Friday, December 30, 2005

New Year, new challenges...

Happy holidays everyone!

Time goes by so quickly that it can be hard to keep track of things. 2005 was definitely one of those U-turn years for me- I have had 2 of those in my life, when I left for boarding school at the age of 6 and being whisked off to another boarding secondary/high school in the UK at the age of 12, those were the years that had a profound effect on my life. This time last year, I was sitting in some bar or pub in Glasgow Scotland probably on my ummthteen pint of beer- a well deserved rest after giving up the whole of December including the x-mas break to re-do my GMAT and polish my essays before submitting them for the second round applications- in many ways I was psyching myself up for year ahead. Looking back now all I can say is that it was certainly worth the sacrifice and having a positive mental attitude to the future was big factor. 2005 was year of deep reflection & sacrifice- On one hand, I had 11 years invested in the UK, I loved the company I worked in, met awesome people, did some interesting and unique work and I made some good friends around the area. Things could not have been better but it was also the perfect time for a change and give up the comfort zone around me. I felt that I was getting too settled in the UK for my liking and I knew that my engineering career had plateaued and come to an end with a much needed last push to get me where I want to be in the medium to long term. 2005 was turbulent- by April I had been accepted to Stanford, left my job in June, July-August I was relaxing in Tanzania, and then was hit by a freight train, literally blown away by Stanford’s offerings on so many levels- it is only now that starting to get over the fact that I made it here.

So what’s in store for 2006? Or to phrase it better, what does success look like in 2006? Execution! If everything goes well, I should be in a bar/pub on the night of the 31st December 2006 celebrating with a full time secured and challenging offer to a rewarding job that will set me on my way to achieve my long term goals. Sure there are many other aspects to a year at business school then acing the interviews- but I believe in judging one’s success in one major item per year, this last year was getting into Stanford, 2006 is will be all about capitalizing on being here and landing that dream career… in the end that’s the business of business school for me. The stakes are big next year, but I really do believe one can write the future if you are determined as the late Peter Drucker once said- often at a sacrifice.
New Year’s Eve is all about reflection though; tomorrow will be a time for celebration on the successes of 2005 and to psyche myself up for a prosperous 2006. To all those applying to business schools in round 2, just keep a positive frame of mind and things will turn out as you expected, YOU CAN write the future.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

New Era for Tanzania

Tanzania (my home country) has just had an election, with the ruling party winning 80% of the vote. I’m not very much into Tanzanian politics since the ruling party always wins the elections and there is often claims of vote rigging. But Tanzania has something to be proud of, the economy is growing at a rate of 6% per year and there is political stability. As long as the incumbent party continues to do a fantastic job, I am happy. At the moment, my plan is to return to Tanzania permanently after 5-10 years work experience in the west, unless anything happens to change my plans including any bright ideas for a start-up.
I thought I’d also use this spot to talk more about Africans at Stanford business school. We are probably around 10-15 Africans at most across both years and Stanford has recently been talking about pushing more Africans to apply here, particularly direct from African countries, unlike me, who has really come from the UK. There are some hurdles, for those applying directly, for instance the costs just needed to apply to business school are astronomically high when you consider GMAT, application fees etc…We are talking a good $600 if you apply to several schools, this is a barrier for citizens of a country with GDPs of $200. There has been talk about setting up a Stanford fund to help out such applicants, which is a great idea and may be something I may take on, except I’d hate to think how the process would work out in which applicants would qualify for such grants, but a good idea nevertheless- maybe this would work if all the business schools established this and gave applicants the choice to choose their schools, of course this may increase the total number of African applicants applying to business school, not necessarily Stanford. Our admissions office has been “reaching out” by going to visit places like Nigeria and Kenya. I had to laugh and then point out that these were only two African countries, which already see the lion’s share of African applications anyway. Stanford is a small school, and I did not come here for the African community, if I wanted that I would have gone to Harvard (dinged) or Wharton (did not apply). I came here for Silicon Valley, the weather and strength of non-profit offerings. We are just too far out from the mainstream to attract a mass of African applicants. I have noticed that Wharton, for instance, reaches out to African applicants the best way you can- through the internet. Throughout my application process, I have noticed how the Wharton African community have used businessweek MBA forum posts in this manner- we should do the same. Sure, admission trips to African countries are great, but if you want a diverse representation and maximum reach, the internet is you most obvious means to do it.
I think at the heart of Stanford’s plans to get more African applicants, is this drive to be a more “global” business school. This a deep topic, but briefly, I really believe this has to start with the academics (including bringing in more international faculty), and we are so behind other schools, if I wanted global offerings I would go to INSEAD or London Business School. I would guess that most African applicants who would come to business school would want to stay here in the US on graduation, and hence, an American focus on the curriculum is not all too bad, in fact since I came from the UK, that's what I wanted anyway! I fear the pressure of rankings may have something to do with all this. How global a school is may be of increasing importance these days and this is harder for a small school out in California to achieve, for bigger schools, simply diversifying the head count is an easy means to do it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Quarter in review- academics. Grade non-disclosure is good

I used to have more mixed views on grade non-disclosure until now. The general bottom line is that grade non-disclosure affects the attitudes MBAs have in their 2 years at business school, which on the whole are a net positive for everyone. Too right, particularly for me! Having just received my grades today, I can now reflect on my total “performance” this last quarter. Like I’ve mentioned previously, I probably took one too many courses given how much time I spent on recruiting events amongst other things. Put this together with the fact I am not used to the quarter system, it made the pressure on my final few weeks quite taxing (hence the lack of blog posts). So I certainly directly sacrificed academic performance for recruiting events and expansion of knowledge. Generally I did well on the subjects that I had interest in and was relatively strong in, such as E-commerce, against other courses such as accounting, where I have less interest not to mention being not an expert (they are plenty of bankers about!). Now just expand this view across the whole class, each student with their own different course loads, strengths & priorities, it would be hard to even consider grades alone as a single measure of “performance” over the quarter, especially for those who spent a lot of time on recruiting events, club events, golf, socializing etc... Everyone should truthfully ask themselves how they think they did taking into account all the goals they set themselves this quarter. Fundamentally, what matters in the courses is what you learnt. I think I've learnt a great deal, but if I could have changed anything, I would have probably turboed accounting (better professor), and exempted modeling for quantitative analysis, I actually think by making this “better” choice, I'm sure I would have simultaneously improved my overall grades and increased my learning! So future Stanford MBA1s, pick your core courses menu extremely carefully! Of course for me, taking E-commerce was an excellent choice, I felt that this had some overlap with some of the core course, and in some ways some of the principles are helping me in the case interview practice I’m currently doing. I even got to learn a huge amount about microfinance through the group project I spearheaded on this course. In effect it brought consulting and banking experience expertise to a non-profit microfinance start up that a classmate has launched- everyone walked out extremely fulfilled. So what do I have to say about those dedicated all their time on academics and did very well? Good for you! But I have to ask, what did you sacrifice? Not much- than you are a star! Did you meet you goals- even better.... Measure against thyself, use the grades to see how you did relative to the class, but bear in mind that in an environment such as Stanford getting top marks could well mean sacrificing other things, unless you’re a mega genius, or have covered it all before in undergrad (in which case, you should have either exempted, turboed some courses or focused on non-academic areas to really get value added on your $120K). So I'm all for grade non-disclosure, but concerned with the recent news that Harvard have now withdrawn their policy on it starting with the class of 2008 , this could force other schools to follow in response to tightening the focus on academics. However, there is a subtle difference with Stanford, where the grade non-disclosure is a student norm rather than institutionally imposed policy. Last I checked, most students still want the norm to continue, not surprising since it was a key reason why many students chose Stanford in the first place. If Stanford got rid of the policy, I think it would take out a huge differentiating aspect to the school. So maybe Harvard students could opt to collude to maintain a “norm”, but I doubt it would stick given the competitive stereotypical nature of their students. I think the result could be to make Stanford increasingly more differentiated to applicants who truly value the attitudes & values that come with grade non-disclosure- academic risk taking, focused recruiting, personal goal setting, basically enjoying what each student considers are the finer things in life. Bottom line, a great make up of students on an MBA program- and many people value that above everything else, including recruiters.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

From one mode to the next…

So winter quarter has come to an end- the finals were suffocating me under the weight of 15 or so hours of exams in 4 days. Can’t believe I’ll be earning 21 credits or over 21% of my MBA degree!!!. No sooner than after all the merry drinking and partying (which of course was in excess) had ceased have the classmates embarked on various adventures, some for a much needed holiday, Argentina is the place to be seen, other’s on study trip to India, Philippines or Israel. Or how about combination of holiday and study trip? Some, like me, are staying behind in the bay area over the break to do more serious things, as I asked someone outside Schwab yesterday what they were up to, they uttered, “Business planning for my start-up… After all we’re in business school!” Yup, says it all. For people like me, preparing for what should be an extremely tough upcoming quarter of on campus recruiting- so I’m trying to review my internship plans, formulate cover letters, touch base with business contacts, fill out application forms and of course practice for those interviews. I’m still in a state of confusion at the moment, on one hand I really to want expand on my weaknesses of finance by going for investment banking opportunities, whilst the other side is saying that I’m a natural consultant, that’s where I rose to in my last organization and I really only have one year’s experience in the aerospace & defense field more in operations, and I should continue this into strategy consulting. The end game for me would be to end up in private equity in emerging markets. Question is how can I get there the quickest and be most prepared? It’s that age old career question, do you broaden or focus? I’m only 24 and it would seem like I still have time to try out new things before deciding. In the end it comes down to what I’m most passionate about… I’m hoping this gets resolved for sure over the next few weeks- For now, I can reflect back to all the company dinners, recruiting events… On gut feeling, consulting is still ahead. Next quarter, I’m taking only the four core classes of 16 credits to give me room to breathe under on campus recruiting.
Don’t worry, I know it’s x-mas, so I will be traveling around California to enjoy myself… I just don’t need to travel 1000s miles to find a place to relax… Home (Tanzania) is far, Britain is grey & cold (although I do miss it)- I just need to re-ask myself, why did I come to Stanford, California again?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I'm the middle of finals-- there's my excuse

Okay- So I've been getting numerous requests to update my blog- what, people actually read my stuff!!!? Okay, this time you'll get a short update that's much more in action, rather than the more instrospective accounts you get from me.

