Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Another 2008 blogger!

It is quite incredible how many of the class of 2008 are already blogging, the MBA hasn't even started yet! I want to welcome a new classmate of ours, Karlitos from Barcelona, to the group of 2008 bloggers! The picture does not show him obviously ;-), just a random person on the Ramblas who I managed to take a photograph of during my Christmas vacation in Spain :-).

I am also trying to set up a get together of admits in Munich for mid June, let me know if any of you are around at the time of the football world cup!

Apart from that, I want to congratulate all the London Business School students who won the trophy at the MBA Olympics "MBAT" at HEC in Paris this weekend, I'm proud of you! Even the FT was proud enough to mention our sporting heroes!

Other than that, time is passing fast, little over four more weeks to go at work and there are lots of public holidays upcoming, my mood is slowly becoming enthusiastic (it seems like my mood is eerily synchronized with Al's)!
Update from June 5th: in recent days, two more 2008 blogs have sprung up (at this rate half of the class will be blogging by September!). I want to welcome VJ from Amsterdam and Jorge & Dani from Sao Paolo to the LBS blogging community! Thanks to Patxi for the very appropriate logo on the left!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Getting ready for the summer!

My return to to work after admits weekend has been surreal. First, I come in on Monday just to find out that my two team mates have fallen ill with scarlet fever. In fact, it turns out I had infected them the week before, since I went back to work after a few days of illness, thinking I had tonsilitis! Apart from that, the leadership seems to be a bit nervous and I had my partner shouting at me for some alleged wrongdoings. Do they think they can motivate me to work by shouting at me if I'm leaving in five weeks? I don't think so!

Luckily, today is a bank holiday and I get to plan my life after management consulting. I'll have about 6 weeks off before I move to London in mid-August, so here are my plans. For the first one or two weeks of July I don't have any plans, I'll just sleep and hang out, enjoying the summer in Hamburg, maybe going to the Hamburg beach at the harbour. Coincidentally, I finish work on June 30th and it's my sister's wedding on July 1st so I'll definitely have a great motivation to celebrate!

From July 10th to July 26th, I'm planning to take an intensive Russian course. I was happy to find out at the admits weekend they have extended their portfolio of languages offered and are offering Russian, Mandarin and Arabic next year in addition to the usual suspects. It seems the first two terms we'll have 4h per week so I'm very enthusiastic about that, it sounds like I will have a good chance of finally reaching some level of competency in Russian. I don't think I'll ever get such a great opportunity to learn a language again.

From July 26th to about August 10th, I want to go hiking somewhere sunny. I have had such an unhealthy lifestyle over the last two years that I really just want to be outdoors on the move all day for a long time, getting exhausted and breathing fresh air. Some days all I breathe is hotel air, taxi air, office air, airport air, airplane air... no wonder I'm constantly falling ill! So the two favourite options I'm considering are:

Hiking in Switzerland

I was going to go to Zurich anyway where two good friends from my old student days are doing their PhDs, so today I realised it wouldn't make much sense to go all the way to Greece, if I'm going to Zurich anyway I might as well stay there and go to the mountains from there. The good thing is my friend there goes hiking every weekend so she should be able to tell me all the best routes and nicest spots to enjoy lakes and mountains. I'm especially curious about the Italian part of Switzerland (see picture), since I only know the German part so far. This is my preferred option.

Surfing in Portugal

Somewhat less relaxing than hiking, the very exhausting option is to fly to Portugal and take a surf course. I learnt surfing in the Sopelana surf school near Bilbao and extremely enjoyed it (at least once I managed to stay on the board after catching the wave!) but haven't had the opportunity to surf since then. Surfing was much more exhausting than I had ever imagined, so that's exactly what I'm looking for. They even seem to offer surf courses where you do yoga on the beach every morning, a weird combination but also pretty cool!

What should I do? Maybe both?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Admits weekend in London!

So, admits weekend is almost over! I'm sitting in the Lufthansa lounge and have an hour till my flight boards. Taking advantage of the fact that they have t-mobile hotspots at Heathrow airport, I'll give a short account to all those who couldn't make it, since I won't have time to write anything in the coming week (on a side note, a little trick for those of you who own a Blackberry with a flatrate: you can use t-mobile Hotspots for free anywhere if you choose "pay via mobile phone bill" rather than "pay by credit card" and then insert the number of your Blackberry instead of your actual mobile phone number :-) ).

