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.


AceNomad said...

A brilliantly painted picture of LBS!!

Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion, you do not have to worry about applicability of your Accounting class. Accounting and financial analysis are indeed two different substances, and no wonder that you didn't get what you expected from that class. I don't know much about curriculum in LBS, but I am sure that you will have many opportunities to go deep into analysis.

LinuxGhost said...

Dont fret about the accounting being a bit noddy at this stage. Learning how to run an icecream shop (good example btw) comes in usefully when 1. you end up running your own company - it's good to know what the CFO is talking about when you're the CEO :) and 2. you have to dig deep into the "notes" pages of a set of accounts. Learning ratios by rote is good - but it's when they bend the meanings that base level knowledge becomes important. See Accounting for Growth by Terry Smith (an LBS grad who was the bete noir of the accounting profession for a while) to see why this is so.

HairTwirler said...

Your blog has been a great resource- especially postings like these. Keep posting often!

Anonymous said...

If you like economics, you should check Hansen's blog: