Thursday, July 20, 2006

Saying goodbye to my home town

This will be my last post for a while. I'm moving out of my flat tomorrow, there's only a little bit of packing and lots of cleaning to do. Then I'm off to Switzerland without my laptop for almost 3 weeks. We'll spend a weekend with two of my best friends in Zurich and then go hiking in Graubünden and Ticino to get some fresh air before moving to London :-). I've already set up an appointment with HSBC Baker Street to open up a bank account in the UK, so all we need to do once we're there is to find a small studio for us. But now it's time to say good bye...

Good bye, Hamburg harbour!

Good bye, Elbe beach!

Good bye Speicherstadt, the biggest warehouse space for Persian carpets in the world!

Bye bye, my lovely nephews!

Good bye, 70 sqm flat!

Bye bye, Hamburg...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Business School application advice

The LBS essay questions for the class of 2009 are out and I want to use this opportunity to give some general application advice for the class of 2009. I remember exactly where I was last year when our essay questions were published. I was in an internet café in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, it was mid-August and I printed them out eagerly. I had spent a lot of time before talking to current students and alumni and reading the LBS brochure over and over again, and now was the time I could finally start with the actual application!

1. Start early
So I know how some of the "early starters" of the class of 2009 feel now. To be honest, and that's going to be the first advice, I think it is terrific to start very early. If at all possible I would always apply for R1. It's all a matter of time management :-). The advantages of an early application in my opinion:
- apply only to your 1-3 top choices in R1. That way, you can save a lot of application fees, save your time if it works out, or if it doesn't work out you can learn something from your R1 application for R2 applications
- you have much better chances to sort out financing and scholarships
- you show your eagerness to attend just that school and your time management (you don't suddenly realize in spring that, actually, you wanted to attend b-school in summer...)

What has always helped me with applications is daydreaming about being at the school already. If you want to go to Columbia, read about New York, watch Seinfeld or Friends, read the New York Times, look at the school brochures, read anything you can find about the school. If you're headed to London Business School, study the brochure, watch student interviews on the CD they provide along with the brochure, spend a weekend partying in London, read about the history of London - all these things can make your application much more convincing. You can feel for yourself if that's the place you really want to spend at least 2 years of your life and you can let that desire shine through in your application. Obviously, bloggers of your dream school are another excellent inspiration for daydreaming (in my case, I discovered the blogs and blogging in general only after I had a place - but it helps if you discover them earlier!). For checking out cool stuff in London, check Yutaka Loves London!

Use your network or just build it up
Knowing current students and alumni from your school of choice helps for two reasons. First, it can again give you a great feel for the school and help you continue daydreaming. Second, they might offer help with essays or act as your advocates with the adcom. I knew that a sister's friend was an LBS alumni, and he actually made me consider LBS in the beginning since he once said that the 2 years at LBS were the best of his life. Then I checked our company database for anyone who had attended LBS. There was hardly anyone in the German office (only some MiF alumni), but I heard from a colleague that a girl from LBS had just interned and was going to join in September 2005. So in September I checked the new hires and called her up. She was extremely helpful and enthusiastic about LBS and I happened to be on a project in the same place she was doing her initial training, so we had lunch several times and stayed in touch ever since. She also named me some more people I could contact for advice. So before I ever started my application, I had spoken to at least 5 students or recent alumni. It was great to hear how everyone was 100% passionate and enthusiastic about LBS - this can also give you a good indication of the school's quality.

4. Make it specific
There is already plenty of useful advice on essay writing out there (see helpful resources) so I won't write much about that. However, what I would stress is the importance of knowing what you want and why you want it. This also refers to "why do you want to go to THAT school?". Make your essays specific to the school and don't copy and paste ANYTHING from other application. Of course it helps to have followed the first point, if you apply to 10 schools it will be hard not to copy and paste, but I think you can write much more convincing essays if you really want to go only to that one school, rather than sitting there wondering "what could I tell this school why I want to go there? I don't even know what makes them special, apart from the fact that they're in the top10!"

Being specific also means not waffling and deleting every unnecessary word and repitition. I can't believe how often there are posts on the Business Week MBA forum asking
"the word limit is max. 1000 words and I have 1200 words and it is impossible to reduce the length of my essay, how is this viewed by adcoms?"
To me, what that says is that someone can either not write a concise answer to a straightforward question, or that someone is too lazy or unmotivated to make an effort to write a short, concise, convincing essay for a poor adcom member who has to read 1000 essays answering the exact same question! Be helpful to them! Don't waffle, don't bore them and they'll be grateful!

