Wednesday, December 19, 2007

FINAL POST ON STANFORD GSB. Best & not so good of the GSB- Mbwana perspective

This is my final post before I transition this blog- You don't know how hard it is for me to do this- I greatly miss Stanford GSB- best decision I ever made. Anyway, I had been working on this post ever since I graduated and after some pressure to really get something out rather than perfect the post, here it is.


BTW- the blog will transition into technology and management issues in the developing world- namely Africa. All the posts on Stanford GSB will still be available here though.


Graduation Mbwana grad



Fun & Laughter:

This is something that I don't hear many of my classmates say has been a highlight of the GSB experience, maybe its because my aerospace career did not expose me to such fun people, but I have never laughed as much in any other two year period as much as I have at the GSB. Never has a class gone by where the learning has not been entertaining, from a classmate taking risks and making a complete fool of him or herself, to the professor cracking a joke that makes the whole learning experience that much more enjoyable. Now, I will be honest here, I am not one to always be smily all the time, but the GSB really has made me lighten up much more,this could just be the product of the American experience compared to a mainly British up bringing. As a key management learning point, you have to make having fun as part of running an organization these days to get the best out of people- case in point, Southwest Airlines.

Thinking: Going deep and going wide- always open minded
My level of thinking has really expanded beyond what I imagined, the core took me deep into the disciplines of management and electives expanded the mind to areas of fundamental inerest to me that I am only now beginning to comprehend. To illustrate, I returned from Tanga during the summer, a town of my mother's side of the family, whilst there I met  with some Stanford undergraduate students that I had shared an Africa related class with along with a University of Dar es Salaam student. The Stanford students were conducting independent malaria research in the Tanga region for the summer- anyone from Tanzania would tell you that Tanga has some of the nastiest malaria in east africa. Anyway, we had a fantastic discussion and debate about development, entrepreneurship, family business, corruption and the progress of Tanzania like I could never do prior to my Stanford experience ... And I really do mean "Stanford", since the business school alone did not allow me to think more critically about Tanzania development, rather an additional 5 unit course I took on Africa helped me expand core learning and knowledge into another domain, its amazing how well the organizational behavior classes can explain a ton of the government problems as well as issues regarding the scaling of local private enterprises. The discussion was fascinating because it included a deeply local and intelligent perspective from the Dar es Salaam Student- I deeply enjoyed learning from a 3 hour discussion over drinks and felt that I was back in Stanford class- but this time, we were out in the field. What I learnt in my 2 years is really applicable globally and across sectors- you can always learn more from being in the field and seeing how things work in practice- the classroom is also there!

Productivity enhancement:
In the end, an MBA should be a more productive individual than prior to having an MBA- this should definitely justify the salary uplift, I will reveal is that my pay has gone up 4X on a before tax basis, and the ROI including opportunity cost of being out of work for 2 years is substantial.

I will try and argue how the MBA has definitely justified this uplift. Firstly, through my decision making, which has been sharpened, mainly through analytical techniques and frameworks but also being exposed to a constant flow of information with the ability to take what is relevant to a decision at hand. In addition, there are numerous times when decisions have to be made under uncertainty. The amount of cases that we go through at the GSB as well as the diverse viewpoints all contribute to better decision making under many circumstances. Its amazing when the whole class is stumped due to lack of information in the case and the professor is lost for words, but then a classmate pulls through with critical information or viewpoint from an experience that advances the class forward and hence the issue under discussion.

Secondly, I feel I am bolder and more confident to take on risks, a topic I wrote about as a focus of my "What's important to you and Why" essay. In the end, MBAs should be employed to take a risks and push existing organizations to new heights through new ventures. I come against this time and time again as an advisor to family business, if a organization is happy to go on with the status quo there is no MBA needed! Any radical ideas that I present to my father will get turned down because things seem to run fine just as they are- of course, eventually I should be able to make a compelling case for improvements, and this is were organizational behaviour classes particularly will serve me well. This is also were leadership comes in, the GSB experience has left me with a sense of wanting to do more in the world, and believe me, the world expects a lot from an MBA. I recently met with an intern from the UN who is graduate school at Harvard, and within 24 hours, whenever he introduces me to his friends or colleagues- he tags along "... he is the future of Tanzanian business". If I expect so much compensation, surely my level of impact on an organization or society should be matched? And we should have great expectations from MBAs- whether that happens we have to wait and see- watch this space.

Finally, the diverse classmates in every sense of the meaning of diverse has definitely improved my ability to work with others and hence drive agendas and create changes- the GSB forces you to work on many assignments as part of a team, this has definitely helped, but also the out of class socializing, bonding on independent projects definitely helps build a sense of understanding of different cultures and viewpoints. I can now work much better with others, I am more of a team player than before I started at the GSB.



