Sunday, November 30, 2008

Business School Returns: The Calm is Over

Well, it is the beginning of the very end of the very beginning. Translation... it is finals week of my first quarter. The quarter has gone fairly well up until this point. I scored in the top 1/2 of the class on my Accounting Midterm and 12% beyond the average on my Econ midterm. More importantly I surpassed the 2/3 of 2/3 mark that the professor set as an expectation. Tomorrow the studying begins. (I'm off work tomorrow)

The plan is as follows:

09:00 AM Wake Up
09:45 Plan studying for the week
10:30 Economics
11:30 Lunch with my Grandma (visiting from out of town)
3:00 Accounting
4:30 Tutor
5:30 More Accounting
7:00 Group Meeting to discuss an Econ group question
10:00 Home and some decompression

After tomorrow, I have 3 more days to hit the books before the first Final (Accounting). This one is going to be a take home test again. As I discussed before, I loathe the take-home, because I end up spending 10-12 hours and losing probably 30 days from my life.

Then, next Tuesday is the quick and dirty Econ Final. One hour and fifty minutes of head pounding, room shrinking, swetty eyes torture.

And then... freedom. Vacation for an entire month... no class, no group meetings, no assignments, and no required reading. I can already see myself going for a run, staring at the wall, watching hours of television, and even tackling a home improvement project or two. I can't wait.

But for now, eyes are on the prize. The Business School experience is hitting me head on this week and I need to be ready for it. So, here goes nothing, a few class sessions and tests away from freedom - er, I mean accomplishing the first part of Business School... did I mention learning?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Almost 1/9 of the way to getting my MBA Degree

Well, I officially have one and a half weeks left until being 1/9 of the way through my MBA degree program.

Strangely enough, the idea that the final exams are the last hurtle is very comforting - if I was in my right mind, I would be panicking right now. But I'm not panicking, I am hanging out with my 5 lb. yorkie (pictured above) listening to s
ome sort of Christmas reggae music. I am procrastinating with a 
plan - a plan to study on Monday. Yep, for now I am just going to relax...

relax... yeah, relax. I'm not thinking about the practice test I could be working on for either accounting or economics. Not thinking about how I should be reviewing deferred taxes, bonds, and leases. Definitely not thinking about monopolies, price discrimination, or dead weight loss...

That stuff would be very stressful. No, I am just taking deep breaths on my soft couch and hanging out with my tiny little dog.

OK, so I'm not in complete denial. I know I have at least 20 hours of study time ahead of me, but I really do need some decompression time. I plan on going to bed early tonight so that I am rested for the coming 12 days of madness. I really will start studying on Monday. Really... come on, I'm going for my MBA degree... I am a serious student... super serious.

I will check in by Sunday with a game plan so you don't worry, but for now, it's me, the dog, and the Christmas Reggae. Goodnight.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Business School Blues: Is it really just about points and winning?

As a first year Business School Student, I am still a bit naive. I still think that most businesses were started and continue based on an individual's passion for what they do. I believe that the ethics scandals that have plagued this decade are all outliers and that most business people are honest... well, that's what I use to believe. Now those ideas are on shaky ground.

Let me explain...

This last week we covered a case in my Financial accounting class that was centered on Enron, ZZZZ Best, and other companies that had trouble with right and wrong when it comes to accounting.

Here is a 1 sentence synopsis of each:

Enron: Executive creates several shell companies to hide Enron's losses and manipulate financial statement numbers - a few people make lots of money and many people lose their life savings as Enron implodes.

ZZZZ Best: Teenage business prodigy raises millions of dollars in capital and gets his company on the NYSE - the catch is that the business is 90% fake... he makes out like a bandit for a while and all of his investors, including some friends, are duped (he eventually landed in prison)

Other heartless Companies: Similar to the above.

So, the question is... are the above examples unique? Or are successful business people that evil? I think the answer is most often the latter of the two.

The conclusion that I am beginning to come to is that the big players are just playing a giant game of chess. Money really isn't all that important in and of itself, but it is an important indicator of who is winning. You see, it's points. The world is a giant sim city and these guys are building, destroying, and tweaking the game to see how many points they can get. They'll lay off workers, manipulate income numbers, lie to the public, or worse, to win. No one is accountable because this is the game, the rules are known. People are liabilities, quality is secondary, and selling the product at any cost is the goal. 

It is sickening. These guys stand up in front of a camera and describe why a number was this way or that way, what there plans are for the future, and how well the company is doing under their leadership... lies and more lies. CEOs speak to the public to win them over so they can get more points.

This is super depressing and has me wanting to find the exit. I mean, I want to be a player in business because I have a passion for it. However, its not worth selling my soul in the process. So what's the solution? Do I bite the bullet and become a playe?. Do I forget my humanity for the sake of seeing how rich I can become? Do I step on anyone and everyone I have to in order to make it to the top? Do I lie, cheat, and steal in order to win?

