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!!!

Friday, June 24, 2005

The end of another phase…

So I had my last day today at QinetiQ, the employer of my first full time job. From businessweek posts, I’m surprised at how many people seem to be so anxiously, yet understandably, wanting to leave work. On the other hand, I’ve had such a great 2 and half years at the organisation that I felt strangely sad when I got into work today- started to realise how nice the people at work are and how much I’m going to miss them. Walking through those big gates for the last time as the weather was turning thundery- it felt a bit of subdued at first as I went about my checklist throughout the morning. Sent out my final e-mail with my contact details to all the UK lot. Turned up at the pub for farewell lunch to see some key colleagues, by this point the weather had cleared a bit and was still pretty hot and muggy- we headed to the beer garden of course.
Then the leaving ceremony, one of the senior managers gave a impromptu speech that made me laugh, it just so happened that he was my first landlord when I arrived in the area for the job, so I could relate to his anecdotes of my beginnings- all innocent just out of uni. Then my short and sharp speech- I explained how much fun I had had and made the key point of how I was going to miss the laid back culture and extremely nice people within the organisation- and of course, had to mention my clear motivation for the MBA. Then came the fun part, the presents:
· I got some Amazon certificates to set me on some more books- Although I’m now debating whether I should really buy some novel to read on the beach in Tanzania over the summer rather than another management book, after all I’ll have two years to be read up on that stuff.
· An inflatable globe (was asked not to try and stick pins in it…)
· Then I got something really usefull- American English/ English American glossary. Yes, to ease the culture change in subtle differences in language, this book is a definite must. Is mince meat really known as "hamburger meat" in the US!!? You make hamburgers from mince meat, but I find it hard to believe that Americans refer to mince universally as "hamburger meat"! Someone correct me here please... Catapult- Slingshot is another one- to me these are two different things, Bart Simpson uses a catapult, David slays Goliath with a slingshot- barely interchangeable. Sorry I digress...

So after the presents and a few more pints I was set. Handed in my IBM ThinkPad laptop (I have to say at this point, having been through Dell and IBM laptops, I will certainly be sticking to IBM, they are just so much more robust). After clearing my desk, that was that- the end of another phase in my life, now student days are back! But first, packing this weekend, the occasional pint, then 7 weeks home sweet home in Tanzania, the second part of my complex move to California. Flying out on Wednesday. It’s all happening so quickly. EXCITING TIMES TO COME!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Happy summer solstice

Had my exit interview today with my employer... In 3 days time I will be unemployed- how scary...! More interesting, I was up at 3am this morning for the summer solstice celebration at Stonehenge- a beautiful sunrise and worth getting up early for to see some celebrating pagans, druids, hippies etc… I really do need to focus on packing my stuff now and stop partying, but I hope you’d agree, this was a unique event- I got to touch the ancient stones!

Summer Solstice Sunrise at Stonehenge, England. Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Presentation and a half...