So I'm in the middle of finals, level of sleep has declined, never realized modeling could be examined so detailed (it was tough...). E-commerce was a marathon, my hand has never written for that long (3 hours 45 minutes)... Now trying to understand the intricacies of bond accounting, treasury stock and pension benefit obligation in time for that Accounting final tomorrow- then I have to hit economics to round out the finals on Thursday.

One thing that's pounding in my head:

I'm sure once this is all over, I'll start dribbling about how it was worth it, "...all for the extra learning... E-Commerce is so amazing... blah, blah blah..." For now, I'm tired.
Spare this for a thought- in the quarter system under Stanford, I learnt something last week and was examined on it no sooner than 5 days later! Apparently- no rest required...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

End of manic week- rest required!

Last week was just insane! Midterms from Monday through to Wednesday, I had a mock interview on Tuesday, and on top of that we had some company presentations- I attended the Lehman Bros presentation on Thursday, followed by an early start for those interested in London opportunities. The highlight for me was the opportunity to have lunch with Ian Davis, yes, Ian Davis the MD of Mckinsey & co. I was so excited! So glad I entered the lottery, and so lucky to have won! It turned out to be a really nice lunch, lots of interesting questions and excellent responses, Ian seemed worried that MBA students were now prefering to go into “sexy” jobs such as Private Equity, Venture Capital & Hedge Funds- I don’t think he has too much to worry about, there will always be people knocking on Mckinsey’s door for post MBA jobs- after all they are the largest single MBA employer around.
I suppose I should mention how my mock interview went- all I can conclude is that I do need to spend a significant amount of time getting my story & “headline statement” perfected- or should I say my “elevator speech” for my target job position. The other thing that came up were the mannerisms and gestures that are acceptable for interviews here in the US. It was good to focus the bulk of the mock interview on improving my entrance and exit into the interviews, for me these were clearly the weakest- so a lot to work on there too.
So after a packed week, the weekend was so needed- I just slept, slept and slept again to make up for those late nights studying and early mornings for exams, company presentations etc… But studying started to creep in by today, as next week is the netimpact conference, lots assignments and classes are being squeezed into the first few days.

On the bright side, I'm now only focusing on 5 courses, which is a relief- so I'm now going to expand my club membership to include International Development and hopefully more social events- assuming my remaining 5 courses don't ramp up too much towards finals.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Time to check in...

This blog is starting to feel like burden- every time I think about writing a post I just think of multiple issues that are going through my head that make it difficult to write a clear post- so sorry, I’ll have to break things down:

Midterm- oh no!
Well mid-terms are coming up and although I do not feel that I have put in the hours required for the exams- I think they will go alright- this is helped by the fact that most of them are open book, so I’m not spending time cramming formulas, rather, making sure I understand how to solve the problems. I am also slightly concerned about the fact that I haven’t sat an exam in 3 or so years, I’m sure that is quite a small gap compared to some of the older students, either way, I hope I can still write consistently legibly for 2-3 hours!
I know I’ve given this topic more than it deserves, but doing 6 courses in the core has basically caused me to go wide and not so deep, this is worrying & frustrating, there are just some classes that I am literally swimming with the assignments as I don’t spend as much time on them as they deserve. On the other hand, I love the variety in my learning, I feel like I’m learning much more in E-commerce, it’s also the course that I feel connects across all the core disciplines. For now, I value going wide and not deep- as one of class ends after midterms, I can begin concentrate on going deep.

To bank or not to bank (Internship)…
I’ve been to my fair share of consulting events over the last month and I know pretty much all I need to know about this profession- I have even managed to fit in a practice case interview! Now, I feel strangely drawn towards investment banking as an internship opportunity to explore- yes, we all know the insane hours one has to work and the lack of a good work/life balance, but I can’t resist the temptation of the amount this industry pays and the finance training I could receive that would broaden my skill-set to more than a consultant. In addition, the training would open up doors to prestigious and highly competitive Private Equity roles, if not immediately for full time, but certainly 2nd job out of business school. I don’t intend on going full time in this area, but I feel the internship would provide me with the perfect opportunity to try it out without making such a big leap. Going for both consulting & investment banking internship will be hard work, not to mention the potential conflict risk this introduces during on campus recruiting- there’s a high chance of running into your i-bank interviewers whilst on your way to your consulting interview (which the banker apparently don’t take very well)! So depending, I may have to choose which track, I’m still most keen for consulting, but investment banking is on the horizon- as the company presentations start after the mid-terms, I’ll either get more clarity or more confused on this issue…

It’s the best space to be in your 20s
Serious stuff aside, I just have to comment on how much of love/hate relationship I have with the business school environment. I love being around such brilliant people and exposed lots of opportunities. But it is so tiring and at times, so intense… The hidden lessons such as learning to cope with high workloads, rationalizing what opportunity to pursue among 3 or more other good alternatives at a moments notice- these are the “soft” management lessons that will serve me for life… I’ve never been so busy, and slowly my hours of sleep have declined from a healthy 8, down to just barely 5 hours on some nights. I feel so relieved whenever I venture off campus and enter the real world- breaks from this environment are what keep me sane- California certainly helps… But I’m wondering how I would react if I was at a city based business school such as Columbia or Harvard, where I can step outside the bubble more easily than the pure campus environment? I best not go there- I’m at Stanford and I love it!!! After all, there are some fun aspects that balance things out- the work hard, play mentality make it a great place to be at my age.

And now- the party continues…In little less than 3 hours- the GSB Halloween party kicks off- it promises to be spectacular- and for once I made an effort on the costume. My friend in San Francisco will be the DJ which is great…

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I'm managing...

I feel really bad that I haven’t written my blog for almost 2 weeks… You’ve heard the excuse before- “I’ve just been too busy keeping up with….” … So hey- let me summarize what I’ve been up to:

I had to take control of my academics after the shock to my system in my first week when I realized that I may not be able to handle 6 courses and maybe taking an E-commerce elective was a mistake. In the end it has not turned out so bad, and my intuition was right in the first place- the busier I am, the more efficient I’ll be- this logic arises in that I feel bored when I'm doing too few things academically, and end up misusing any free academic time, especially when I have those annoying breaks say from 10am-1pm. So a full schedule for me makes good sense. I previously mentioned that Modeling was taking up far too much time- it is now easing a bit, which is a relief and is helping, but I’ve now generally learnt how to best allocate my time to each particular course, and naturally some get more of my time than others! I also cut back on my tennis (but not eliminated it) which has helped.
One of my classmates who runs an amazing microfinance organization in East Africa (which I am thrilled to be invited in joining the board of!) has started taking Swahili course, and today I sat in on this daily lunch time class- it was fascinating- I felt instantly transported to Africa- the full on sunshine and palm trees outside made this easier to imagine (the weather is still amazing!!!) I am thinking of taking the intermediate or advanced level of this class in the Winter quarter- the beginners’ and intermediate class had about 12 and 7 people respectively (the advanced has virtually none). I’m so excited by the prospect of being able to keep up or improve my level of the Swahili language in my two years here. Perfectly in line with my goals for returning to East Africa in the long-term.
It is scary that mid-terms are literally only a few weeks away- the pace of learning is definitely much faster than I could have imagined.
On the clubs front, I actually cut back on the clubs I would have naturally signed up to, instead I focused on the ones that I knew I wanted to be a part of in the two years, and in time I would find out which ones I should REALLY join from classmate feedback and the general buzz around campus. So Wine, Consulting and Africa business club were the ones that I can see committing long-term- I envisage joining Entrepreneurship or Venture Capital later and add others as/if my schedule clears up. I feel relieved that I’m not in the situation that some students are in- having joined lots of clubs, some feel in the position that they have over-committed and having to say “no”- and we know how hard that can be...

I’m looking forward to the Net Impact Conference in November, which should be a treat on a variety of non-profit and socially responsible business topics; it will be the largest conference Stanford has ever hosted, period! Although it’s a little bit on the pricey end- I do think it is worth it for anyone at the business school with a mild interest in careers that make a meaningful impact to society…

Saturday, October 01, 2005

End of the party...?