First, the dinner on Friday night. We were greeted with a glass of champagne and slowly got talking to each other. About 100 people turned up, so in the end we were split up into two rooms. I got there quite early so I made sure to sit at a huge table with lots of people. I had a really good time, was seated between a guy from Amsterdam and one from Madrid, with a girl from India, a girl from the Philippines and a guy from Australia opposite me. We had a delicious 3 course meal, had great conversations and then slowly got up and mingled a little bit. I had the pleasure to meet Carlo who has been commenting on this blog and suspected that we work for the same company, and it turned out we do :-). I also met the people I had met at my first encounter with 2008 classmates. I also found out lots of people read my blog, which was very surprising! I have to be more careful about what I write from now on! :-). What amazed me the most was how excited people were about coming to London Business School, people had flown in from places as far as Tokyo and Toronto! There were even quite a few waitlisted candidates who showed up which was great, I do hope they get rewarded in the end, though unfortunately it has been communicated that attendance to the admits weekend wouldn't influence the LBS decision.

Saturday was a long, intense and great day! It started of with a long breakfast and we were greeted by the dean, the associate dean and the student ambassadors. Then we had a long list of lectures and sessions. Surprisingly, I especially enjoyed the Careers Services presentation. I was quite impressed by the quality of the Careers Services team. They told us that the woman in charge of investment banking careers had been the first woman to ever work on Wall Street and had 30 years of investment banking experience. So I guess she knows what she's talking about. "A day in the life of a student" was also quite a good insight into student activites and do's and don'ts. I was glad to be warned not to blurt out what I really thought about my job when I left because we would need to ask former bosses for 360° feedback for the orientation. So, all in all, lots of useful advice and plenty of time in between to chat with people.

At 5pm, lectures and sessions were luckily over, because I did get tired in the end. I woke up though when we all headed to the nearest pub, the Windsor Castle to enjoy a few drinks and talk to even more people! Afterwards, we had a short dinner and then got to the highlight of the evening: a gig in the cellar of the student bar by the student band (do they have a name?)!! They were really good and people were having lots of fun, people started stage diving already 3 minutes into the concert :-). I did wonder if they were from a different generation though with all those Guns n Roses and Jon Bon Jovi songs :-)! I must admit the current students were somewhat more active, while the admits were observing the scene wondering if we too would look like that next year :-). It struck me that soon I will enjoy student life again and became very happy. Bring it on!!! During the concert, I also had the great pleasure to talk a while to KV and the Divine Miss N, as well as Moe (I had met Wheels the evening before but somehow didn't bump into him again on Saturday, there were a lot of people there, I would say about 150 admits, 50 partners and around 30-40 current students from the class of 2007). What impressed me was how close the current students seemed to be, they seemed to be having a lot of fun. I don't know if I should really believe all this talk about how hard they work ;-)! They certainly looked like they were having a good time!

I probably don't need to repeat all those things that have been mentioned as advantages of London Business School. The diversity is impressive, there didn't seem to be any nationality over 10% of the class, I met people from Russia, Taiwan, Spain, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Italy, Canada, US, Pakistan and so on and so on, pretty cool! Also, talking to current students I enjoyed learning so much about potential careers, there were people from the UN, derivatives traders, lawyers, marketing executives, entrepreneurs and so on (though there is admittedly a large chunk of consultants and auditors!). But at least there seem to be plenty of people with unusual backgrounds. This was the reason I chose London Business School and it seems like it was definitely the right choice!

This morning, I attended the women's brunch at the Landmark Hotel, organized by the Women in Business Club. We were a rather small circle of about 30 women from the class of 2008 and 10 from the class of 2007, but this was also nice since the day before was a bit overwhelming and this was the chance to talk to less people in a more relaxed and quiet atmosphere for a longer time.

I didn't go to the afternoon's events. Instead, I went to my favourite restaurant in Chinatown, the Golden Dragon, to eat aromatic crispy duck with egg fried rice and drink jasmine tea. Afterwards, I took the chance to meet up with two of my sisters who happened to be in London this weekend in a pub near Green Park (how many "King's Arms" are there in London??), and then headed to the airport. And now it's back to work for another 5 weeks! This weekend was really helpful for me; on the one hand I'm even more excited about moving to London now, on the other hand I felt so inspired by all the people I met that I think I have the strength to work hard for another 5 weeks now, from now on time is going to pass like crazy!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No drinks for me!