My long awaited presentation on Friday to my charity went off well. The presentation was all about last years' Kilimanjaro Expedition, which raised funds to construct science laboratories for a community school in rural Tanzania. After preparing a mammoth 60 slides PowerPoint slide presentation over the last week, I felt ever more confident and relaxed, two years ago I would have melted at the thought of giving any sort of presentation. I fine tuned the slides on my way into London on the train, and arrived at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) campus 5 minutes before start. The audience was as expected, a mixture of students mainly dominated by ex-colonial Britain Tanzania Society members- however I did not expect a journalist with a TV camera from a random channel, BENTelevistion, to show up- Apparently it broadcasts to 70 million Africans across the globe!!! I quickly became nervous, but then calmed down. I ran through the presentation without a hitch in 40 minutes and was relieved that my presentation skills were still on form- In fact it was certainly my best presentation yet, you can only improve when making presentations I find. Mostly the audience were impressed that I did not concentrate too much on the intricacies of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro by giving them a dad by day account of climb, rather, I focused on the leadership and social entrepreneurship aspects of the whole project from start to finish over the 1-2 years and the difficulties of managing the expectations, culture shock and safety of 24 people on a mountain. I ended with brief interview with the TV journalist, in which I opted to do in the language of Swahili and had some quick discussions with some of the other charity members, before finally having a chance to say hi and bye to some of my friends who kindly attended. Afterwards, we headed for a goodbye meal at a cosy Italian restaurant with the other charity members and their extended families, which was nice. Over the dinner, I was embarrassed at how little Swahili I actually knew, this girl proceeded to tell me about the Swahili translations of new words such as "internet" and "website", apparently the language is quickly catching up and replacing the English words used for these modern concepts. A lot still to learn, despite my frequent trips home. So I said bye to the charity members and promised to return post MBA to further contribute my skills to the already excellent work the charity does helping to relieve poverty in Tanzania.
Of course, no London night is complete without joining my school and university friends at some bar on the King's road in Chelsea. Saturday morning, despite the scorching hot weather, I gave my time to help Alex on his Jazz agency website- specifically teaching him to maintain it by himself- although I’ll still deal with complex stuff (that I’m still learning!). I returned back to the English countryside by 6pm to enjoy a cool British summer evening. Good weather further forecasted in my last week in the UK. Looking forward to Summer Solstice celebration at Stonehenge on Monday/Tuesday, longest day of the year - a 20-30 minutes walk from work just after the sunrise. Should be yet another opportunity for a perfect party before departing good old England and back into Africa.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Could this be my last business trip in the aerospace/aviation industry?

Today was my last client site visit as part of my current job. It is really winding down now. Next week I have 2 major project close/review meetings and I will have transferred all responsibility on my projects. I'm now reflecting on 2 and a half years of this interesting industry. Although there's a lot I dislike about it, the amount of politics, the huge product life-cycle spans (a typical commercial aircraft may take between 4-8 years to develop at a cost several billion dollars- even longer and more costly for military aircraft!), there's still some glamour, after all this is an outstanding example of european engineering and innovation... So I took a long hard look last at the concorde parked at the Airbus, Filton site.

But here's a better shot, the last flight- flying over Bristol and clifton suspension bridge- my undergrad university town.

Concorde over Bristol Posted by Hello

Monday, June 13, 2005

I plan not to do more than just lounge around in the sun when I return to Tanzania...

With less than 2 weeks to go until I leave my current employer, work has been decreasing and I've been making preparations to return to my home country. To many, being in Tanzania by the coast, only a stones throw away from the paradisal island of Zanzibar for 7 weeks before starting b-school would be an almost ideal retreat. But there's only so much rest one can have before boredom kicks in. The passport renewal and visa process should keep me busy to begin with but after that things could get dull. So I've decided to pursue some part-time jobs or work shadowing in the time I'm there. 3 top candidates include:

1. Umojaa Fund (Unit Trust of Tanzania) & Capital Markets:: Tanzania used be a deeply socialist country and in the late 1980s we became a democracy, the process of privatisation of many industries began in the 1990s and has been recently accelerating. Industries as diverse as telecomms, tabacco, power utilities and distilleries have been privatised with a lot more to come. It would be a valuable experience in learning about the capital investment market in Tanzania even for only a few weeks. The fund will enable ordinary poor to middle class citizens for the first time to be able to own shares in the country's key industries. Each unit will go for an initial cost of 100 shillings, that equates to 10 cents US! Sale ends on 29th July- before you take out your wallet- I should let you know it's only open to Tanzanian nationals.

2. Vodacom:: A giant mobile/cellular network that operates across Africa. My engineering degree was focused on communications technologies, particularly cellular, so I've always had an interest in this area. In addition, I'm keen to find out how this giant makes a profit in a poor developing world country, yet provides such affordable deals for a market where the average GDP per head is $300.

3. TANconsult: Family engineering consulting business. It won't be too exciting, but I might as well lend my ideas and manpower and start showing my worth with respect to the contribution my father is making to my MBA education. And who knows, one day it could be me making some of the company decisions.

Oh, and I almost forgot, although not strictly related, I've been enhancing my web skills by helping my friend's recently launched music agency site, TheLiveLink. The world of jazz, watch out!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

MBA funding for 1st year sorted- African style...