First week of the core went at a blistering fast pace. Most people take just the core courses or exempt one or two and load up on an elective, retaining the 5 core courses (or maybe an additional 2 unit course). Myself- I’m taking the core courses plus an elective in E-commerce... Yes, that's 6 total courses. So after returning on Sunday afternoon totally shattered following the rafting trip last weekend, I actually started the week unprepared and stretched- I won’t even pretend to say that it was a smooth ride, but I survived. Although, I wished I'd exempted out of Modeling (see Lady Rattler's post on this course), chats with a second years has revealed that this is one of the most time consuming, if not most difficult courses to grasp in the core... And no, just because I'm an ex-engineer does not mean I'm a whiz at Excel, I'm used to other modeling packages in engineering, not in economics and accounting...
I'm not the only one, I've found a few other people who are doing the same (6 courses) yet surviving- like ducks, some of us may look calm on the surface, but really underneath we are swimming like mad!... It didn't help that I fitted in 6 hours of tennis over the week as well, that could do with some reduction. I know want balance in my experience, but I was just trying to do far too much of everything- once again time management is key!

Following the last course on Friday, I attended the first of the Liquid Preference Functions (LPF), a nice get together of GSB over drinks and ice-cream. This then spilt over to a party at the Graduate Community Centre and a 2nd year party at a mansion in Atherton... Good to hear the social side is still strong when we do have the time- So no, the party’s not over.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Weekend starts Santa Cruz.

Wow, so pre-term has come to an end. I'm now loaded up on the next set of course readers ready to start the core on Monday. I can't believe pre-term has gone by so quickly, I feel this was just taster of how quickly things will move in the core classes... Managing my time is certainly shaping up to be the biggest challenge here. I'm anxious to see how I handle my time to fit extra-curricular clubs, not to mention recruiting prep- I know it doesn't start until later in the fall, but getting a strategy together will be crucial to go in prepared in the wake of the academic work to come. The Mckinsey company visit yesterday, although lighthearted and informative, was a gentle reminder of my key purpose of coming to business school.

So although there has been a lot of social pre-term activity and I've tried to remain true attending as many events as possible, it gets tiring, especially since last weekend was spent Napa Valley and a Scavenger hunt on Sunday left me tired starting the week. So keeping true to my promise to spend some time outside the b-school scene when things get intense, I ventured out to Santa Cruz this afternoon/evening with a friend I met in Zanzibar over the summer who happens to live locally. So I've finally seen the surfer town where they filmed that teen-horror film, the Lost Boys (fictional town name of Santa Clara). Great place, and more relaxed than Palo Alto. Just what I needed to end the week and start another big weekend- going rafting with a third of the class down south on the American river near Sacramento.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Getting ready to make the next two years count

I feel like I’m slowly getting into the swing of things now here at the GSB, even though the core has not started yet. Today’s highlight was the first of the “View from the Top” series, where a leading CEO comes to give a talk at the GSB. Today was Richard Fairbank from Capital One, a solid alumni of Stanford undergrad as well as the business school. He was nothing short of an excellent speaker and gave a moving story at the end about his father’s determination to launch an ambitious experiment to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity. The experiment, finally being launched after 40 years following some hard times including being revived after being scrapped by NASA in1980s, is now on the verge of successful completion. I could certainly relate to the story, having just left the glamorous yet frustrating aerospace sector in the UK. However, the main message that came out of that speech that struck me was that it’s the journey that matters in any endeavor you go for, dream big goals, stick to the journey and you will have a rewarding experience.
I’m going to try so hard to make my time at Stanford count. For the next two years I’ll be connected to some of the brightest, most ambitious people my age on the planet which will provide tremendous opportunities that I must not waste. When I return to my room completely shattered after a long day, there is an easy temptation to just relax and let a few hours go by and let this become a habit, just as I’m sure, and we’ve been warned, how easy it is to fall into the trap of FOMO (“fear of missing out”). I need to maintain balance, to not over stretch myself to the point of over-stress, but find time to rest and enjoy the rest of California area. That’s why I place so much value on taking a day off in San Francisco or wherever outside the MBA scene from time to time. Additionally, regular tennis sessions, not only provides me opportunity to get to know a lot of people more closely (and offer some coaching for those who value it and improve my tennis). However, things can get intense on campus- I just need to optimize my experience over the next 2 years.
One other things, Richard Fairbank was a very eloquent speaker, so important for a business leader, and a reminder of why those management communication program lectures are so popular with MBA students… I’ll certainly push myself in this area too.

Now, a busy weekend lies ahead…

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bookworm has found his lair!

Okay, I know this is nothing to get excited about, but I have finally taken the library tour at the Jackson Library at Stanford. So what, you ask? Well, me and libraries are inseparable when it comes to needing to maintain good academic discipline, I could never work well in my own room- least not the one at Schwab! What with all the cable TV, partying, tennis courts etc... to distract me? The library is the only place I can find the calm to work and I can put in insane work hours.

Another obvious issue is books. I only ever bought 2 textbooks whilst doing my engineering degree in undergraduate years, although I know I cannot replicate the same tactic at graduate school, I intend not to go out and buy every singe latest edition book that is out there when I am only 5 mins walk from the lair where I would want to read it anyway. Course readers are another issue, I found it so strange paying $90 or so for 2 syllabi and a bunch of articles.
The only pitfalls that may arise are when I have to study off campus or outside of library hours.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Cardinal Cards complete

Wow, I can’t think of a better start for an MBA program than running a business simulation that get you to experience running a business. Cardinal cards requires a team of about 12 compete with another 5 teams to make & sell the best greeting cards from all day (it gets exhausting). Each “cycle” lasts 20 minutes as you rush around collecting orders, purchasing supplies, ordering market research etc… It was all pretty good as it forced you to appreciate all the functions of business/management. The stakeholder roles within the simulation were all played by GSB faculty and staff which is great for getting to know them early on. There are also appropriately inserted “lessons or hints” in between cycles to alert you of the issues faced by a manager ranging from ethics to leadership & teamwork. I was in the administration role, helping to prepare financial accounts on time at the end of each cycle as well as taking care of other random compliance forms. Our team, and I’m sure much can be said about others, struggled in the first day with everyone shouting over each other, but by the end of the second day we were an amazing cohesive team and I have to boast that we were the most profitable team and had the highest customer satisfaction! At the end of the second day marking the end of the simulation, we were notified of a GSB slip up on setting up our sections and study groups, leading to an emotional outcry by teams. The Cardinal Card teams were set up in such a way that many were part of the same study or section, so the change meant that I, for one, was not in the same study group that I had bonded with over the last few days… Of course, my new study group could be just as awesome as the former…!
Directly following the Cardinal Cards, was the Liquidity Preference Function (LPF), the first of the after week drinks sessions and get together, and you could finally grasp the size of the class and meet people who lived either in another part of Stanford or off-campus. At this point, I was beginning to get tired… I think the amount of sport I tried to participate in over the past week must have played a role, or maybe it’s getting up at 6:50am to play tennis before breakfast & Cardinal Cards that caused it…
Today, I need to escape the business school scene just for the afternoon… Yes, back to San Francisco. This time to explore Oakland & Berkeley area, find a barber and catch up with friends…

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Completed my first week here

So I survived International Pre-Enrollment. Although the immigration talk was a little overwhelming... Just think of this scenario:

You send you passport & I-20 to Pennsylvania to get your tax number (since you probably need to compute your taxes in April with the fellowship funds in your account). You then get stopped by the police and asked for your passport and I-94, since strictly speaking you are meant to carry these with you anywhere you go, especially if you head somewhere far from your local area, for instance San Diego. Since you do not have the documents you get apprehended as a possible illegal immigrant...

I know it's a highly unlikely scenario and maybe you should know better but to stay at school and do nothing while your passport is on the other side of America. But what happens if your passport is lost in the system? It’s also almost impossible for internationals to get a social security number, which although we will get one if we do an internship in little less than a years' time, it would be very handy to have it early on in order to get cell phones, credit card, driving licenses etc… The conclusion, being an international student means there are some unique barriers for accessing some useful services in the states, and one does need to be careful. The IPEP was very useful for new internationals as well as those from English speaking countries such as South Africa and UK, and it’s good to know that Stanford have someone who it is their full time job to advice on complex immigration status issues.

Exemption exams studying are the talk within Schwab at the moment and it has started to make me feel like I should have signed up to take some, despite the fact that I know reviewed this issue thoroughly in May and came to the conclusion that it is not worth taking any. But nevertherless, in a panic state I’ve just gone through the samne process again and come to the same conclusion! So no, although I know certain topics well, I don't know them well enough to pass the exemptions exams, or put in another way, I don't want to scrap through the exams and kid myself that I've mastered certain subjects. So Labor Day weekend will be spent lounging around and exploring, not studying… I'll heading back into San Francisco with some newly made friends this afternoon...

Monday, August 29, 2005

International Enrollment kicks off...

Today was the first GSB classroom experience- International Enrolment (IPEP). Quantative Enrolment (QPEP)started last week. It was great to meet about 50 or so of the international students at the GSB and another 50 or people who have been doing the Quantative stuff. It seems the IPEP seems a damn lot easier than the QPEP work- although I did not expect to be video taped during the presentation exercises today...

On other news, San Francisco was awesome on the weekend. My friend was the perfect tour guide. The fact that he is a DJ meant that I was able to see 9 clubs and various bars in 2 nights... He shall come in handy on those gettaway weekends to the city when I need to escape from the MBA madness.

I hit Walmart twice in the last 2 days and have finally almost got my room fully supplied...
There have been some moans about the lack of available late night eating areas on campus amongs other things (or how far everything is- which is reflective of the huge Stanford campus)... Having a car and/or a bike is almost a must... Let's see how long I can last. I'm just not falling for the huge rush of people grabbing deals left, right and centre without taking a step back and evaluating what options you have- I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm no rush, although I recognise the necessity of having a vehicle whilst out here.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I'm totally shattered, completely overwhelmed...