Friends and family sacrifice: This is a big one, I remember attending a Harvard Business School information session when I was deciding on which schools to apply and one of the alumni saying how going to Stanford would be tough because from the perspective of staying in touch with Greenwich Meantime- its an extra 3 hours time difference. I wanted to laugh at such a stupid issue, what's 3 hours more time difference 7 from Tanzania, or 4/5 from UK? The answer, after a 2 years- a heck of a lot! I learnt what it really means to be on the other side of the world- although Silicon Valley is super amazing, flying to and from there from Europe or Africa is a pain. It took me about a week to really get over the jetlag when I go back which does not bode well when I try and return to Tanzania for 1-2 week vacations in future. This all adds up to significant sacrifice of friends and family, the number of important family events including weddings etc... was quite high during the last 2 years. You can never replace a missed wedding. And making up for lost time and connections is time consuming and I feel awful of neglecting really good friends. Part of the challenge of this past summer was balancing meeting new friends, visiting new places and seeing old faces.

Always connected, always marching lifestyle: I am now addicted to my windows smartphone and other classmates their blackberries whatever- I am available on e-mail, IM, cell, skype, facebook and my life was still run on outlook even thought I was not connected on MS Exchange in Tanzania! We live in amazing times, and you won't believe how frustrated I was for my first week back in Tanzania trying to get accustomed to not being always connected (broadband is terrible). The internet has become a life necessity now- a side effect of being more productive is that you are always connected- a friend from the UK who visited me instantly noticed this as I took her round the sights- I really did think she was going to just grab the phone and throw it away. I am now ever so grateful for Zanzibar as an isolated travel niche where I can speak the local language and find total relaxation and I can really put away my phone and be disconnected from e-mail. You also get time to think in between the madness of always being connected.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The end is coming

This last week can only be described as being one of the most hectic. I have been juggling completing final papers and finals, being a host for a friend visiting from UK, arranging moving arrangements to Seattle and not to mention the insane amounts of partying. Having a UK friend visit gives me a chance to re-discover favorite places in California- I am now in San Diego on serious downtime.

"Disorientation" is the right way to describe the current times toward the end of my time of GSB, whether seeing friends on a one to one basis or shaking it at the "End of the World Party" in Atherton.

Next week my friend leaves, step one of my relocation gets under way, and parents arrive for as we head towards graduation. The only cloud on the horizon seems to be this Optional Practical Training /Employment Authorization Document (OPT/EAD)- very few international students who filed after end of March have received these essential documents that allows one to work... I am praying the documents get sent out before I fly out of the country.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

New venture watch...

photo source

The room next door to me at my Palo Alto home, sleeps an MBA who has been EXTREMELY busy in the last couple of months, whilst I have been ramping down. I feel so bad for not blogging about this earlier... But today is great news for a Stanford team consisting of MBA, engineering and design school  students pursuing the entrepreneurial dream.

D.light design, a team that includes my room-mate and another Stanford MBA just secured $250,000 prize from the DFJ venture competition. The team is a for profit venture introducing a low cost LED light for the poor in the developing world intended to replace kerosene and those out of reach of an electric grid. 

As some of you know about the funding process, you shop your idea around the valley for ages and then once you get that initial funding, everyone wants to participate! This is an interesting space, I am of course very interested in this area as it's making money by creating real value for the developing world.

The venture is a result of strong collaborative nature at Stanford between engineering, design  and the business schools through some really great classes- the one that comes to mind is the increasingly popular design for extreme affordability class.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Its not over till its over...

So I am trying to ramp down my time here at the GSB by shifting to more time with friends and enjoying California weather- but the GSB refuses to do so, a full quarter is a full quarter, and by no means dull. This last week a case in point, some big events that just showcase the diversity of learning and opportunity at the GSB that leave me hungry for more.