I recieved my financial award letter last week and was pleasantly suprised at how high it was. It was almost $23k! At first I thought it must have been a mistake since Stanford state that typically, financial aid is between 15-25%, mine was more like 33%. After some discussion with family, it was decided that I accept a slightly lower loan than proposed by the financial aid office, with parents offsetting this with a larger contribution. In this process I felt there was too much discussion with family- yes, I know, MBA financing is a serious matter and I should be lucky that my parents have and are still willing to contribute to my education, but I felt so out of control- after all, it's my MBA, I got in and not them, so I should have more say into this matter. The big issue that I still find hard to deal with is African cultural values of family participating in ALL decisions vs the western, independent & responsible minded values I have grown up with. When these clash, I get very frustrated- I'm only free enough to make my own decisions and life plans up to a certain extent before family step in. I suppose I should be grateful such a supportive and caring family, which I am, but I'm just wondering when I'll be fully independent and responsible to carry out actions for my life without family interference.
So the $67k budget will be funded roughly evenly across the three sources- fellowship, loan and gift from parents. Next is visa stuff, just to instruct that the I-20 forms be sent to Tanzania to await my arrival in 2 weeks time. Did I mention that I have to renew my passport before starting on the visa process as well? I have 7 weeks from then...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The four phase moving plan to Stanford has begun...

I'm exhausted after the first of four phases of my moving plan which spans 3 continents- life's tough for international students.

1. Move from rented flat to my friend's house temporarily for 2 weeks until last day of work and departure. Will split possesions, amassed over 11 years in the UK into two halves.

2. Depart for Tanzania with one half of my stuff that I don't need for b-school. Leave the other half (b-school stuff )in storage at my friends in UK for recollection in mid August.

3. Following 8 weeks in Tanzania, in which I'll be renewing my passport and sorting US student visa (easier to sort in home country) plus having a break, saying farewell to family and friends, I'll then depart for California, flying via UK.

4. Spend 2 days in UK collecting stored b-school belongings from friend's place and sending them on to California using an excess baggage moving service, they deliver door to door for small charge, so straight onto Schwab. Say final goodbye's to UK friends and make the final connection to California to arrive in late August...

Fire at my school makes the news...

This morning I woke up to the news on TV that there had been a fire at my old school, Marlborough. After an initial panic speculating about how serious the fire could be, I was relieved to hear it was not as I'd feared- the fire occured at the boarding house well away from the main buildings and there were no serious injuries or casualties.

BBC news article had to mention the fact that a member of the royal family currently there was well.

Can't believe I only left that school 6 years ago. Need to find time to visit before I leave England, the experience there over 5 years is a big part of me and it forged my life here in the UK.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Sony’s my winner- I’ve rejected the i-POD as my personal music companion

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been making a very important decision- what MP3 player to buy to accompany me on my travels and eventually through b-school. I reckon these devices have become like mobile phones, a fashion item- further complicating consumer choice these days.
I used to be a huge fan of minidiscs with their fancy ATRAC audio compression technology, having stuck with them for almost 10 years as my portable music format of choice. I resisted the temptation through the early phase of switching to MP3 players simply due to the fact that the cost for a unit music space was still far lower on minidiscs than for MP3 players (use of memory cards etc…). Then hard disk MP3 players arrived, and it all changed, with the now ubiquitous i-POD as the must have “cool” gadget. I was very tempted and I almost made the switch. When now forced to make the choice with prices of all players similar, I decided to do more research to get a balanced view, I first checked out i-river and other manufacturers of 20GB MP3 players, they differentiated themselves with a host of features including easy drag and drop features- but to be honest most of them still look ugly & clumsy- not cool enough for b-school. Just when I thought I had abandoned Sony’s offerings, they started releasing their “network walkman” (NW) series, and despite their un-original name and given the fact that they only played Sony’s proprietary ATRAC3 format it was not really an i-POD challenger. But the over the last year, the MP3 player war has been intensifying, and now Sony have released the NW-HD5, their latest instalment which plays MP3s, WMAs, WAVs and ATRAC. It is THE i-POD killer- yes, it looks good, very small, offers clever g-shock protection and to top it off, it is capable of 40 hours battery life! I was almost sold.
There was one thing I was not happy about. Why have Sony insisted so much on pushing their ATRAC3 audio compression technology from minidisc onto hard-disk players? I knew ATRAC compression was better than WMA & MP3, but who cares? Most digital music is in MP3 and they occupy roughly the same space… I was wrong about the last part. As a closet audiophile, I decided to investigate and compare- To my horror, tests claim that ATRAC3plus (now used in the NW-HD5) is significantly better than MP3, especially at the standard 128kps quality; independent tests have measured ATRAC3plus fidelity at 64kbps and found its audio quality equivalent to 128kbps MP3! What does that mean? It does not take a genius to work out that you can fit twice the music for the equivalent quality on the Sony NW-players that the iPOD. My mind is made up- And which colour? A Stanford red of course!