Now in the normal MBA playbook, you are meant to visit the MBA program of your dreams before you apply or take the acceptance after having at least taken a peak at the school you are going to spend over $100K and live for 2 years of your life. Well I did not, I applied and accepted the position at the GSB without ever setting foot within 2,000 miles of the campus, I relied totally on what I had read and personal experience. I had it in the back of my mind-"what if I hate the campus? Or Stanford does not live up to all the ratings & hype?". After all we all have our personal opinions which can sometimes widely differ from the norm. I was even about to set myself up for disappointment when I saw the grey weather in the morning- "I thought California was meant to be ALWAYS sunny? And on my 1st day it's cloudy!". First impressions are everything.
But today I finally made it onto the campus, and had all my expectations were met if not exceeded. The campus is just breathtakingly huge and beautiful. And yes, the true California sunshine returned at 10am and lasted the whole day- not a cloud in the sky.
Everyone I met was also very friendly, and this made things run pretty smoothly on my 5 hours on campus, taking it easy touring with my mum whilst doing my chores. I then attempted to do 2 hours of shopping (getting the essentials) before the jetlag kicked in as predicted...
Tomorrow, we head for San Francisco. I'm shattered.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The last few miles...

I'm in California!!!! Not quite at Stanford, but near enough- I'm at a hotel in Palo Alto that at a guess, is a couple of miles out.
Oh my God! First impressions is that it looks just like parts of Africa- only more developed (obviously). A developed Bongoland! I could get used to this.
Don't even know why I'm on the computer, 10 hour time difference from Tanzania- I best go to bed. Tomorrow I move in and do some touring with my mum, not to mention sort the basics (student ID, bank account etc...) Could be a long day- just hope I don't burn out by 2pm as jetlag kicks in...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

5,000 miles or so to go... Goodbye Britain

After almost starving on the British Airways flight due to the strike being put on by the catering staff (Gate Gormet), I'm going to stock up on munchies for the Atlantic crossing tomorrow.
But being back in the UK has been pleasant. Now for the final plunge...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Last blog from Bongoland- 10,000 miles to go...

So this is my last blog from "bongoland", I can't believe 7 weeks has passed since I finished work in the UK and set out here. Although, the prime focus was to relax and sort getting my new passport and visa, my main concern was getting too bored. I have not let the sun, beach and sea get to me and restricted myself to 2 trips to Zanzibar. I have gained some valuable experience on my short 1 month internship on the Tanzanian capital markets which has kept me busy, and added a much needed extra dimension on my resume. I was able to keep up with the pre-pre term preparation mainly involving hundreds of dollars worth of credit card expenditure that I really could have saved up for other things. I finally did the excel skills assessor yesterday and I was surprised by the result; apparently I lack the basic skills in "printing" spreadsheets, I suppose it’s something that I never do that much of.
Some useful messages came through this week from Stanford on the first few days for international students such as setting up a bank account, getting a cell phone, purchasing a bike etc... And on the accommodation front, I have been notified of my suite and room mate as well. My mum was relieved that there is an organised trip to Walmart on the Sunday I actually move into Schwab from the weekend stay in San Francisco, leaving me to finish off any last minute shopping and importantly, leaving my mum with more time to rest (it’s 10 hours time difference between Tanzania and California) before flying on to her next stop in Philly to visit my sister on the Monday. I've also contacted an old friend of mine that I knew at the age of 11 years old when I was at boarding school in Kenya and who now lives in the bay area and has offered to give my mum and I an assisted tour of San Francisco that weekend, it will be weird to not have seen him for over 15 years! Furthermore, an American friend of mine that I knew from boarding school in England has just moved from NY to San Francisco just this Friday gone- so I'll be in good company in the region thanks to old faces, what a small world. But before all that, I'll be back in England briefly early next week to collect my stuff and any spare moments I'll be sure to be in a beer garden at a pub to enjoy my last few English pints and ales.
It still hasn’t properly sunk into me yet, 12 years ago my parents sent me to UK to study, now I’ve opted to pack up again and send myself to study, this time over 10,000 miles from home.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Not on the pre-pre term preparation checklist but...

...My father has kindly agreed to send me to have 2 hour golf lessons every morning from today until I leave in weeks time. I've had lessons and played golf before when I was younger, but they were pretty much forced onto me by my father who had just taken a shine to the game and wanted all the kids to get into it and accompany him- unfortunately at the time my sport of choice was tennis- so although I put the effort in, I would have rather be playing tennis where my heart was. Things have certainly changed, now I think I'm ready for this game of choice for business types.
So I had my first lesson today, and it was great, my priority is to work on my swing on the range rather than just leap onto the golf course- that's if you can call the Dar es Salaam course a golf course! The course is severly underfunded and really needs some corporate sponsorship to get anywhere near international standards. As my dad said- funding is the issue- a professional golf course requires an irrigation system equivalent to one required by a modern town of 15,000- now where is a developing country like Tanzania going to sort one, when the city water system itself needs work. As multinational companies flood into Tanzania, we hope they will put up the required funding- after all the executives would certainly want to play an occasional round now and then at a course that is right in the city centre! I'm definitely looking forward to trying out the world class Stanford course.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

All clear for go

So I finally got my visa this morning following an early start at 7:30am. Despite spending about 3 hours at the embassy, I should praise the embassy on their efficiency yet maintaining thorough checking for a vast no. of people, my mum tells me that there have been quite a few criticisms in the papers about their “over-fussiness”. Understandably so given the current state of world affairs. Some of the locally recruited staff seemed to be confused about exactly what documents students visa applicants should bring with them. For instance, why were they asking me for my high school certificates when clearly my bachelor’s degree certificate is evidence enough that I’m qualified for an MBA? Actually if they were really pushing this case they should have asked for my GMAT and university transcripts and most importantly my Stanford Admission letter! Yet, the memos put out by the embassy & on their website state that they are not in the business of assessing whether one is qualified to attend a university course- that’s what the admission process is there for! I made a judgement to process my visa in my home country rather than doing it in London, I recommend this process for international students if this option is available in order to get the advantage of beating the queues and waits of 5 weeks for the interview itself in major international cities like London. On the other hand, having it done somewhere like London would have eliminated the anxiety students face in knowing that as long as you have all the documents stated and met all requirements you’re fine, rather than being hassled for unnecessary documents or unrelated requirements by less competent clerical staff in countries such as Tanzania.
Apart from that, the actual counsellor was really friendly and I got an ego boost as he congratulated me on my admission and shared anecdotal accounts of his friends' application attempts- yes, I'm so grateful for getting in to such a competitive school. Then the counsellor asked an unexpected question -"So what are you going to do after the MBA? Investment Banking'?". I was a bit thrown because although the first question is fair and I'm meant to resolutely respond that my primary concern is to return to Tanzania, I don’t think he is meant to encourage me to seek/take a US job in the point of view of the immigration policy for students!? Last time I checked there were zero investment banking opportunities in Tanzania. Of course I answered “Who knows, should the opportunity present itself maybe- but in the long term, international development." It was ironic that during the wait there were 3 recent issues of the “Money Magazine” in the waiting room, so I was able to read up enlightening articles about the US economy and future job prospects just prior to being called up for the interview.
So as they would probably say at NASA (congrats on the shuttle landing by the way- sorry, the aerospace enthusiast in me is thrilled)- “Mbwana, this is Houston, you’re good to go!”- Only minor checks are left, including checking that my health requirements are OK- in light of Britchick-mba's recent experience, I'm going to visit the doctor and make sure all my tropical immunisations are up to date and more importantly to verify which immunisations are necessary for the US. So in approaching the final week here in Tanzania, I’m looking forward to going out for my 24th b-day this weekend and I could be back in Zanzibar next Friday to enjoy one of the greatest asset of my country- the sheer beautiful and relaxed nature of our tourists sights- I won’t be back at the earliest, in a year, and there’s no place like home. So bring in more farewell parties! Then it’s Jet setting to the UK to collect my stuff and say goodbye to rainy England and hello sunny California.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Final red tape hurdle in sight...

I said I was cutting it close, but not to worry- The final bit of red tape to allow me to make the journey into the US is in sight. My new passport was returned within 1 week of sorting out all my finger & handprints. I've amassed all the 14 certificates/letters/statements/forms required to apply for F1 visa. My visa interview is set for next Thursday (11th) at 7:30am! After that I'll have 10 days left in Tanzania and I shall cease my short 1 month summer internship at the stock exchange for some quality relaxing, I won't mention the Z word- but yes, it could be a possibility if finances allow it.

I've managed to also solve my problem of transporting all my stuff to the US from the UK. Since my mother is coming with me, she'll travel light whilst I use up all her spare luggage capacity to load up all my stuff. It also makes sense to abandon stuff in the UK that I can easily re-buy here in Tanzania and in the US. Some things will just have to be left behind...

