Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Business School Begins: Teamwork

As part of our core business curriculum, the program includes a course that is smattered throughout the first year which address teamwork and leadership. We had our first installment this last Saturday...

The day started off in a large break out room attached to one of the undergraduate residence halls. My group (about 50 people) began to trickle in at about 8:30 AM and by 9:00 AM we were all there. Name tags attached and eyes peeled, we awaited our guest speakers.

Now, the two people we soon encountered were actually a pleasant surprise. Your hopes are never too high at 9:00 AM on a Saturday so this was a welcome event. We had the Glasers of Glaser and Associates leading our session. They are a husband and wife team (both PHDs) that travels the world together teaching an array of topics having to do with teamwork and conflict-resolution. Our session was focused on raising delicate issues and responding to criticism. Here's a brief synopsis...

The primary communication method was skits, which sounds cheesy, but they actually pulled it off quite well. The little shows highlighted how "intent rarely equals impact" (Peter Glaser) and that if you want to get or give the real message, something deeper than ordinary communication needs to happen.

The Glasers explained that in order to respond to criticism, you need to dig deep for what the real criticism is and admit it if its accurate. This means forcing the details that led to the criticism out. This serves as a sort of decoding of the criticism.

In the area of raising delicate issues, they highlighted the need to take ownership of part of the problem, and work as a team with the person that the issue is being raised to towards a solution.

Some of it was common sense, but to see an actual conflict take place right in front of you really hit the point home. It also helped to see several different scenarios playing out to observe how using none, some, or all of their techniques would affect the outcome.

As a whole, is was a very good experience and has me thinking about how I come across to others in everyday life and during conflict. I'm sure it will remain a staple in the Business School cirriculum.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Business School Begins: Day One

Well, it's 1:05 in the morning and I am officially an MBA student...

I had the first day of classes beginning with Economic Price Theory and Financial Statement Analysis. And I can already tell that this is going to be a tough ride. Let me explain.

1. I had 10 days to prepare for the first day of class. This includes reading some 70 pages and prepping for one case for discussion - not a huge amount of work for the time allotted. Now, I have 4 days to prepare for the next class and then 2 days after that one - the calendar is looking quite small. The kicker here is that I only had assignments for one of the two classes tonight. The Price class had only reading assigned. That will change.

2. I have a mid-term in 6 weeks... 6 weeks! My entire undergraduate finance/accounting core is going to be taught in the next two weeks and then I need to learn, really learn this material on financial statements in the next 6 weeks. At least the asset side of things. Time to strap in.

3. I have a second mid-term in 6 weeks in the Price theory course on a bunch of stuff I have never fully studied. Strapped in and putting on a helmet.

4. I have to sit still for four hours, two days a week, for most of the next 3 years. This is proving to be much more difficult than I imagined. I think we non-academics have way too many things feeding our ADD (i.e. laptop, blackberry, tv, etc.). My attention span is about 1 minute and I don't know how I'm going to scratch my web-surfing e-mail checking itch mid-class.

5. I have to do all of the above and go to work every day.

So, yeah I am feeling a bit over-whelmed right now, but I am confident that it will pass. This is going to require a change in culture. Not just for me, but for my entire class of fellow MBAers. We are in this together.

Hopefully, by my next entry I will have sorted through some of these initial challnges, or maybe I'll be writing you from my Psychologist's office. In either case, stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The MBA Degree and... Salary

When it comes to an MBA degree and all of the people in a program, the elephant in the room is Salary. So far it hasn't really come up in conversation, but we have all thought about it and thought hard.

The reasoning goes something like this...

"So I'm going to spend several thousand dollars (20K-200K) getting this "higher" education. What does it do for me? Well, it allows me to accomplish a goal I made when I was 19, it opens doors of opportunity for me at work, and oh yeah, I'm going to make a lot more money if I do this."

It has to be a factor for every one of us. Not that money is the most important thing, clearly it isn't. The most important thing is having a job that leverages your strengths and challenges you to grow - that is my two cents. But money is blood and breath, just like for companies. If we can make enough, then we are free to pursue our passions.

So, now that we are talking about the elephant, how much can someone with an MBA degree expect to make after graduation? In my program, it's about 90K/year including bonus. For me this would/will be a pretty hefty raise. Is it guarantee? No. But, with the degree and the connections that are made in an MBA program, chances are good.

So here we go... 2 years and 9 months left!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Board Game Theory

Tonight I was finishing the day with a few colleagues when I had a moment of epiphany. I asked one of the other guys a question which he didn't have the answer to. Jokingly, I said, "hey your a manger, you have to know these things". His response was somewhat sarcastic, but also very truthful when he said, "even if I knew the answer it wouldn't be good enough for you".

