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.