Totally unrelated but interesting is MTV's debut arrival tomorrow in Tanzania... My sister asked me whether we should attend this and I have to ask myself two questions:
- With my 24th b-day looming am I getting too old for this stuff? If I was a couple of years younger I would jumped at the chance of going...
- Tanzania is not normally associatd with such modern US exported culture, maybe I should spending my last days here in Tanzania finding more locally cultural nightlife or just plain relaxing. Then again, I'm beginning to like the recent African hip-hop music out there, and I'm scrambling about to load up my mp3 collection with the stuff.
Yes, these are attempts at excuses for not going... I'll probably get dragged along anyway. I'm not one to pass the opportunity for a party.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Career focus

With the excitement building as the big day approaches before setting off to business school (although worry is starting to creep over me with regard to progress on my passport renewal and how best to move my stuff in the UK by cargo to California), career options have come into focus once again.

Over the last 6 months or so, I've been considering and researching careers in international development, but it wasn't until I initially went through GSB's impressive career section on this area earlier this week that I really started to realise how many potential opportunities lie out there - evidence of dozens of students over the years successfully placed on internships and onto full time positions with the exact firms I'd expressed interest in. Consulting is still my main career desire directly after b-school, but international development has recently risen to consideration mainly because I can currently relate to it more since I've been here in Tanzania, where the big thing in the news is always "poverty reduction this..", " a new plan for economic development that..." not to mention the recent make poverty history campaign, which means that development agencies have come under a lot of focus and there should be load of work coming up with the increase aid pledges. When people ask me here so what are you going to do immediately after your MBA and I answer that I'd like to work for Bain or McKinsey, they look mystified. But when I tell them I may want to work for the United Nations Development Programme, or the World Bank, they can completely understand the logic in the choice and the impact I could make. My desire and what I wrote on my essays was that I would like go into consulting to get the widest business experience and then go into international development when I've professionally matured. However, I am now formulating a plan to test the water by combining my interest for pursuing the global management program (GMP) certificate, in which I can go on the Global Management Immersion Experience (GMIX) 4 week internship abroad next summer, by hopefully landing a stint at an NGO at some exotic country. It still leaves me time to intern fully at a consulting firm if all is successful on that front, and by this time next year I should have an idea as to whether international development is for me or not (at least get some experience and relevant contacts for the future) - at the moment it certainly feels that I should wait and build up further experience before trying to land a high impact international development job.

Then there is of course, the chance of starting my own business, a choice everyone can universally relate to here in Africa and in the west, but during my exposure to more than my fair share of young entrepreneurs here in Tanzania, I'm starting to realise that not many of my entrepreneur friends are living the lifestyle I want to live toward the end of my 20s. More importantly, the environment for a start-up here in Tanzania is just not conducive or ideal- bongo land inefficiency is such a pain, not to mention huge barriers of entry in everything apart from say advertising. I would certainly have little chance with a hi-tech venture, maybe if the opportunity arose in the bay area, but plans for a start-up in Tanzania are certainly in the long term, when hopefully efficiency and infrastructure would have improved or I become more patient with age!

What about investment banking? At the moment this is one of the areas that I've least researched but I have been having a growing desire to learn more about - the attraction being the short term financial gain at the expense of long hours before burning out- who knows, I shall certainly consider taking a summer internship in this area instead of consulting should my further research lead me down this avenue and the opportunity arise.

Did I mention private equity? This offers the best financial rewards (as I recently read in an economist article), yet I currently know very little about, and I hear is very competitive to get into especially without prior experience... This is where my current work experience at the stock exchange here in Tanzania may show employers that I’m interested, but maybe probably not enough for me to be competitive against other applicants for full time jobs without an internship.
Last, and I’m sure not least is the extremely valuable advice I got from the North America/Commercial Director at my last employer to go into Product Marketing- again I currently know very little about this, the advice given to me was that I should strongly consider this area if I still wanted to make use of my engineering and tech skills and get the most out of the general management education at Stanford, it was also that an area that is looking increasing promising and important in countries such as the UK (should I want to return there).

What's clear is that my career interests are still at the stage of expanding, and I'm sure they'll mushroom once I get to business school. I'll certainly need to join quite a few professionally related students clubs to feed my career interests (so far, I reckon consulting, investment, Finance equity/investment, Africa business, hi-tech just to name a few…). I still have yet to take the career leader online self assessment that the career management centre are recommending on doing. When I last took this type of test in high school I came out with something being 95% suited to Engineering, so I do value these sorts of tests.
To date, I'm satisfied with the career research I've done on management consulting (already bought a case study preparation book and a guide to the top firms), recently I've been having a look at MBA consulting track, it has some helpful advice about preparation whilst at business school.
My aim is to reach this level of research on the other career interests (International development, investment banking, Product Marketing and a little on private equity)- there’s clearly a lot to be done here and a methodical and organised approach to manage all these career interests is definitely needed.
All this presents me with another challenge- How do I structure my resume for the resume book due in the autumn quarter, and another action to start on prior to enrolment, when this book goes out to the full gamut of MBA recruiting firms across a variety of sectors? Conventional wisdom states you should structure ones resume focusing on the career area one is interested- but what if you have many and are not firmed up on them!!?- I will carefully need to think about my resume to focus on achievements and transferable skills that appeal to a broad recruiting audience- and then later tailor resumes for specific companies that I apply directly to. Oh lord…

Monday, July 25, 2005

Safer Airport Runways...

I've been checking out my previous employer's website pretty regulary, and I was pleased to see they announced a sale of key technological product, Tarsier, from leveraging its military expertise in radar technology to be able to track Foriegn Object Debris (FOD) on airport runways. FOD costs the global avaition industry some $4 billion a year and a piece of FOD was a cause of the fatal Concorde crash in Paris in 2000.

I worked briefly for the Tarsier product team in helping to developing the concept of operations, so I feel proud that I was part of its success, having finally made their first sale at Vancouver Airport. Hopefully busy airports such as Heathrow and JFK will follow suit. The radar can detect up to the size of a large nail or golf ball on a vast runway surface.

Digital Divide in Tanzania (or not)?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been painfully trying to sign up our home to the sole broadband internet service provider in Tanzania (if you can call a standard rate of 64kbps and a top rate of 120kbps broadband!). The company is so inundated with new customers together with the fact it has a monopoly on the business that it can afford to maintain poor customer service for the mean time. Having been to their offices 3 times last week they seem to be very slowly coming around (well, even before installation, they will need do a site survey this week). I’m not too bothered, since being here I have gone online at my local internet café just down the road from home for about the equivalent of 50 cents (30 pence) an hour.
In light of my struggles to sign up to the internet, a few insights from a variety of sources on communications technology have caught my attention; Firstly, on BBC’s clickonline program, a feature was done on Tanzania where it outlined some astonishing facts; less than 1 in 10 Tanzanians have access to a fixed line and yet 97% have access to a mobile/cell phone! In fact there are 4 strong mobile phone operators in Tanzania with fierce competition leading to not only cheaper calls but excellent customer service- you won’t have trouble signing up to an operator in Tanzania, and for that matter you can make calls from the most remote areas of Tanzania- even on top Mt. Kilimanjaro at almost 20,000ft.
Secondly, my father has shared his experiences over the years of how he ditched the once state owned fixed line phone (now recently privatised) company due to poor service, lack of capital to upgrade old copper wire infrastructure to a more reliable “mobile fixed line” service. In other words, a cell phone service provider installed a fixed line which is really mobile phone receiver posing as a fixed line. Many have said that the apparent “digital divide” in Africa being perceived due to the difficulties in getting reliable high speed internet is not so important to the ordinary Tanzanian, as the mobile phone is winning over the PC. The trend is certainly clear, Tanzanians love and have adopted mobile phone technology, and it seen as a means of great economic development for the region. For instance fisherman can receive texts on the latest fish prices on different markets whilst still out on the Indian Ocean before deciding where to sell. And finally this morning, I was astonished read in the papers that an Israeli company is teaming up with a local Tanzanian company to trial and eventually deploy Wi-Max, which would enable mobile high speed internet across a wide area. I’m particularly astonished because, whilst in the west, the industries are grappling with the regulation of the new and potentially destructive technology- many companies view W-Max with disdain (not surprising given the amount they have invested in traditional fixed broadband communication technologies), it seems that here in Tanzania, we are about to leap-frog straight to the mobile high speed internet era- so much for fixed line broadband infrastructure for the future. Hooray for hi-tech in Tanzania… For more on Wi-Max connectivity potential in Africa- click here.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Postcard from Zanzibar- on the trail alone...


What do you do when your buddies abandon you on your travel plans? You go it alone. I went to Zanzibar (again!) for the long awaited full moon party weekend by myself for the first time, and it was surprisingly good. My friends gave me the classic excuse- “too much work to do…”. However, with no travel companions, it was not only great to go on my own schedule, but the best bit was the fact that I was forced to talk to people I’d never really talk to otherwise, I met so many different solo travellers; from a Japanese student to a Canadian accountant. I also had great time at the party chatting to a random bunch of people round a beach fire that I did not know and I ended up meeting one girl who lives 15 minutes away from Stanford in Palo Alto!
I used to think travelling by myself would be odd, but I’m now converted- something about the freedom to explore at your own will and not stressing about having to coordinate politely with others’ activities. Shout out to all the solo travellers out there!