Also, to the aspiring consultants, soon you won't have a 1000 or 500 word limit, soon you'll be writing no text but only powerpoint charts where even the most important conclusion of your 3 months work needs to be compressed into a small tiny bubble at the bottom right of the slide and you have max. 10 words to fill the bubble (you need minimum 12pt font and you can't increase the bubble, otherwise it will expand over the graph!). So use your essay writing to practice your communication skills (making it easy for your listener/reader instead of doing it the way it's easiest for you).

5. Helpful resources for LBS applicants
Clear admit wiki's LBS application advice from students
Clear admit LBS topic analysis
Beat the GMAT - very extensive resources, advice and links for the GMAT
Business Week MBA forums (requires registration)
My previous LBS application advice
I know there was also helpful advice on Moe's blog (see link on the right), too, but his site seems to have been hacked recently, you always end up being redirected to some car insurance site.

(if you see other sites that are/have been helpful with your application, feel free to let me know and I'll add them here - thank you!)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

What did Materazzi say to Zizou?

Just invent the lines yourself with the Zidane Video Subtitle Generator!

Hilarious! At least by now I can laugh about it again! I was quite upset that this great World Cup ended in such a way, I'm not sure the best or even the fairest team won, but it's over now and that's the way it is.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Back from San Sebastian

We're back from an extended weekend in San Sebastian and I want to post some pictures of this lovely town in Northern Spain...

It was great from the start. I had booked the lovely Hotel Maria Cristina which luckily belongs to the Starwood chain, so I could redeem my points gained from living for months and months of my consulting life at Sheraton hotels for a lovely stay at this great hotel in San Sebastian. When we came, we were upgraded to a suite with ocean view and received a bottle of Rioja Reserva as a gift, nice! This was the view from our balcony:

Since we arrived in the evening, it was too late to go swimming so we decided to check out San Sebastian's culinary splendour. San Sebastian is famous for its pintxos (I think in Madrid they call them canapés) and I heard somewhere its old town has the highest concentration of bars per square meter in the world (also helped by the fact that the bars are very small I guess!)

Apart from eating lots and lots of pintxos and fresh fish, we spent a lot of time on the beach, jumping up and down in the waves, it was lots of fun.

Then we had to head back to Bilbao to catch our plane there. We still had an evening to spend there. They had some excellent exhibitions in the Guggenheim Museum (one on Russian art, one on experessionist painter Max Beckmann), but we didn't enter, I've already been there three or four times, and we preferred to stroll around the city, which is getting more and more stylish every time I go there.

Now I'm back home and need to get packing! I'm moving out of my flat next week, will go to Switzerland for two weeks and then head to London right in time for the flathunters' pub crawl. Luckily, Carlos and Patxi have been well organized and have prepared to do lists of all the things I need to think about when moving out, so all I need to do now is cross off these items from the to do list (almost seems like I'm back at work!) and head to London!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Class of 2008 - interesting profile!

It seems the class of 2008 at London Business School is filling up now! I have wanted to post some interesting facts for some time but there were a few people I knew personally hadn't paid the reservation fee (they chose other schools :-( ) who still showed up on portal for many weeks, but now they've been removed so I assume apart from open R4 candidate decisions and a few waitlist movements the following should be an accurate profile of the class of 2008 : (DISCLAIMER to waitlist candidates: I have no idea how many waitlist candidates will still enter the class, these are simply observations on those people who are currently confirmed as attending, maybe 10 or 20 or 30 waitlist candidates will still be added to the class, that's something I have no information on- UPDATE: according to the official LBS blog,
the final few places for this year’s class are being allocated. The final admissions deadline passed last Friday, so 95% of the new class is now known, but there will still be a little movement from the Wait-list right up until the beginning of class in late August.)! May sound little but it means 15 waitlist candidates can still move up!

1. Female share: up up up!!

This is the most interesting one. It has often been noted that European schools have failed to raise the share of female MBA students in recent years. As far as I know, INSEAD is especially low with a share around 18 or 19%, and in recent years I had read that despite some efforts LBS female share was stagnating around 22%. Well, this year it is different! It seems that all the efforts from Laura Tyson, the Women in Business Club, the Deutsche Bank Scholarship, the Lehman Brothers study centre etc. etc. have paid off!

Almost 1/3 of girls, that's excellent news! I think it makes the guys happier and the girls who are there will also be happy not to be an "interesting minority" but "normal" members of the school community. In general, it must be good for the school community and recruiters will be happy too, so well done Women in Business Club, Laura Tyson and corporate sponsors ( and anyone I might have forgotten...)!

2. Biggest national group: Indians!
Reflecting the growing importance in the global economy on campus, the largest group among the admits seem to come from India! The second largest group are US Americans. The biggest group of Europeans comes from the UK, followed by Italians as the prime representatives of continental Europe.