Now, most people would take offense to this response, but knowing the work culture that I exist in every day as well as I do, I didn't. This was actually a huge compliment, because I pride myself on understanding the big picture, and knowing the reasons why certain things are done. I was a kid who asked questions like, "Why is red the color people decided to use for 'stop'?". Now, I am the adult at work asking why processes are done a certain way, or why specific company decisions were made.

...but, in the midst of this exchange, something came to me... maybe it was just me. I have always thought that everyone was as inquisitive as I am, but that maybe they just didn't have the energy to always ask questions. Or, that they decided at some point in there life that it didn't matter anymore. However, it may be possible that different people need different information. Does that make sense?

Well here is an example. This is exactly the question I asked one of my co-workers tonight after I had this internal discussion with myself.

When you are learning how to play a board game, what is the very first question that you ask?

Is it a question about how the play is conducted, like what the rules are, or how someone has a turn? Do you ask questions about the board, the pieces, or the cards?

This was my colleagues answer... "How do you play?"

I always ask three questions in this order:

1. What is the object of the game, or how do you win?
2. How does the play happen?
3. Any other rules or nuances?

So for monopoly, the answers would be:

1. To bankrupt your opponents - this is usually done through acquiring monopolies, hence the name.
2. Each player takes a turn rolling the dice to move a specified number of spaces. Depending on where you land, you pick up a card, pay a penalty, win money, have the opportunity to buy property, or pay rent. If you own all of the properties of a specific color you have a monopoly and can collect a base rent, or build houses/hotels at a cost that will charge your opponents a much higher rent when they land on them.
3. If you roll doubles three times you go to jail, when you pass go you collect $200, and free parking is always a $500 prize.

So, what does it mean. It means that when it comes to my colleague, he wants someone to tell him how the job works- what do we use for dice? What is the board for?

I want to know, "why are we here? What is the goal?". The natural progression of my approach is to figure out how to win the game once I hear what the object of the game is. The pitfall for me is that I often don't listen to the wisdom of those who have a lot of practice playing the game. The guys like my colleague usually get really good at what they are doing- the playing, but can forget why they are doing it or what they are ultimately after.

Two different approaches... both right and both wrong. What a learning experience and what a strong case for working in teams with differently minded people.

Who knew the Parker brothers had so much to offer on team dynamics.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Back to Business School: The First Assignment

With orientation in the past all that separates me from my first day as an MBA student is 6 days and a few hours. I have all of my books and syllabai, binder, token branded MBA bag, and a multi-colored pen.

I am beginning business school with Financial accounting and Business Economics. With the above mentioned sure-footed tools in hand I sat down to begin preparation for these first two classes. Tonight my focus was on the accounting course. The first assignment to come to class prepared with is a series of questions about a particular company's financial statements... you remember, balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flows.

The questions were pretty simple, mostly just being able to remember where stuff is enough to find it. Things like comparing the cash balance in 2005 to 2006. So how long did it take me... 2 hours!

First I pulled up the financial statements online and then began to answer the questions on the question sheet using pencil. Next I typed up the answers to the questions (using complete sentences). Finally I reviewed and edited the answers.

...So right now I am a bit nervous because this was a very fluff minor assignment and it took me two hours. I also have to read three chapters between both classes before the first day. I can't even imagine what this is going to be like when I have only a day to come up with assignments between classes...

But, I'm sure that it will get easier. I'll become more productive and I'll be able to count on my study group for support as well.

So that's it. Assignment 1 done and if averages apply, I only have 36 more assignments for this class. Well that's not so bad, right?

See you at the Business School Library.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Back to Business School: Orientation

I mentioned in my last post that I had attended orientation for school recently...

It began on Friday at 1 PM. All of those of us who made the cut entered our new business school and filed into the lecture hall. The Dean of the program kicked off the orientation with a 90 minute talk about how to get the most out of our experience. Although sitting and listening to someone talk for 90 minutes isn't something I have done for a long time, the information was extremely valuable. He set many of us at ease when he exposed that he didn't "read everything" when he went to business school and that he had a few classes he was "lucky" to get through.

Next we heard from the library guy, career services, some of the clubs, and more. By the end of the "half day" the majority of us were fried. It seems this experience of sitting and listening for several hours (3 hours) has become alien to what is now a bunch of cubicle loving, plane riding, impatient... grown-ups. Luckily, the day ended with a food/cocktail hour. (This was the first event I went to, but this and others seem to always have some sort of food and alcohol incorporated). everyone seemed to be their normal selves after a drink and some calories.