The timing couldn't have been better: 6 days before the admits weekend, I caught a bad tonsilitis! So I have been in bed since Saturday. Yesterday I went to the doctor and since then I've been taking antibiotics. I have to take penicillin for the next 10 days and won't be able to drink any alcohol.

The good part is that I got to stay at home for two days longer and will only fly back to work tomorrow. Luckily I should also be fit enough on Friday to join the admits dinner and enjoy the rest of the weekend in London. The bad part is that I won't be able to drink alcohol which might reduce the fun a little bit at the dinner and the party on Saturday (especially as there are free drinks!).

I still look very much forward to the admits weekend and I'm sure I'll have enough fun just meeting lots of people. I just hope I will be well again by Friday.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Admits Weekend here I come!

Dear Ms angel angie,

Thank you for your booking online. Below please find the detailed information regarding your online award booking. Please have this confirmation with you when checking-in for your flights.

Flight: LH4758
Date: May 19, 2006
Routing: Munich, Franz Josef Strauss
- London, Heathrow

Departure: 15:05
Arrival: 16:10
Cabin: Economy

We wish you a pleasant flight.
Your Miles & More Service Team.

I just booked my flight to London for May 19th and I can't wait!!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

LBS admissions statistics

R2 admits had to pay their commitment fee last week so now I can share the new yield and class of 2008 statistics.

I had mentioned in a previous post that yield in R1 was around 75%. In R2, yield was only 59%. I guess those who apply in R1 are the very very eager and loyal ones (like me :-) ), I really wanted to go only to LBS). So now overall 360 offers have been extended and 234 have paid the commitment fee (overall yield 65%).

There are now at least 70 spots left, and I'm sure some people won't pay their reservation fee in June so there might be 80-90 spots still left for R3 and R4 applicants. This is pretty encouraging, isn't it?

Female share is down to 26%, which is better than in recent years but less than it was among the total group of admits, so yield was lower for female students for some reason.

R3 offers will be extended soon and then more people will join the portal and also attend admits weekend. I can't wait to meet everyone!

Week in the life of a consultant

This post is for MBA Blogger who wanted to know what life is like as a consultant. I couldn't recommend him a book, so this is my version of consulting life....

Monday, Monday

My week starts on Monday morning, 5:45 a.m. My alarm is always set for 6 a.m. but I usually wake up shortly before it rings, worried I might oversleep and miss my flight. I used to do the packing on Sundays but by now the process has become so efficient I can shower, dress, pack my bags and have a tea within 30 minutes.

At 6:30 I'm off to the airport, get my ticket from the machine and go straight to the lounge. I used to cling to every possible minute of sleep and thus arrive only a minute or two before the deadline for electronic tickets (25 minutes before takeoff) but I have picked up the habit of arriving 10 minutes earlier to spend some time in the lounge. That way I can have a small muesli with tea and grab a banana or two that come in handy during the rest of the day. In the lounge, I already tend to bump into at least 5 colleagues heading to different cities for their projects. The usual questions are "where are you at the moment?" and "how is it going?", apart from that we don't usually talk too much.

In order to be a consultant you need a client...

Monday around 9 or 9:30 the working week begins.... To explain what we actually do on a daily basis is very hard, because it is so varied. The general idea is that we get assigned to a project, and this can be anything from cutting backoffice cost to designing a market entry strategy to setting up world class operations or customer experience, really anything. The very first days are dedicated to meeting with senior clients (members of the board and their direct reports) to agree on concrete actions to take and the direction and scope of the project. Then we spend a lot of time gathering data, understanding data, discussing potential solutions and creating concrete suggestions. There are different approaches to this. The approach I like the most is what we call "collaborative problem solving" which means you don't do many presentations as a consultant but learn more to solve problems and develop solutions jointly with the client, using their expertise and "the wisdom of the masses".

Once you have gathered enough data and information, a lot of time is spent on drawing good and meaningful charts. At the beginning I couldn't believe how much time I had to spend on this and I thought it was completely useless. Now I see the point of it. First of all, the more experience you have, the faster you draw the charts so the more time you spend on the actual content rather than the format. Secondly, each word and number in the hands of the wrong people (or the right people who misunderstood) is very dangerous, so it is very important to document on a constant basis the status of discussions. We tend to work on critical issues decisive for targets, bonus payments, investment decisions and so on, so it is important to have documented what you propose and what you don't propose, otherwise people can easily shift blame on you.