Having said that, I still find people who go to the movies/cinema on their own pretty strange- but I suppose you can’t know until you’ve tried it.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Time to get a move on…

In the backdrop of my last obsessive post on Zanzibar, I best bring things back in focus on making my preparations for Stanford.
I have one more month left until I make the final journey to California via the UK, and today signalled the day I should really shift up a gear in my preparations. Firstly, my whole family is having passports renewed, followed by the US visa process for mum and I. One snag is that virtually all Tanzanians are rushing do get their passport renewed before a government imposed deadline at the end of October (something about machine readable passports needed by then). As you can imagine, the immigration service is overwhelmed with applications and we have to pull a few strings to speed up the process. The US visa will only take one day, but my main concern is the potential delay the passport renewal process may create. 4 weeks to do it all? Fingers crossed- we are talking “bongo land” government efficiency here. On other things, I still have to finalise moving my stuff from the UK to the US and start creating a shopping list of things I need to purchase whilst I’m here in Africa and when I arrive in the US. I would like to minimise my shopping once I leave, and so envisage making a trip to IKEA and to the computer store to purchase a laptop and organiser (PDA) when I get to Palo Alto- it turns out my mum also needs one, so it’s convenient for her to get a good spec whilst out in the US.
I’m also finding myself being supplied with a steady stream of actions from Stanford to get on top of. The MBA Excel skills assessor, signing up for pre-term activities, reading up on accounting and economics fundamentals etc… I have had to set up Outlook on the home computer to track everything- and I thought I’d get a break from using office software whilst on holiday!
Pre-term is interesting, I am both shocked and impressed by the number of activities they have laid on- lots and lots of social activities which have to be pre-paid and booked. Having gone through them, I reckon I’ll be spending some around $400 ($600 if you include the International Pre-Enrolment Programme), which includes the $200 Outdoor Activity weekend right at the end. Well, I think I better sign up on e-bay and start saving some cash on books otherwise my summer spending will mushroom. I’m certainly not cutting back on the pre-term social activities, when else would one get the chance to have such a good time early on? It will be exciting and unforgettable, it kind of reminds me of “Freshers’ week” at British universities- I certainly didn’t skimp then, and I made a load of friends. For the outdoor activity weekend, I’m completely torn between the boat cruising trip on Lake Shasta and the White Water Rafting in the Gold Country- both appeal to me hugely; I would pay to do both if I had the choice! But hey, I bet these sort of difficult choices will come as standard whilst I begin the MBA- “you can do everything- just not all at the same time…”

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Is it time to invest in Paradise?

Two nights in Zanzibar and I am not only refreshed, but buzzing with excitement for what plans I have in store for the future of me and this island.
First I will let you into what I call paradise (if you get bored skip the italics);

You wake up in basic yet luxurious bungalow overlooking the beach and beyond it an intense contrast of ocean colour from emerald and to dark blue. The beach is pristine with a few and local fishermen and dhow boat builders minding their own simple lives. After an inclusive breakfast at the restaurant/bar on the beach (room rates were $40 a night for Tanzanian resident), you catch the small engine boat which ferries tourists to Nungwi, the village about 2 miles down the beach, half hour boat ride further beyond, one heads to the famous Mnemba Atoll, which has the best diving/snorkelling in all of Zanzibar and the island’s only super luxurious resort which has graced the likes of Tom Cruise, Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie. However, today is not a day for snorkelling or star spotting. At Nungwi, we get off and meet some locals that I’ve known since I first discovered the northern tip of Zanzibar some 2 years ago, I ask the same questions; “How’s life in paradise? Are the tourist numbers up and how is business?”, the answer is always the same, “Everything is Fresh!” in literal translation to Swahili.
You walk past the many souvenir shops and Internet cafés (which I resisted!) and venture 2 minutes walk inland into Nungwi village, where things take a totally different tone and the contrast is immense. From a tourist paradise, you are plunged into the real Africa, a very basic village with rundown looking mud houses and shops selling only the most basic of products. We ventured into the village for two reasons, my friend was after more locals in order to scout out for plots of land that may be going cheap. And secondly, I am after insect repellent (on mum’s advice). Malaria is still a big killer in Africa, especially Tanzania, where people still struggle to afford the most basic protection against mosquito bites such as nets and insecticide, I’m after a bit of a luxury item, “spray on” repellent. Eventually, I find one for $7.
Meanwhile my friend is smiling with the news that there is huge potential for buying plots of lands for the office of his advertising business and then sets about shooting video footage without upsetting the locals. We soon return onto the tourist trail and head for the beach restaurants for a bite before heading to Chole bar, a bar designed to look like a dhow boat that has run aground on the beach, it just looks like something out of Robinson Crusoe. The bar has an “upstairs” where a group can chill, which resembles the mast and rigging area of the boat directly above the bar area. I talk one of the locals working there into plugging in my mp3 player into the music system then started to play my pre-made 3 hour “Chill out Mix” as we watched boats sail by, beautiful people sunbathing with a steady order of cocktails delivered. For lunch we order the catch of fish- Red Snapper and Kingfish in a light coconut sauce and continued to chill. The perfect way to spend the rest of the afternoon…

I’m so in love with the Nungwi & Kendwa area of Zanzibar, this is the 6th time I’ve revisited this area since I first arrived in 2003. Before then I had ignored the place as being too far off the beaten tourist trail to be worth looking at, most ordinary and unadventurous tourists would totally miss it, but some things are just worth any extra travel or hassle to get to.
After the rest of my trip, which can only be described as the most “chilled” ever, I can only reaffirm my intentions to make this a part of my life in the long term. Yes, I intend on buying a slice of paradise! Property is dirt-cheap for Tanzanians (expensive for foreigners, unless you can invest $200K in a business!), and small plots are supposedly abundant, so financially it should be a certainty, although of course I’ll need to do my due diligence first. My intentions go much further than just building a holiday home though, the plan is to develop a unique bed and breakfast that offers a more unique experience than anything else currently offered and to re-invest any profits into developing the local region. I would be buying a sustainable lifestyle paradise in a not for profit venture. I’m confident this will work for a variety of reasons:
• Tourism industry is booming and set to continue (numbers, doubling by 2010) whilst the perception of Africa in general as being a dangerous for tourist is vanishing. Hence, there is a projected long term source of tourist revenue and an opportunity to tap into source to sustain the venture.
• Young Zanzibarians seem to be the most friendly, trustworthy people I’ve ever met in Tanzania, which is very important so as I can employ them to manage the venture whilst I am away from Africa. I was amazed when I saw evidence of this when I was talking to a local shop keeper who explained to me how he was running deals with about 15 tourists from the west (mainly UK, US, Italy & Germany)- every so often, they would send him money (convenient as he is the only bank account holder in the area), and he would buy rice, beans, the all important mosquito protection for the people who need it (what an excellent way to donate to Africa- directly to region you are interested in). In return, the shopkeeper would arrange for the tourists to spend a few months teaching at the local schools, accommodation and other such favours, which brings me on to my next point…
• There is a huge trend in tourists in the west taking time off of their hectic and relatively less meaningful lives, by going to teach (or assist) abroad in community projects where they can make an impact, and I need not explain the evidence for this trend, for there are some of my friends who could be reading this that fit into that category and I know of plenty of others who would do the same thing. Not to mention the no. of requests I get from people at work in the UK and some friends in US to arrange some sort of “teaching or working holiday”. I myself, would love to do it!

So in the same manner, that some people are providing a visit under the knife (surgery or other operations) combined with a holiday, so that one returns back with a new face, kidney or tummy tuck, this venture would provide people the opportunity to visit paradise yet returning home having taught children or helped to build a school and hence, made a difference. All tourist revenue goes toward sustaining the local region.
What’s in it for me? Apart from the fulfilment of making a difference and investing my money in Africa early, my service would be to set up the venture (I’d then get a trusty local someone to manage the place), and of course I would request a room or two be kept free for me to return with friends for a two week break during my busy 9-5 western job (it would save me hotel money!), and eventually on a more permanent basis when I reach or near retirement. It’s lifestyle investment which would hopefully generate some high impact charity work that use the tourists themselves- The idea itself is not new and I know an American couple, for instance, who have set up orphanage using the same model, what keeps them going, is their love of children. My love of the area and the fact that I’ve returned here 6 times (7 next Friday for the full moon party), is enough to keep me motivated for life. So next weekend, I’m going to be asking the serious questions to assess the feasibility of this idea.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I'm off to Paradise...

I am off to Zanzibar (a.k.a Spice Island) for 2 nights to relax after an eventful morning at the stock exchange. The island has an exotic history not to mention just being a dreamy paradise.
Little did I know, Laura bush- US first lady, will be in Tanzania from this afternoon as part of her Africa tour to highlight the role of women and fighting Aids. She is apparently going to be visiting Zanzibar tomorrow as well.

I'll be staying at the northern tip of Zanzibar, Nungwi- Kendwa area- the beaches are out of this world and the atmosphere so laid back, it's horizontal! No matter what anyone says- I deserve this and I consider this my treat for getting into Stanford (and for lots of work to come!). I've been so looking forward to returning to my favourite spot to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
Some photos can be seen on my links section (or just click here) from last years' charity expedition- then, it was a treat for a successful climb up Kilimanjaro.
My friend will also be shooting some video footage for a commercial his advertising business is producing for the local TV station which should provide some amusement. But I intend on just chilling, reading and having a few cocktails in the sunset. This is certaintly not my only trip, I expect to return atleast once more for the full moon party at the end of the month.

Monday, July 11, 2005

How cute...