My top 10 reading list for MBAs & business

Recently, there has been a huge trend in blogs doing book reviews. I’ve not been officially “tagged” and will not go into my most recent read books; you’ll only get a long list of Africa related literature. Instead I offer my list in line with the theme of this blog- My journey through the MBA and business. Hence, this should not only be of interest to those entering or preparing for MBAs, but those interested in general business knowledge and personal growth. I am also in the middle of packing all my stuff this week and I stumbled across my bookshelf last night and thought “I can’t take all these with me to b-school!”. I read these books over the period of about 2 years, some more than once, others for the occasional reference.

The Number- How America’s balance sheet lies rocked the World’s financial markets:
I’m reading this book a second time and I shall certainly read it a third during the b-school to further enhance my understanding. It provides a good overall historical account of accounting and finance to the recent scandals of late.

Dot.con- The real story of why the internet bubble burst: As a technologist I picked this up and wondered how far we’ve come in the last 10 years. Boom to bust, winners and losers. I’m sure they’ll be plenty more to learn in Silicon Valley.

The end of poverty- How we can make it happen in our lifetime: As an African I read this book and was impressed at the practical yet simple approach presented to ending world poverty. Written by a major economist who has helped some of the poorest countries.

Stephen Covey’s- 7 habits of highly effective people: Highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to change their life. It’s certainly a classic.

The 48 laws of Power: Seriously, this book is a must for anyone wanting to attain, wield or defend from power moves. Each law is related to a range of perspectives from leaders throughout history. Think of yourself as a courtier in a grand French court competing with others. Beware, this is a “love it hate it” book.

Tipping Point- How the little things make a big difference: A suggestion from current Stanford MBA students, explains how ideas, trends or social behaviours cross a threshold and suddenly spread like an epidemic. I’m partway through at the moment- another must.

Anyone can do it: My favourite entrepreneurial journey about two siblings, an MBA graduate and qualified lawyer, who quit their boardroom jobs to start American style coffee bars in the UK, namely Coffee Republic, only to return full circle back to the boardroom within a few years. Reads in a set 57 laws in entrepreneurship .

World on fire: A must for anyone interested in the subject of the exportation of democracy to developing nations. It presents very clear arguments of the tensions, ethnic hatred and global instability that can arise when countries are forced to become democratic. The author still manages to come out as NOT an anti-globalist.

Funky business & Karaoke Capitalism: I lent Funky business to one of my accountant friends and I still haven’t got it back yet, so when the follow up came out I did not hesitate to buy it. Both books are witty yet convincing ways to re-imagine the capitalist world we live in- it strongly advocates individualism, talent and weirdness for one to succeed.

Thinking Strategically: I think this is recommended reading at most b-schools. It’s a fairly straight forward book with examples from sport, business and politics. It introduces concepts such as game theory, incentives etc…

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Prestige of an MBA vs law degree (JD)

I caught the tail end of quite an aggressive discussion on the businessweek forums yesterday- Law (JDs) vs MBAs. This caught my attention since I had just spent the weekend with an undergrad friend of mine in Bristol who is a trainee lawyer and we often discussed our work, in addition, I seem to hang around and have many friends in the legal profession, I even have and a sister who works in law.