What I find quite interesting is the relatively low number of Chinese admits - this is something that had struck me already at admits weekend. Do they prefer to go to US schools? Shouldn't all major current and future economic powers have a good representation at LBS? Maybe it's time to step up the marketing efforts in China? - The cooperation with Hong Kong University is definitely a good start.

3. Class size
Ths class size seems to be pretty much exactly the same size as the class of 2007 - though we're up one person from 325 to 326 :-). Overall there are now 326 students who have paid the commitment fee. I assume some R4 candidates might still jump off, but then they might be replaced by waitlist candidates, so we're at least one person more than the class of 2007 :-). Also excellent news! The more the merrier!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Consulting - the good memories I take with me

As most of you predicted, my nostalgia has disappeared very fast and I'm enjoying my spare time . I sleep till 10 or 11 every day, then hang out at the public outdoor pool for hours swimming and sun bathing, visit my family for dinner and watch football matches in the evening, not a bad start of my two year holiday from work :-).

But as I promised, before I leave for holidays I want to share some of the good memories I take with me from consulting. As most consultants will tell you, the best memories are usually from the people and from the trainings, for some reason the combination of the two is the best - the people you meet at trainings. I don't know why this is, but people are different in a project setting, while during trainings you realize how nice and fun most people are.

In my case, the first training was a 3 week "Mini-MBA" near New York in September 2004. This is a great training for all "advanced professional degree candidates", i.e. all non-MBA hires. So it is a training that unfortunately none of the MBA graduates receive. It requires about 70h self study in advance via books, phone conferences and one excellent online course provided by Tuck called "Business Bridge Online". It was so good that I tried to convince my learning department to let me take that online course again now to prepare for the real MBA but unfortunately they said I cannot take the course twice :-(. Interestingly enough, on September 11th 2004 I flew off to New York to meet my future colleagues.

The Mini-MBA is very much organized like an MBA, you get assigned to a study group and have core courses in Finance, Accounting, Marketing, Strategy and Operations taught by business school professors. Two of the professors were excellent and entertaining - Finance professor Artur Raviv from Kellogg and Phil Parker teaching Marketing and Strategy from INSEAD. The other professors (all from Kellogg) were a bit disappointing to be honest, but it was also a tough setting - we had class every day from 8 am to 8 pm with only a 1h lunch break in between and were supposed to learn the whole core course curriculum of a normal MBA in 3 weeks. So I just got tired of listening to all those professors, especially when it came to subjects I don't usually like (especially Operations!). You can imagine how intense it was! One negative side effect of this intensity is that by now I've forgotten everything they taught us there :-).

My first study group was excellent - one Jamaican lawyer, one Iranian lawyer and an Austrian neuroscientist. We had a lot of fun, never finished our cases in time for the presentations and composed a lovely song together based on "the sound of silence" by Simon & Garfunkel, it was a very creative and supportive study group. The other colleagues were equally cool - we had a former human rights lawyer who had mainly worked in sueing oil companies for environmental crimes in developing countries, a guy who had sold satellites to Eastern European defense companies, one Russian and one Polish Physics PhD from Caltech, several female Chinese computer scientists, a Mexican philosophy PhD... overall a group of 30 crazy people from all over the world.

One especially fond memory I have is from the first weekend which we got to spend in New York. I went to Central Park and Fifth Avenue and also to visit Columbia University and Chinatown, unfortunately there wasn't much time to see everything but maybe that will change once I go on exchange to the US. On the picture a bit further up you see two of my best friends at the training, one Jamaican, one from Hong Kong - both have left the firm by now, as it often happens. I think the annual turnover of staff is about 20% so no wonder a couple of years down the road many of the people I started with have left already.

When I came back for our local introductory training, I was in for a shock. It was cold and grey back home and suddenly I was in a group of 30 ambitious German new hires in black suits, most of them engineers and business majors, 80% male. It took me a while to adapt to this new environment after the lovely training in New York. Luckily, there was a new training awaiting me called "Basic Consulting Readiness". This is a training all new hires do, including MBAs. This training is usually local or at the most regional (within Europe).

In our case it was held in a beautiful location in the Austrian Alps (view from my balcony on the left). It lasts 5 days and you learn the basics about dealing with clients, how to do relationship building and interviewing and some other more technical skills for problem solving. To sum it up, it is hours and hours of role plays, group observation and feedback from 8 am to 8 pm and lots of partying till the early hours of the morning every day. It's a lot of fun and it helped me look beyond those black suits of my new German colleagues and start liking many of them.

