diverse, but if you look at it at a map all countries except India/US are within a small circle of the globe and could all be considered relatively Westernized.

- The streams: yes, I'm in Stream A, which I'm very happy about, because somehow I always ended up in stream or class a, in primary school, in grammar school, and any other places I've been after that, so I had a feeling I would end up in Stream A and that's what I did. In terms of fellow bloggers I have Moe and VJ in my stream, and lots of people I had met at the pub crawl, so I am very happy with my stream.

Today there was no highlight, the day was dedicated to career services information, and to be honest I can see how it is helpful for some, but if you are a sponsored candidate or know exactly what you're looking for, the general information sessions ("what color is your parachute?") are not very useful. So I tried to sit through the day patiently.

Tomorrow will be more fun as I signed up for the Volunteering Day. I will have to get up at 7am where I could actually have had the day off instead, but I'm happy to volunteer and spend a day out in the fresh air.

I have the impression I won't be blogging as much as I used to over the next weeks, even though every day gives enough material to write five posts. But there's not much time now. Holiday is over.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Relaxing before the storm

Things have been easy and relaxed here. Contrary to other people's experience, they set up my bank account in a day and I had no major problems (apart from all my cards and cheque books being designed for Mr angel angie rather than Miss!). I'm very happy with the pay as you go mobile deal I got from O2 and we have just signed our contract for the new flat!

We'll be living 5min or less walking distance from school right in the heart of Marylebone. I think it took some (Miss) divine intervention to get this flat, but it's great to find a place without having to deal with agencies. We'll be sharing the flat with one microchip designer and one marketing manager from the Silicon Valley. I can't wait to move in and finally unpack my bags!

Apart from that, the pub crawl is keeping us all busy. There are probably around 30 to 50 admits who turn up each day. Where are the other 260 people? It's a mystery. On Monday the orientation starts and we'll be divided into four streams and get assigned to our study group. I'm very curious to find out where and with whom I'll end up!

So next week will be very busy, with orientation, introductions, our first classes and a volunteering day on Friday that I signed up for. Luckily I get to waive one of the core courses, Business Statistics, giving me some spare time in September (5 full days to be exact!) to relax and go to the gym, so I'm looking forward to that.

School is getting quite busy now, last week when I got my student ID it was absolutely deserted but now you have more and more people walking around there. Apparently Joe Stiglitz was there there other day giving an executive course on globalisation. I was quite surprised by this since I wasn't too impressed by his book Globalization and its Discontents . And I have to add I read it many years ago, at a time that I thought No Logo was a great book (I haven't looked at it since 6 years so I can't comment what I would think about it now - but at least it's quite interesting and has some interesting analysis of changes in Western labour markets). I found Ken Rogoff's rebuttal of Stiglitz's book more convincing and I hadn't expected Stiglitz to be considered an authority on the subject of globalisation (though he obviously is an authority in other fields of economics). Anyway, I'm sure it doesn't hurt to confront future businessmen and women with some critical ideas :-). They'll hear those very seldom once they're back in the workforce.

So this is a little London update before the MBA finally starts! While I'm writing this, there's a fox in front of our house "barking" (or should I say screeching? It's a weird sound!). I have never seen a fox in my life so it's funny to have one in front of your house in London! And this is only zone 2! If the fox lets me sleep, then I'll catch some sleep now.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Price discrimination - the "stupid premium"

I think you can have different opinions about price discrimination. You could say it's unfair to charge some consumers more for the same thing just because their willingness to pay is higher. The common trick in price discrimination is to alter the product in a little way to make it seem different (cooler designed chocolate boxes etc.) and you can identify those people ready to put money on the table.

On my recent holiday in Switzerland, I came across the most beautiful example of price discrimination. And in this case, I find it completely fair to overcharge those ready to buy this product. If you believe in such marketing tricks, you surely deserve to pay a premium for your stupidity.

In this case, the product was as simple as could be. I know there are people who argue that Evian tastes better than Vittel and so on, and that the Norwegian tap water sold in New York for $10 a bottle really is especially healthy, but this was even better. It seems that water is sold under the brand of Carpe Diem with three beautiful side effects. If you feel tired, you can choose "revitalising water". Or, if you're a bit upset, you can pick "calming water". But, my favourite, if you feel confused or missed your last yoga class, you can drink "harmonising water" instead. Isn't the modern world of marketing great? And now you can pay $5 for a bottle of water with a supposedly calming or harmonising effect. I don't know how successful this product has been in Switzerland so far, but given that they are ready to pay $7 for a little plate of tortilla chips ("because they are straight from family Gonzalez in Mexico"!), I'm sure harmonising water will be a huge success.

Yes, sometimes price discrimination is fair. Some people deserve to pay more. I'm enjoying my London tap water instead.