Prestige factor, I tend to respect lawyers a lot more from the perspective of work they do, they seem to put in a huge amount of hours and have even heard of some big city firms even having beds for some of those staying late night and continuing to work early the next morning! I respect anyone who can cope in such an environment regardless of pay. As for the degree itself, there seems to be vastly more courses available in the law degree, particularly the US, and hence the 3 year long course. It certainly fairs better than the MBA in terms of intellectual stimulation.
However, I tend to find law very dull as far as job satisfaction and variety is concerned- the friends I have here in the UK seem to spend most of their time drafting documents, writing letters rather than getting in on the action of the courtroom. I know in the states, lawyers will prepare cases and go to court, whilst in the UK the two functions are separated into solicitor (who litigates) and lawyer (drafts cases). I find the US model much more exciting.
In comparison with the MBA, there is one striking difference between the two degrees; the sheer amount of job variety the MBA offers. No one would argue against the fact that it opens more doors to more careers across more borders than anything else. However, lawyers with great leadership skills can enter politics and make a great impact and be well on the road to becoming the next president or prime minister rather than MBAs. The JD/MBAs would be a powerful combination, but far too much work for the likes of me. In my current plans, I’ll probably take a few courses at the Stanford Law School related to intellectual property (IP), since in my current high-tech job we always seem to be having issues related to IP on a regular basis.

I do need to say something about my core discipline. Engineering s*cks as far as prestige goes these days, especially in the UK. As a natural engineer, I wish I was born in the 1800s during the industrial revolution, in the days of Isambard Kingdom Brunel- the pioneer of mass public transport, in particular the railroad/railways. Those were the days, engineers where highly respected. In my weekend in Bristol, I still couldn’t stop but marvel at Brunel’s classic- The Clifton Suspension Bridge. Somehow the British don’t seem to appreciate technological advance as much as they used to- maybe it’s due to decline of manufacturing in this country. At least in the US, a background in engineering still holds some prestige factor.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The social network sacrifice...

This week, following my work leaving party, I’ve felt things are starting to hit home to that fact that I’m not only leaving a great work social group, but a network of friends and contacts in the UK built up over 11 years since arriving in the UK at the age of 12. Over those years I became strongly dependent on this network and made huge efforts to grow and maintain it since home was 8000 miles away and I needed the support where my parents or siblings could not provide through my teens. Pursuing an MBA in California means sacrificing this network. In the end it’s not that bad a sacrifice- in actual fact, the “network” I have has actually evolved and become very fragmented, not only geographically with some of my friends leaving the UK to head to far flung places such as Japan, France and Australia, but also in types of social groups. In London for instance, although my school friends are largely in a cohesive group in the centre of London, my uni friends are much more widespread and largely hang around their work related groups. This has given me a headache as far as visiting people as I have to dedicate days or sometimes whole weekends to properly keep in touch with a wide number of people- I’m not the sort of person who is satisfied with a quick 1 hour drink in the bar to catch up 2 years of non-contact nor a huge party where you will probably get to talk to people for no longer than 5-10 minutes in total. Of course huge parties are always required! I just tend to really value spending a huge amount of time with my friends building up relationships on a one to one or in groups of 3 or 4 to know everything in detail and if possible go out for a meal or night out- i.e. proper socialising, not a quick hello, goodbye scenario. I do this to such an extent that normally people turn to me on for a “full update” on a particular friend that others have not really bothered catching up with sufficiently. Take my work leaving party this last week, there was such a wide range of people there who were constantly asking each other “so how do you know Mbwana?”, rather than “Oh, everyone in here is part of the same office/football/salsa club”. Yes, I have to accept the fact that people are now on their own path of life and we can never all be one happy family forever such as at school or university days- people do develop more and more unique identities and eventually narrow down their social interactions.
At Stanford I know I’ll make some amazing friends and build up a great network but in time too, this will start to become fragmented- some people will stay in the bay area, others back to their home countries etc… However, I think the strength of alumni services will make it increasingly easier to stay in touch, and I don’t have to play the role of Mr. give us a “full update” on so and so.
This weekend I’m visiting my undergrad uni town, the amazing Bristol, where the centre of my life evolved 3-4 years ago and where I could never imagine leaving such an ideal place- school & uni friends, excellent nightlife and so on. Now everyone’s gone including those who got jobs there following graduation, in fact I can now only count 3 solid contacts there… I suppose the network sacrifice I’m making seems manageable because I’m single, 23 and accustomed to travelling all the time- I’m sure in 5-10 years time I’ll think differently through lifestyle changes and I won’t be willing to give up a social network that easily… Anyhow, there’s always a chance you’ll be in for some surprises- who would have guessed that an old friend of mine from primary/elementary school days in Kenya, now lives in San Francisco and is an aspiring DJ.
In some ways, timing to pursue an MBA for me now could not have been more perfect. My mobile phone bill should also decrease considerably now! Or will it not?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Africa Issue- Development & Aid