Had my first morning at the stockbrokers today. My first impressions- what a quiet and cute little place. I had perceived lots of action, people buying and selling inflamed with the usual enthusiasm of Tanzanian salesmen; instead, it was actually the exchanges' day off. Trading days are Tuesday to Thursdays- I have to remind myself that this is a stock exchange of a poor developing country, not or anywhere near the NYSE or FTSE! The brokers are in the same building as the exchange so it’s just one flight of stairs up and you are there. The brokers were actually fairly busy with the unit trust sale, however, I was able to spend time just touring the place and talking to the managing director of the brokerage firm. There was certainly plenty of reading material to go through and discuss with the brokers. I’m now starting to get familiar with the history of the capital markets, the various structural reforms of the financial markets going etc... and the particular challenges that lie ahead. Rather than divulge what I’ve learnt today, I’ll wait a few weeks so I can summarise in more depth. Importantly, I’m confident that my experience will provide me with, at least, the financial accounting and economics preparation that the Stanford MBA require- I should get to beef up my excel skills too, although I do need to take that “MBA excel skills assessor” pretty soon.
I’m returning on Wednesday for a new bond issue and listing on the market, which should be livelier than things were today.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Leadership Development Platform- I want to develop and learn to use EQ…

I signed up to the leadership development platform, which is meant to kick off quite towards the end of first quarter. I never heard of this program whilst doing my research for the Stanford MBA, so I was a bit mystified of what exactly it entails. Since those wanting to sign up for the limited space on the program have to submit a qualifying statement addressing some leadership questions, I thought I best get moving (for once) given how much time I have off.
From a lot of the press out there regarding what can and can’t be taught in business schools, leadership is one of those things that certainly comes up time and time again- “MBA’s can’t be taught leadership skills that take experience to build up during a lifetime.” The program stresses experiential learning through bridge teams, labs with further support from faculty and coaches (coaches are 2nd year MBA students).
In preparing to write my qualification statement, I remembered my father’s stash of Harvard Business Review journals which I had browsed through in the past, one special issue on leadership in particularly that caught my attention, was an article on the concept of emotional intelligence (EQ)- the soft stuff of leadership which include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skill qualities that set apart the best leaders. Lots has been studied and written about EQ, and I’m somewhat fascinated yet sceptical of the concept, normally the best managers I have come across are, not surprisingly, ones who are just plainly, the nicest. But how far can you take EQ? Especially when there are tough decisions to be made? I made this one of the thrusts of my qualification statement. Anyway, with only 72 people able to make it on to the program that counts towards an organisational dynamics segment of the first year, I really hope I get on it as it sounds like a great opportunity to “experience” something that was not traditionally on a normal MBA program- I wonder what other business schools out there are doing something similar so early on the curriculum and can any other MBA bloggers out there comment?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

No place is immune... Pray for London

I am distressed by the events that took place in London yesterday. I cast myself back to 1998, I heard and felt an explosion from the very spot I wrote this blog post from. I suspected it was gas pipe explosion or something, little did I know that it was the US embassies (only a few miles away from me) under attack here in Tanzania & Kenya and what was the beginning of the war on terror. 7 years later it still goes on, the events remind us that no country is immune from terror attacks. My condolences go out to all those affected.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Some work experience organised- Capital Markets in Africa here I come…

Before I left England, I talked about getting some work experience during my break here in Tanzania, especially to fill the in the times when I get bored in all the beach and sun. Well, I’ve finally managed to secure some form of work in the capital markets sector. I arranged this by targeting the leading law firm in Tanzania, where my sister works. After a discussion with one of the lawyers, it was suggested I pursue my needs with the largest brokerage firm in Tanzania. Basically, I would be given the opportunity to “work shadow” and assist some of the brokers in their dealings at the Dar Es Salaam Stock Exchange (DSE). I just have to show up on Monday to meet the managing director of the firm and away I go. I’m hoping to negotiate 2-3 days a week of unpaid work if possible for the next month. So I’m pretty excited not only because of the relevance the experience would bring in preparation for business school, showing my motivation and interest for financial sector internships and jobs, but also of the novelty of capital markets in Tanzania.
The Capital Markets and Securities Act was only passed within the last decade, and the DSE was only set up in 1998. To date no more that 10 companies are listed on the exchange- nothing compared to the western markets of course- but we have to start somewhere and a start has been made nevertheless. Most of the major companies listed are ones that have been recently privatised and in order to facilitate and increase wider share ownership among the Tanzanian community whilst developing a savings culture, a unit trust (or fund)- called the Umoja trust, has been just been set up by the government exclusively for Tanzanian citizens offering a 30% discount during a sale period between May until the end of July this year- each unit costs equivalent of $0.10, which a minimum investment of about $3 required on current exchange rates. So most of the citizens can afford to invest although I doubt the really low earners, those who earn less than a dollar a day, will invest due to their lack of education and hence ability to understand what the trust really means. Now if only I could put some of that locked up UK pension I accumulated over the last 2 years into the scheme- in any case, I hope this will prompt other comparatively wealthy earning Tanzanians abroad to put some of their savings back into the country. The scheme certainly has the potential curb capital flight problems by providing an easy way to invest back into the country.
So far, I’m impressed by the transparency of the scheme considering how mindful of corruption one needs to be in sub-Saharan countries, and indeed most people are scared that their money will disappear down the drain. I was also afraid that the fund managers would be taking excessively large fees, but it is not so, one of the main benefits of the trust is the advantage gained through risk aggregation/pooling to reduce what would be high transaction costs for ordinary Tanzanians. It remains to be seen how competent the fund managers are, on paper they seem okay, although how wrong can you go in choosing a diversified portfolio from 10 listed companies (a majority are solid privatised companies such as tobacco and breweries)? Apparently interest in the trust seems pretty large following a wide marketing campaign across the country and I have to laud the governments’ efforts on pragmatically introducing capitalism to benefit all Tanzanians, not just to the wealthy and foreigners. I just hope the companies will perform well- another signal that Tanzania is on the path to positive development and a reinforcement of my goal to certainly consider returning here and putting my MBA skills to use. Let’s just pray for a good result at the G8 meetings this week in debt cancellation and the flow of more aid to Africa, which would greatly benefit Tanzania and put us firmly on the road to development and economic prosperity.

Monday, July 04, 2005

International Pre-Enrollment Program (IPEP)

I haven't even had a chance to relax for a weekend before I have to start organising my next move to California.
First off, my mum will be accompanying me and we are planning to spend 2 nights in San Francisco so that mum can chill, do some shopping and take in the sights (remember it's a long way for mum to come just to turn round after a couple of days). We will then head to Menlo Park, a few miles from Stanford, for another 2 nights, from there we will try and tour the university, do any final shopping before I move into Schwab Residential Centre on Sunday 28th August (if possible) before starting on the International pre-enrollment program (IPEP) the next day. Mum will then fly to philly to visit my sister before flying home afterwards.

Friday, July 01, 2005

I'm home and it's beautiful...

Home sweet home Tanzania! After what was a mammoth journey in the end, I left on Tuesday afternoon and got in on Friday morning. That is certainly the last time I attempt to go standby during the middle of the summer- but hey, I did get to see some family friends and parts of Zurich.
Weather is good, it's winter here so it about 70-80 F or 25-28 C.
Now I'm exciting about heading to Zanzibar for this festival this weekend- if I can. I'm afraid all the local hotels in stone town may be booked up. The flight over was absolutely full of tourists, and I'm sure a good portion of them will be heading to Zanzibar this weekend. The festival lasts a whole week so I can head for the climax next weekend if need be. Otherwise, I think it's time to just relax and soak in the chilled atmosphere as life here is going at a snails pace. This should be the last time I get such a long time off- and a appreciate proper summer holiday. Post MBA I will working myself to death. I'm a little cranky with my parents. Specifically, how little faith they have in the job market post MBA- they have already been pestering me whether I left QinetiQ, my previous employer, on good terms. However many times I try and explain to them that going back to QinetiQ would be a step backwards immediately post MBA they insist on "job security this...job security that". I'm like, "for god sakes please! This is not the same world you lived in when you had one job for life!", "Yes, I recognise there could be a recession. No I have not burnt my bridges with QinetiQ, and they would have me back!".
Anyway, I'm sure they mean it all in good faith. But some optimism on their part would be really appreciated.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

It happened...

NOTE TO SELF: Do not talk about the possible negative consequences of going on a standby flight on your blog, cause it may just happen...

Connecting flight to Tanzania was full- over booked by 21 paying passengers and 10 standby passengers (really bad odds!). Luckily some family friends are able to look after me here in Zurich until tomorrow when I wil fly back to London and connect to Tanzania with good old British Airways (full fare on business class- ouch!). So tired after spending hours in the airport, but relieved to be able to explore parts of the city of Zurich this afternoon. I did pick up some swiss cheese and chocolate. Arrival in Tanzania for Friday morning- long week, but I am in no rush... The prospect of 6-7 weeks in Tanzania is keeping me happy. Oh, the Zanzibar festival of the Dhow Countries is also on this weekend, if I can find the energy, I will head straight out to the island.

One thing that occured to me today whilst chatting to our swiss family friends is that I have not seen any of my relatives/immediate family since my acceptance to Stanford! It will be so nice to get home and get a good official family congrats in person...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Standby for a risk!