I say no. I say we start a revolution! I want to be an ethical MBA. And not just because ethics are in Vogue. No, I actually give a crap. I want my work to make some sort of a difference in people's lives, and I don't need to have my own corporate jet. I want my integrity to remain my most valuable asset. So, is there room for me in the game? Can I play by my own rules with passion and purpose?

The truth is that I'm really not sure if I can do it. I don't think I'll sell out, but I  do think a moral compass may be debilitating in the business world. But here I go with my naiveness, energy, and a crazy ideas. 8.1 more quarters and I can enter the world. Watch Out!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Business Education Continues: Has Everyone Just Gone Mad?

I have recently been getting into the bailout drama with the big three auto makers and boy has there been some drama. From congress asking each one of them if they flew in a corporate jet to request the billions in bailout funds, to the CEO of GM saying that it isn't his fault the economy is in the tank, to the insane statistics surrounding the potential demise of the American auto industry.

I just have to say that this entire situation is ridiculous. Really, how did we get here? The bailout was supposed to be for financial institutions - an injection of capital in the arm of the system that supplies money to the entire economy. The idea was that if these guys could be saved, then they would save every one else. At least everyone else worth saving, i.e. they would provide capital in the form of loans to businesses that were worth the risk. But somehow, we are now considering $25 Billion + to keep the automakers alive. 

Who is next? Circuit City? Starbucks? Joes Smoke Shop? Really, where does it end? Last time I checked, bankruptcy and failure were part of the free market. If there is no chance of failure, than what is there to motivate businesses to earn a profit and be productive. Specifically, why do the automakers think that they are exempt from the rules?

The reality is that the automakers have massively debilitating contracts and extremely inefficient manufacturing facilities that vary drastically from one location to the next. So do we continue to keep building the same mouse trap? Do we really think it will work? Or do we let them all die? 

Here's what I say... this country isn't big enough for the three of them. Let one die and let the other two declare bankruptcy. After they have declared bankruptcy, and have the ability to re-negotiate all of their debt and contracts, then the government could step in. It is here that we could provide a conditional loan with debt covenants that include heavy mandates to manufacture alternative energy vehicles, and require the CEOs to step down. Obviously these guys have not given us any evidence that they understand how to run a profitable business. This solution would shrink the supply and force the American car industry into the only business model they have a chance at succeeding in - Innovation and highly skilled manufacturing. 

I know, it's not entirely a free market solution, but I'm afraid that the industry is just too squeaky for us all to ignore. They have the ears of congress, and in some cases they are large contributors that are owed a favor or two. Translation: I don't think perpetuating a "let them die strategy" will work. So the above is the best version of a compromise I can come up with. 

Oh... I think we should force the CEOs to get a new business education too. Did you know that the CEO of Ford was proud of the fact that his company has enough cash to make it until February. Is he serious? Congrats Alan Mulally, your company won't die for 4 more months. Gosh, that must be why he made 22 mil from the company last year.

What a crock!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Business School Rocks the Real World

Since I started Business School I have had a few occasions where the lectures, cases, and discussions have lit up in my brain during a real world experience. I thought I would share one of these extremely nerdy thought processes with you.

Ite has to do with one of my favorite burger joints. The cook/owner of this place used to be a chef at some fancy restaurant in the west coast city I live in. After getting Gastric Bypass surgery, he decided to leave his job as a respected chef and open up a gourmet burger shack. However, he chose to form his burger menu using fine ingredients including grass fed beef, duck, chicken, and prime rib.

Anyway, the place is sort of a hole, but they have some very fun decorations, including lunch-boxes, a velvet (really its velvet) covered communal dining table, and a hostess that rivals the soup nazi (when its busy) - she's also the chef's wife... co-owner.

Here's the one thing about this place though... the burgers are $14.00. So what economic concept did this click for me? Opportunity cost. I am willing to forgo the other options of the $14.oo for the 15 minute enjoyment of a cheeseburger. This really surprises me about myself. I didn't think I was willing to give up a movie and popcorn, 7 gallons of gas (now that prices have dropped), 2 games of laser tag, or most of a haircut for a cheeseburger. But the truth is that I am. I have a huge preference for excellent cheeseburgers

I was further impressed when I overheard the co-owner talking about a customer that drives two hours to them every weekend for just one burger. What is his opportunity cost when you include time, money, gas, insurance, wear and tear, etc. ? Either he really likes those burgers or he is a guy who has free use of a car and a ton of time on his hands with minimal alternatives.

Yes, business school has made me this nerdy.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

MBA School: The Home Stretch

So, it has been about two months since I started MBA school and finally the lull. Midterms are over, finals are three weeks away, and I am in the middle of a deep breath.

...better hold that breath.