Once back from the introductory training, we were assigned to our first projects. This is were my bad awakening started, though the whole staffing to projects deserves a post on its own. To sum it up, what happened was that I had begged them to assign me to any project except for one in the healthcare sector (I was ready to do oil & gas, defense, finance, whatever, the only thing I did not want to do was healthcare). Then they call me in the evening to let me know that they have found a project for me - in healthcare! I couldn't believe my ears. Unfortunately back then I didn't know yet how things worked and thought that's what I had to do now. So there I was assigned to help a bankrupt hospital chain back on its feet. Two days into the project, it turned out they had overstaffed it (there were 20 consultants running around) and I was taken off the project again. I was overjoyed of course by this divine intervention - the only problem was: by now all the other open projects had been assigned and there were no open spots left for me, so I had to join an internal project for the first 3 months. So overall my first months at work were very disappointing.

Luckily, that time passed and after that a very happy albeit stressful time followed. I worked with a lovely team for the next six months, along with one chaotic engineer as our project leader and another crazy but very good guy who had studied philosophy at Harvard (he has since left to set up his own investment fund in Russia). Looking back now it was the best team I ever had, unfortunately back then I was impatient and curious and I was eager to do new things, work with other teams with other clients in other industries, so I decided to leave the team after six months, go on an extended holiday to Uzbekistan and then searched my luck in a 4 months project in retail banking followed by a 3 months project in private equity.

After 1 year in consulting, it was time for another big international training, one that people often consider the best training of their time in consulting. It is a 2 weeks long training in leadership. So you can imagine even more role plays and even more feedback than in the introductory trainings :-). Our training was supposed to be in Miami, but just a few days earlier hurricane Wilma destroyed our hopes and it was suddenly relocated to a much more shabby location about 30 miles North of Chicago. This relocation to a 3* location from the 70s along with bad weather put a very depressive mood on our group. Everybody felt deceived - 1 year of hard work and then this? So it turned out more than half of the people talked constantly about leaving, about how unhappy they were, about how much they disliked their jobs - it was pretty grim.

The training itself was great though. We did a lot of useful role plays involving personal conflicts (open and hidden), disruptive behaviour, personal attacks, difficult announcements etc., it was very useful not only for the job but also for my personal life, I really enjoyed it. On the weekend, we went to downtown Chicago which was great, I never knew how beautiful Chicago was, but I loved it. To be honest, and hoping not to offend anyone here, I liked Chicago more than New York. It seemed much more relaxed and easy going, there were street musicians everywhere and the whole Lake Michigan and the architecture are just fantastic. So since then the University of Chicago is also my top choice for an exchange term in autumn 2007 (as you see I'm planning ahead!). I knew it was great academically but I hadn't expected the city to be so beautiful and cool.

I was also very much impressed by Chicago nightlife. I don't remember all the places we went but I definitely remember I had some incredible Sashimi in a bar called Sushi Samba Rio (the best sashimi I had in my life - I'll be glad to join the LBS Japan trip to try something even better in Japan, but till then I think that sashimi beats everything I ever tried). I think we also went to the Sound Bar and then some more clubs that unfortunately I don't remember the names of, but we had a good time. We had an especially good time on the last night, partying late into the night as we all dreaded the flight back home, back to our respective projects the next morning.

These are two friends I made over the last two years, on our last night in Chicago. The guy on the right is leaving for the IESE MBA and the girl is headed for the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. So I have friends now in Barcelona in New York, as well as Rome, Miami and San Francisco, which is great, and I hope I will finally have the time during the MBA to visit them!

So all in all, in terms of the training I received as well as the people I've met, the two years of my life I invested in consulting were definitely worth it. I'm glad I have two years off now to think about how much time I want to invest after the MBA, and what is the best field to spend my time in! Luckily it turns out we have some interesting profiles in the class of 2008 - former banana farmers, DJs, physiotherapists (!!!), entrepreneurs - so I'm ready to be inspired :-).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Still homeless

Thank you for your recent enquiry regarding flat accommodation at International Students House. Due to the enormous demand, I am afraid that we are unable to help you at the present time. As our tenants need only give 1 month notice before departing, we tend to accommodate married couples at the last moment. Please e-mail me should you want to be considered for a flat at a later time and thereafter, we will put you on our waiting list.

Kind Regards

Dean/Director of Student Services

I had hoped for a little flat in student accomodation to avoid the hassle of flat search in London but it seems we've been unlucky. So I guess we'll do the whole flathunter's pub crawl and hope to find some flatmates there. I like the idea of renting a little house or a big apartment along with four people or so , enjoy a big kitchen and living room close to school. After living in a 70 sqm flat for the last two years, I would find it quite depressing to live in a little dark overpriced studio. So I hope 2 weeks in August of intensive flat search will be enough to find a nice big flat and nice flat mates :-).

Thanks to Jorge Felippe and Divine Miss N for posting such helpful flathunting advice! It is very much needed.