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...