On Thursday, my accounting professor addressed the break that we are currently experiencing by releasing the practice final. How could he do that? Don't we deserve this break? 

Apparently not. 

Apparently this is the way it works. As in life, when there is free time, that time needs to be used for preparation. So, yes I am going to hit the books over this "break"... starting tomorrow. I will review bonds, leases, deferred taxes, and pensions in a hard chair. 

I chose this path, that is being a full time student, a full time employee, a husband, and a dog owner. It could be worse. There is a guy in my section who had his first child last week. I don't know when he is going to have any time to, say, sleep... But in any case, I am going to stop sulking, buck up, and finish this quarter out strong. I began this journey with aspirations of making the dean's list, participating in a business plan competition, and ENJOYING the journey.

So welcome to the stress free blog about a guy, somewhere on the west coast, who is going to MBA school at a top 50 ranked institution. Stay tuned for positive comments, jokes, and stories of other FUN times as I journey through Business School. I would start now, but I'm all tapped out :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pausing Business School: A Weekend Trip to Portland

If you have been reading my posts for any amount of time, you know that these last several weeks have been quite taxing (no accounting pun intended). Well, I am not sure if I have mentioned this, but I am married, so you can imagine that my wife has been missing me a great deal. 

In genius anticipation of this problem, I recently planned an entire weekend trip to Portland, OR that we would go on this weekend (the weekend after the last midterm). It seemed like a perfect destination, still on the west coast, but different and far enough away to feel like a vacation. It also happened to be my wife's birthday on Sunday, so it seemed like a good plan.

We arrived at Hotel Lucia on Saturday night for a 2 night stay. We filled the weekend with wonderful food, several walks, shopping, and a fantastic 90 minutes at Barefoot Sage (an entire spa dedicated to foot massages and treatments).

Here are some of the restaurants we went to:

Apizza Scholls (The best Pizza ever!)

This was a fantastic break from Business School, work, and just life in general. It was great to reconnect with my wife and to reward ourselves for some real sacrifices over the last several weeks.

On a slightly less relevant note, there is no sales tax in Oregon. I can't help but wonder what the economic implications of that are. I can tell you for sure that waiters/waitresses get bigger tips. Certainly, it must attract tourists and shoppers. Do you know what it's like to see a restaurant bill with a subtotal of $30.03 and a final total of $30.03? It's like a discount.

I mean, take Vancouver, BC, where an American dollar buys $1.20 Canadian dollars (as of last week). This translates to 0.83 American dollars per Canadian dollar. However, Vancouver has a 14% sales tax, which makes it equivalent to 0.95. Combine this with the price index in Vancouver, much higher than Portland, and Portland is looking pretty good.

...sorry about that, the wheels are always turning. It was a truly wonderful weekend. And in case my wife is reading this, I wasn't thinking about the sales tax thing while we were there sweetie.

Stay tuned for more entries as I get back to Business School this week.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Business School attacks again... not sure I survived this time.

If you are thinking about going to business school, don't let this post scare you... 

So, the long awaited Econ test finally arrived last night. I finished up my 11 hour day at work at 4:50PM and hit the road for my 35 mile commute to school. It usually takes about 45 minutes to get there, but yesterday it took 1 hour and 20 minutes. I arrived on campus at 6:10PM... the midterm started at 6:00 - ah, the joy of evening Business School.

Tired from my sprint to class, I exchanged awkward glances with the professor, grabbed a test, and sat down. This was not a good start (1 hour and 29 minutes on the clock).

It was right about here that I began to appreciate my 11 hour take-home Accounting exam...

The first question (Income price elasticity and indifference curves) took me 40 minutes (49 minutes remaining). I erased and redrew graphs with my 3 colored pencils several times as I answered the question. 

The next question was on firm supply costs and it took me about twenty minutes. I was put in the place of a KFC owner losing money and had to decide whether to advertise to get more business or shut down (29 minutes remaining). 

The third and fourth questions are a blurr, but I remember something about a taxi cab shortage, limited licenses for sale, fixed prices, and a mayor who wanted to increase the number of cab rides offered. I finished the fourth question with 9 minutes remaining.

The  last question was a "special" multiple choice. The directions said that there could be one, several, or zero right answers given. It also said that you could show your work for an opportunity at partial credit, but if your answer was right and the work didn't fully support it, you could lose credit too.

Finally, I skimmed the test answers, labeled some axes, panicked, and listened for the, "time's up".

I left the classroom in a daze. My ears where red and burning, my scalp tingling, and my back in knots. This was one of the worst feelings I've had on a test in a long time. I either did well, OK, or horrible. 

Stay tuned for the results. 

By the way, I received a 91/103 on my Accounting midterm. Not as good as I hoped, but nothing to complain about.

...the living room is repainted and new curtains hung, but we are still waiting on the new sofa.