Wednesday, December 19, 2007

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

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


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


Graduation Mbwana grad



Fun & Laughter:

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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