After some packing and sorting out loose ends, I’m ready for the next phase of my journey- flying back home to Tanzania. Flying with a difference, I’m going on Standby! In simple terms, flying on a standby ticket means turning up at the airport and praying that there’s a spare seat due to no shows and hopping on board if there happens to be one. This privilege is a result of my mum’s 25 years service with an airline, and I’m taking this opportunity to minimise moving costs- bearing in mind that I’ve got a return journey via the UK then on to California on normal full fare. Flying standby is fine off season, as there are always some empty seats. But approaching the middle of summer things can get hairy and I rely on my mother’s good judgement and sheer luck in taking this risk. Many times have I watched the long queue of passengers boarding, wondering how full the plane is getting, and it always looks like there’s never any room from the gate entrance. So what are the consequences? Well, I’d get stranded on Zurich airport for 2 days before the next connecting flight (a dull place with tempting expensive designer labels and Swiss chocolates for company). Then if I survive the wait and have not rescued myself by paying a full fare on another flight, there's the prospect of trying the weekend standby flight on Friday, a situation potentially worse, missing that one means a thrilling weekend wait till Monday. The stats are on my side- In my days flying standby over the last 11 years, I’ve only ever been bumped off at Zurich once when I was about 14 travelling back with my two elder sisters (it’s harder to get three spare seats then just the one as a lone traveller), and twice from the Tanzania end.
I rang the airline this morning and they said that there might be a chance of being bumped off in Nairobi (a stopover near Tanzania)-which is quite odd. Doesn’t matter if I do, since a night in Nairobi would actually be alright, I can take a day bus to Dar es Salaam and get views of my favourite geographical feature- the rift valley and of course, mighty Kilimanjaro. Haven’t been out in Kenya for over 10 years since the days I went to Primary/elementary School there, so it would be interesting to see how the country has developed- not saying I'd prefer being bumped off at Nairobi, it would just make an interesting journey.
This is also my last standby ticket under current arrangements- in August, I turn 24 and cease to be “son of employee/staff” and loose the standby privilege. But it has been good and I greatly appreciate the privilege, although it carries risks, the benefits in cost savings justify them- as a bonus those many nervous moments has made me pretty calm at airports these days. Thanks mum! Africa, I’m coming home…

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Something for those entering the MBA application process..

There is loads of advice out there about how to select your MBA program and get into b-scool. Without repeating anything and assuming applicants want a practical view on the process, I’m deliberately going to focus on how I ended up at my 1st choice school. I’m hoping that people reading this will be able to relate to my circumstances and find this useful in their experience through the MBA application process.


This may sound like an obvious step for anyone who has already made this choice, I’m not insulting prospective applicants intelligence here, but it is really important to articulate why an MBA is necessary. People attend MBA programs for a variety of reasons along the lines of career advancement and making a difference in the world. What's your specific story?

My Circumstance:
At this point I was 21 years old, been in the aerospace industry barely a year and I came realise I did not want to be a straight engineer all my life.
I wanted to travel the world, develop wider skills, do more with my life and earn enough cash to fulfil my goals.
Particularly, I realised I wanted to return to my home country of Tanzania in the long-term by my 30th b-day and start a business. In between earning my graduate degree and returning to Tanzania, I wanted gain more work experience in the western world- say in strategy consulting with a tech focus.
I began exploring multi-disciplinary programs with engineering/ tech stance and came to a conclusion that an MBA with a tech focus and strong on general management/entrepreneurship would fit my needs, but made the decision to give myself a year to create a shortlist of top schools to apply to and to make myself a competitive applicant.
The MBA application requires long term planning (a year)- I knew that applying to the top schools would be tough and I needed to make myself stand out from other applicants by doing something amazing yet unique. I realised I lacked real leadership experience, I ruled out any experiences from university since most applicants would have an edge on me (to be honest, I concentrated on partying and academics during undergrad). So I decided to pursue an activity (or project) to last me a year,- I settled on my passion for climbing Kilimanjaro, this time on a larger scale and for a worthwhile cause. So I joined a charity that meant a lot to me (The Britain Tanzania society is a charity that I stand for and greatly believe in their work) and decided set about organising a large fundraising expedition for the following summer. It would be risky, but succeed or fail, I would have some concrete and recent leadership experience and most of all- I would have fun and make a difference in the process!

School Search

Begin the school search early and spend considerable time on research. Focus on identifying the schools that fit your needs. If brand and ranking matter to you, then they matter- no point getting beat up over it on business week b-school posts with other people. Rankings based on different criteria (focus, salary, faculty etc..) help you make a decision, use them for this purpose only. Don't forget to factor in things like quality of life costs and location near to target industry after graduation.

My Circumstance:
After about 2 months I settled on 3 top schools- Stanford, Harvard and Wharton. ALL satisfied my needs in some way (some more than others). In order at the time:
Stanford- has strong tech courses, a great engineering school that works closely with the business school and the location is hard to beat.
Wharton- Opportunity to do a dual degree with masters in engineering. Additionally, I’d be close to sister who lives not far from Philly.
Harvard- Big brand name, strong on general management with some opportunity in the second year to cross register at MIT for some tech courses.

I’d ruled out UK MBA programs based on 2 key reasons:
i) I’d been in the UK for 10 years, and was itching to study somewhere else, I was also single which made the decision to travel afar much easier.
ii) There are only 2 schools in the top 10 outside the US, one was in the UK (already ruled out UK) and the other, INSEAD, did not interest me in the slightest.

Concentrate your resources where it matters!

Apparently you need great GMAT scores, great leadership potential and outstanding grades to apply to b-school? Only true to some extent- Focus on what really matters and where you can stand out from the crowd. Essays are key- Spend more on this than anything else.

My Circumstance:
With the time available and my history, there was no way I going to be the model applicant that is portrayed out there in the books & press. For me, my undergrad grades were average from a top UK engineering school. I decided to focus on my leadership experience over slaving away on the GMAT. I took a major risk here, but I had an inkling that the top schools I selected would value leadership over solid GMAT scores. Additionally, the expedition took up about 10-15 hours a week for 8 months, a lot of weekend time training, and a solid 2 weeks out in Africa in the summer before applying. There are only so many hours in the day, GMAT would have to lose out (this ignorance/oversight would later cost me...)

Application strategy- FOCUS!!!

Use what you’ve got and throw it at the right schools. Don’t apply to schools that you are not a good fit and have any doubt about (GMAT scores, grades, experience, recommendation etc…). Validate your assumptions or hunches by further research and attending info sessions.

My Circumstance
GMAT: I took the GMAT and scored poorly the first time round, I mean very poorly! I would be insulting the top schools if I applied. I could not ignore the importance of the GMAT. I decided to retake and apply in round two. This was painful since I had a ton of work at the time and it would mean sacrificing my x-mas time off to work on applications. My second GMAT score was average, not outstanding.

ESSAY: Luckily for me, the expedition turned out to be a great success. That gamble had paid off, I found writing my essays easier due to sheer enjoyment of documenting this leadership experience- I still took a lot of time to capture what leadership lessons I had learnt and further refined my essays over a period of about 2 months.

Recommendations: I made sure my recommenders would provide a balanced view of my personality whilst meeting the requirements for the school. One would provide a good perspective on my analytical skills as an engineer, the other two on my leadership and other attributes (one recommender had been with me on the expedition).

Info sessions: At this point I decided to rule out Wharton- I never made it to their info session and I was having doubts about how the program would fulfil my tech needs. Additionally, at this point I had fallen for Stanford’s program after thorough research lasting a year and when I finally attended their information session in London- everything I wanted from the MBA course was validated and with the sort of information that you could not get from books- FIT. What does fit mean? Well, I knew Stanford was for me and that Stanford would value me.
From then on I wanted to get into Stanford even if it meant a rejection and applying the following year. I was not going to waste what little money I had on schools that I did not have such a passion for. I did not even know why I even applied to Harvard- I guess the lure of the brand name was hard to beat. I did not enjoy their information session as much as Stanford’s- I found Harvard’s alumni arrogant and too hard working. I only got 1-2 mins chat with Brit Dewey, the admission director, compared with 30 mins with a Stanford alumni. In a word, my tangible one to one experience with Stanford & Harvard was what tipped the balance- I spent loads of time and effort on my Stanford application, less on my Harvard one, Wharton was out of the window.


Be yourself, relax and reflect on why you applied to the school.

My Circumstance:
Only had the one interview with Stanford. Since I had focused so much on the one school, I knew a lot about the program. Also, at this point, I had just started reading MBA blogs and got some good advice from BritChickMBA on her Stanford interview experience. I also used a handy website with a database of frequently asked interview questions for Stanford and indeed other schools.

The rest is history (oh and stay calm if you can without visiting businessweek posts too often, it makes the wait unbearable!)… I hope this helps any prospective applicants. I believe the key factors are:

· UNIQUENESS- Make sure you stand out from the crowd by having unique experiences. It may be an extremely high GMAT score, in most cases it's leadership experiences and being able to convey them in the form of compelling essays that really counts.
· RESEARCH- Initially use the literature out there (I used Businessweek week for a comprehensive view on top 30 programs and later MBA Admission edge) to focus on top 10). Additionally, visit the websites to study the courses, faculty and research centres and follow applicant & student blogs. Basically, research the the ins and outs of each school and validate through info sessions or school visits- eliminate those that don’t make the cut.
· FOCUS, ADAPT & BELIEVE, - You have limited time, energy and for some, money- focus on what counts for the school you’re applying and be prepared for setbacks- GMAT etc... Most important, you must believe. The journey is long, but you must believe you can do it, read lots of blogs for encouragement and to examine the realities of the process and don't get disheartened by some of those negative business week posts, especially the ones that focus exclusively on the score, yes GMAT score- it's only one aspect of the application, it's the whole package that counts.

Good luck!!!