So I would say we spend 1/3 of the time on meetings and discussions with clients, 1/3 on conducting excel analyses and making presentations, and almost 1/3 can be spent internally in discussions with project managers, partners and directors. This is often insightful but sometimes seems a waste of time when you're busy. At my current project, we have a lot of interaction with partners and directors (directors are one step higher than the partners and actually the highest you can get within our company). We tend to get together 3h per week with all the teams working at this client to discuss current events at the client (critical discussions, frictions between senior managers, potential takeovers, competitor moves etc.), this is a great way to get to know the industry and the higher echelons of the client. Additionally, we have two or three more hours for the small team working on one topic to discuss it with directors. They make sure we are going into the right direction and like to challenge everything to test if we have thought everything through.

Working hard

Working hours depend very much on the project, the normal consulting hours in Germany are probably 8:30 am till 11 pm, but currently I have to work till midnight or longer on many days and also start at 8 am most days. There is not much "facetime" as in investment banking though, if there's not much to do I leave much earlier than that. Yesterday for example I left at 7:45 (I think that was my record during the last 2 years!), or on Friday I just took the flight home at 1 pm since I had worked till 3 am the two nights before. So hours are definitely very flexible, but if there is one thing to count on it is that you don't have any private life during the week.

Keeping in touch

The time spent in taxis is a great time to call friends and family. By now, it's almost only family I call on the way to and from airports and hotels. In the first year, right after the introductory trainings, I would call many new colleagues or they would call me. Conversations were very kind and supportive. We would call and e-mail each other at least once a week to see how everyone was going, how they liked it and so on.

This has subsided significantly in the second year. Some people have adapted to work fully and have found new friends among the people they work with, or they were opportunistic from the start and have shifted their attention to people higher up in the food chain. Some people are unhappy due to tough projects or unfavourable performance ratings and avoid contact (promotions are very transparent so if you're not promoted, while all your peers are, everybody will come up to you and ask "why weren't you promoted?"). And then there is the third group that is somewhere in the middle, moderately happy but really counting down the days till they can leave. They are focused on finding a new job, dreaming about their MBA or just spending time with their loved ones and also tend to become less and les communicative.

Most of the best friends I have made fall in the third category, one Jamaican lawyer is looking to return to a law career, one Californian HBS grad is looking into a teaching career, and my fellow peer from Germany is counting down the days till his IESE MBA in Barcelona starts. These are the people I'm still in touch with. If I hear from people from the other two categories at all it is at the time they are looking for a new project and they call me to ask "have you worked with this partner?", "how's this guy?" etc.. I tend to be very helpful with extensive advice but have often experienced that once people pick a new project, they don't really bother to update you where they ended up finally. I wonder if this will happen also with lots of contacts at business school. You have a great time together, then everybody starts new jobs, the first year people stay very much in touch to find out how they are doing at their respective jobs, and then most people fall out of touch and only call each other when they are looking for a new job and remember they should "network". The important thing I guess is to have 5 people or so who are true friends for a longer period of time.

Home sweet home

Thursday evening before takeoff I also head to the lounge if I have time to have a quick snack before the flight (the food on the planes is usually unacceptable). Again, I tend to bump into several colleagues, which is nice because people tend to be more cheerful and talkative on Thursday evenings when compared to Mondays. I used to go to the duty free to bring chocolate or champagne as a present on Thursday but this has also become less interesting over the years so now I don't usually bring any presents home anymore.

Casual Friday

Friday is our "office day" (see the view from my office on the left) where we have no client meetings and use the time to prepare documents for the next week, conduct analyses and also complete some of the admin stuff we don't have time for during the week, such as expenses etc.. I also like catching up with my peers, especially with the above mentioned partner in crime counting the days till business school. I tend to be very efficient on Fridays since I like to go home early. I try to head home at 5 pm, unless there is something urgent for Monday. Usually I opt for leaving early no matter what, even if it means I have to spend an hour or two on the weekend finishing.

This pretty much sums up my week. On the weekend I usually recover from the week, sleeping a lot, relaxing a lot, playing with my nephew, shopping, watching Seinfeld or Bruce Lee movies , doing some sports and so on. In general, time passes extremely fast. This is good because there are only 9 weeks of work left for me now and I hope they pass very fast.