- Wednesday I ended up going to 4 dinners including a small yet informative Africa Business Club event with one of my Nigerian classmates' brother. Tope Lawani, founder of Helios investment partners a $300 million fund, came in to talk about his foray into Private Equity investment in Africa and had some great insights on the challenges and opportunities of private equity in the region- not surprisingly, real estate, travel/transportation and telecommunications are hot sectors- deal making infrastructure (lawyers) and exits (capital markets, willing buys etc...) amongst the things that make the business environment tough to handle for an investor coming in from more developed markets.
- Thursday was another treat in the Private Equity arena, with the founder of Carlyle, David Rubenstein, giving a highly entertaining yet serious overview of Private Equity and technology buyouts- I remember him saying that Microsoft and other visible tech giants such as HP and SUN may become buyout targets someday as the funds get larger and larger.
Later that afternoon, I headed down to San Francisco for the Facebook f8 launch, a developers conference/codejam. It was great to see some of my classmates in action outside the classroom- one a full-time employee of facebook coordinating the event, and even some getting their hands dirty trying to build applications for this, one of the hottest social networks today. Interestingly enough, we are doing facebook as a case in my aligning startup class on Tuesday, and the case was updated TODAY to reflect the major milestone of facebook opening its platform- a great example of how fast GSB academics catches up with the reality of business!
I then darted into the mission district for a the Africa Business Club dinner I had organized at the Bissap Baobab, with great turnout- I was nervous that given multiple events happening, there would be a high flake rate (typical of busy GSB students), but it turned out very well, with one female club member turning up in a full Ugandan outfit!
- Friday, was my usual classes on Supply Chain and Advertising- at the end of the day, I went up to Marin for a local entrepreneur and Stanford professor's engagement party which was particularly fun. I mentioned long ago, that one of my goals for my experience here at Stanford is to make close friends with real live entrepreneurs and engineers in the bay area beyond meeting them in the class-room environment- I am more than happy with this decision at the expense of more GSB events, I have now made real good friends in the local area that have been invaluable and have completed my California experience- I'll have more reasons to come back to California other than GSB alumni events or work purposes.

This memorial day weekend, the partying and catching up continues- will try and get major bits of work out the way, to clear a runway to enjoy my last 2 weeks at the GSB.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The UK trip... back in Silicon Valley- perspective forever changed.

The final month of my time at Stanford is here, and I'm trying my best to give my time to friends, academics and a number of errands (graduation arrangement for my parents and siblings flying in from Tanzania). But first, a quick reflection on my UK trip, I hadn't been back for 2 years and my tour included my university town, Bristol, where a lot of my friends from uni still work and of course, London. Aside from enjoying the pub culture over the weekend, it was interesting to see how optimistic I sounded over the more conservative and risk averse brit friends of mine over entrepreneurship. The change at Stanford in perspective is definitely permanent...
A nice piece here on this very thing from a class mate who has been writing a Stanford diary on the Financial Times.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Final class is looking like the allstar finale...

I walked into today's new class that starts midquarter (2 units)- "Aligning startups to their market", lead by Andy Rachcleff of Benchmark Capital. And I felt an amazing feeling- the class consisted of individuals that I could see have taken an amazing journey over the last 2 years- starting with the rigors of the core, fine tuning their way through the GSB to an entrepreneurship class taught by a practitioner in venture capital. I remember how I was so gun-ho about trying to get into consulting- but here I am, such a big proponent to entrepreneurship and risk taking... Looking back, it makes a lot of sense, kid from Africa, sent to school in UK at age 12, delivers results that satisfy parents, goes to work for a comfy aerospace company yet organizes random internal expedition to climb the highest mountain in Africa with 24 people doing it for the good of his country's education- then applies to school in a fantasy land that he has never even been to while his colleagues and friends look the other way... It's not surprising, that my final class is one on maximizing the success of risky ventures.

Some of my classmates have launched some interesting ventures:
Techtain- social networking meets swapping/trade objects on campus.
Reputation defender- In the world of blogging, social networks, wikis etc... what some call the "participation" phase of the net- a way to ensure your online reputation is sound has become increasingly important- these guys will help you out in a similar method to maintaining your credit report- enough said.
Trippert- A better way to research a travel destination through rich articles- I think of this one as social networks/wikis meets lonely planet.

I am heading out to UK tomorrow for a few days- I'm dying to see friends and colleagues that I have been out of touch with for 2 years! They'll think I've changed- beginning with my accent.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Business of Space- reflecting on independent projects

One of the nice things about the GSB when you are coming out of the 1st year core is the independence you get to explore new ideas in projects. Last year around this time, I was in full swing in doing G390 independent project on the emerging entrepreneurial Space industry. The idea was that I could apply my 1st year business knowledge with my experience in aerospace industry in previous life. We worked with a former NASA Director and now part of the leadership of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) based right here in Menlo Park/Palo Alto.In a team consisting of MBA1, MBA2 and Sloan with aerospace backgrounds in public and private sectors from Israel, NASA, UK and Russia we interviewed some new space entrepreneurs including Elon Musk of SpaceEx.
I carried this on with a Mobile Marketing independent project last quarter that also went great.

An interesting podcast for further information is available here from the BBC's In Business program.
I'll post an update here later on the report that was the deliverable of the project.