The other day, Bob Geldoff announced the series of concerts, Live 8, to held to coincide with the G8 meeting in July. It is intended as a political statement to the governments of the most developed nations to take Africa’s poverty issues more seriously. I’ve been following these developments as I’m African and I intend to return there in the long-term and hopefully be a part of a turn around in Africa’s development. I’m generally impressed with Britain & especially other European countries that this issue is finally being taken seriously, but I think there are three strands to the argument as to how to resolve Africa’s dilemma from the point of view aid. One strand is the level of aid that developed countries should be contributing to the whole Africa problem, the second is how do countries qualify for aid, and finally how the aid should be spent.

Show me the money!
This argument is about full debt cancellation of the most seriously underdeveloped countries and an increase of contributions by the developed countries to the Millennium goal target of 0.7% of GDP (calculated to meet developing world’s needs to eliminate extreme poverty). I fully agree with debt cancellation in certain countries where previous official aid assistance has been misspent on projects with no impact real impact on the poverty issue. Some Scandinavian countries have largely met the 0.7% GDP target and I can see Britain and other European countries catching up by 2015. It’s amazing that developing countries are now wealthy enough that only a measly 0.7% of GDP is required, this was much higher 20 years ago. But the huge criticism from this side of the argument is the low amount of aid in terms of GDP that America, the biggest potential absolute donor, is contributing.

Criteria for aid
The conditions for which aid is given is how America sees its role in the aid business, and hence, their reservations for meeting the 0.7% GDP target so hastily. Their approach is to identify which countries have reformed themselves enough and demonstrated positive steps towards the reducing corruption at the governmental level, increased transparency and of course the extent to which a country has adopted democracy. In other words, governance is a key criteria for the US to even consider a country for aid. Once a country has proven they can govern themselves adequately so that aid is not wasted. I’m beginning to doubt the commitment of America to providing aid, although I agree somewhat with their view for strict governance criteria for distributing aid- so far it seems only Madagascar has qualified, despite many countries having made real progress in governance. Governments of developing countries in Africa won’t become super star transparent and democratic over night, rather it will take time- possibly too much time. I wonder whether the US are being too strict here and are on the path to letting the world community down as a key player in meeting the challenging poverty reduction targets by 2025.

Where do you spend it?
Top of the list would be infrastructure (roads, ICT etc..), health & education. These are the key development issues that act as a barrier for underdeveloped countries since their governments cannot raise enough money through taxation to meet basic levels. And aid is required to address this shortfall.

It’s not just about aid! Fairness, opportunity & self reliance:
But really it’s not just about aid- another view that shouldn’t go unmentioned here is how western world is sometimes reluctant to open up key markets to fair trade to the extent so that undeveloped countries can work their way out of poverty and eventually become self reliant. There is no point in making a country reliant on aid forever- aid needs to be given with the assumption that these countries will be able to work their way out of poverty and become economically sustainable in the long-term and become part of the integrated global economy. Some challenges to this include understanding the impacts of globalisation on developed economies which include working out a practical means to end subsidies in developed countries that impede trade growth opportunities for developing ones. There are some who have been complaining about how Africa is being portrayed as a helpless continent in the media in the west and masking some of the progress made, although I agree somewhat with this, I feel it's probably the only way to tap into the minds of the west to address a really important issue for now. In time, those images of starvation on TV will hopefully decrease and replaced with images of positive development.

I’m interested to hear more about how aid to Africa is perceived in the US when I’m over there for the next 2 years. It certainly seems to be getting a lot of coverage on this side of the Atlantic- an MBA classroom maybe the closest I’ll get to hearing some good arguments and views- specifically on the trade and corporate social responsibility side of things.