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.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Getting settled in London

Things are going very well here, I arrived safely despite the London terror threat (there had to be a benefit to getting up at 4am and flying a no-frills airline into Gatwick!) and managed to survive 2 hours of tube to finally reach Fulham.

Then I went to the HSBC branch to open up a student account. To my surprise, it was opened on the spot and I can now transfer funds to the UK. This will be very helpful for the flat search. Before that, I also went into the Royal Bank of Scotland branch to see what my dormant account from my student days was doing (I never got around to closing it when I left the UK in 2004). I thought I only had 3 pounds left but it turned out I had 7 pounds left so I treated myself to a Cafe Latte and a Smoothie in Costa Coffee :-).

I also have a UK mobile already. Before flying in, I ordered a SIM card from O2, so there it was waiting for me this morning. For pay as you go contract they definitely offer the best deals, great bolt-ons (something similar to package contracts but much more flexible) and also, if you top up at least GBP10 per month (which is easy) you get 50min calling time for free. So it means for just 10 pounds per month you can have 50min and 100 sms, without having to sign a contract. This is the deal I used when I studied in the UK.

I also picked up my student ID this afternoon. The LBS building was deserted. Thanks, Hobbes, for the advice about the photo for the ID. Something is wrong with the camera these days though, the photo is really dark, but it seems to be the case with everyone, so I think they have to retake them for those of us who came in early.

So with all these things done, I'm almost hoping I don't find a flat too soon. What am I going to do here for three weeks???? ;-))). Just joking, luckily London is not a boring place at all and there will be plenty to do. But seriously, all I have scheduled for the next 3 weeks is viewing flats, meeting friends and going to the pub every evening, pretty easy going schedule.

Now I'm off to a pub in Notting Hill and then will head to view my first flat. I have another appointment to view a flat on Saturday morning in Bayswater. Things are going well, lots of offers coming out on accomodation and there's plenty of time, so I'm not worried at all. After almost a year of counting down, London life has started very well :-).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Off to London - on my own

I'm finally back from Switzerland and off to London tomorrow. My partner suddenly fell ill and we had to rebook his flight to Saturday. We have an increasingly weird history of never flying together. It is becoming eerie. In January, I was off on a business trip to Paris and we decided he'd join me privately to have a look at Paris, so we could at least spend the night together (at that time I had to fly to the US quite frequently). When we came to the airport, they had canceled the flight and somehow rebooked me but not him, so we couldn't go together, I had to go to Paris to my appointment and he stayed. When we went to Switzerland, we arrived at the airport 30min before take-off and it turned out he had left his passport at home. He joined me the same evening, taking advantage of the fast rail connection with Zurich. And now here we are, scheduled to take a one-way flight to London and, again, I'll go on my own.

No need to feel sorry though (at least not for me) because these coming days will be busy!
Thursday: collect student ID from LBS, visit estate agents to set up flat viewings, open up bank account with HSBC, view my first flat at 8pm, afterwards drinks at my sister's house in Fulham
Friday: wait for my UPS shipping to arrive, browse and call estate agents, go to pub in Maryleborne to meet with French undergrad friend
Saturday: follow Patxi's advice and walk around preferred areas for flathunting: Maryleborne, Maidavale, Bayswater (my friend's idea, according to him the greatest place to live in London, let's see!), pick up my partner from the airport, join my sister at a party of some German friends of hers

In addition to that, we have the flathunter's pub crawl coming up next week, we meet in a local pub EVERY WEEK DAY at 7 pm, so that will keep us busy, too. So, busy London life is approaching fast. I hope next time I post I have some good news from my flatsearch.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

MBA financing through equity instead of debt!

If you're one of those not excited about finishing the MBA programme with $100,000 of debt, there is an alternative way to finance your MBA, or any form of tuition fees for that matter. Why not use (private) equity? A guy named Lars Stein from the Swiss elite university St. Gallen has done just this and has been hugely successful in raising money. There are plenty of articles on him in the German speaking press, but I haven't found any in the anglophone press, so I'll explain what he did.

He was about to initiate his studies of business administration and didn't want to take on debt. So he decided to go public and created shares in his future income. He created a share that would, for example, cost $1,000 per unit, and would give the holder the right to 0,5% of his annual income over the first 5 years of his professional life. With an expected annual income of $80,000 over the five years, the holder of the share could get back $2,000 (I am ignoring the time value of money here for illustration purposes, I'm sure he devised it in a more savvy and complicated way). In this example, you could for example raise $30,000 by selling 30 shares, and would then have to use 15% of your annual income over the first five years of your career to pay back your shareholders, i.e. to buy back your shares.

Obvious questions/concerns that could come up...

How do I convince investors?

You need to show that you are likely to receive a minimum income of $x upon graduation. The easiest way to do this is to show your achievements to date and refer investors, for example, to the LBS employment report quoting average starting salaries for MBA students :-).

Is equity going to be cheaper than debt?
As in real life, debt is can be used as a tax shield and is usually much lower effectively than what it looks like (I don't know what the regulations are in the UK but I assume interest expense can be written off?). Interestingly enough, equity will be much more expensive the more you earn - so if you think you are likely to secure that KKR job, your shareholders will benefit tremendously while you might get upset about your financing decision. On the other hand, if you decide to take that fundraising job for an NGO in Africa, your equity will turn out to be much cheaper than debt - but with those plans, who is likely to buy your shares?

So overall, a boring bank loan might not be such a bad alternative. But keep in mind that interest rates are rising and predicted to continue rising, so private equity might turn out to be a good financing alternative for your MBA after all...