The second Day (09:00AM to 04:00PM)... began with some announcements, but quickly moved to an introduction to one of our professors. Next, we heard from a panel of current students who gave us the inside scoop on what it was really like to do the Evening MBA program. Everything they said seemed to lead back to a description of how tired you always are and how important it is to network. I guess that's honesty.

In the middle of the day we took our class photo. While we were posing, a female undergraduate student began taking her clothes off. By the time she was done she was down to a bikini and completely oblivious to the whistles and laughter coming from our group. She was about 100 feet away, but she was the only one within sight of us and obviously very involved in her book. It was a great moment.

We spent the remainder of the day hearing from some of the staff and doing a mock case study. None of us were ready for that...

So it's actually happening. After years of talking about going to business school, and putting off the GMAT, I am finally doing it. Bring it on!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back to Business School: The Evening MBA

One thing that I don't think I have mentioned in my past entries is that I am pursuing a fully employed or Evening MBA.

My decision to do business school in this way was based primarily on the fact that I have a mortgage payment to make each month. There's also the work experience piece too, but it was mostly about money.

As far as the degree goes, there will be no difference between myself and someone who completed their MBA in a full-time program. In fact I will have an advantage... not just an MBA, but an additional 2 years of work experience.
However, one thing that worried me was the attitude of the school. At info sessions for the program we were told repeatedly that the Evening MBA program was not a good place to be if you are a career changer. I took this advice to heart, but soon after I began the application process my intentions changed.

Well, by the time I was accepted, I was job searching and hoping the MBA program would be able to help me expand my network. To be honest, I was not sure if I had made the right decision, but it was much too late change it. Too my surprise, I am not the only one in this situation. In fact, almost every person that I have met in my program or the Full-Time program is looking for a career shift. Some of them would like to stay with their current employers, but even there they usually want to be in a different field (software engineering to marketing, business development to operations, etc.).

When I think about it, this makes complete sense. Why else would a person spend several thousand dollars on Business School. The MBA is a way to expand your horizons whether you can afford to quit working or not. And, while most of us are in this to learn and better ourselves, we are also in it because of the opportunities to go places we couldn't go otherwise.

So here we go... 10 days and counting until I can call myself an MBA... Evening MBA student.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Upside

From the moment I began studying for the GMAT and putting together my application for business school there's been a question looming in my mind. At this point with my first class less than two weeks away, the answer is undoubtedly yes, but it didn't start that way.

I asked it of myself when I sat down to write the first application essay. The question was, "Do I really want to do this?" . Do I really want to write essays again? Solve word problems? Analyze cases? Read text books!?!? Its definitely a hump that I had to get over as a prospective MBA candidate.

I have now come to believe that this school stuff is what stops most people with undergraduate degrees from moving into masters programs. Because, let's face it, writing essays, doing homework, and taking tests is really kind of annoying. But, what we all forget about our first four years are the great things that come along with being a student.

So... what's the upside? Here are just a few benefits that I found out I will receive for being a student at the Business School.

1. Gym Membership

I now have access to the premier work out facility in my area for free (included in the several thousand dollars a quarter for tuition). I went and toured it the other day with my wife, who also gets access for $15.00/month. They have multiple basketball courts, squash, racket ball, volleyball courts, a climbing wall, a pool, an indoor track, tennis courts, and more. I am also eligible to play in the intramural league.

2. Transportation

Since the school is in a major metropolitan area we are given transit passes for $17.00 a month that are good on any trains, buses, or street cars. This is a HUGE discount!

3. Student Discounts

This is amazing... movie theaters, restaurants, bowling, pool, the list goes on and on.

4. The ability to think and dream without consequence

Although this isn't a direct perk, most of us work in jobs that are grounded in, well, reality. While an MBA program has heavy application, as a student you are allowed to dream of what could be without immediately discussing the cost/benefit, feasibility, and facing the army of nay sayers. Eventually the ideas have to make it to earth and be well thought out, but there is that in between time that you just get to wonder.

So I am not looking forward to many of the school like assignments again, but a least when I get one I can take a subsidized ride on a bus, to a coffee shop that offers 1/2 priced donuts to students, and dream about the answers. Then when I am finished, I can head over to the gym to blow off some steam- all for mere thousands that I don't have to pay pack until 6 months after I graduate.

Ah the life...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thomas Friedman's Business Education: China for a Day

In a recent interview on Meet the Press, Thomas Friedman discussed the "Energy Revolution" that he thinks is necessary in this country. He discussed, and wrote a chapter in his new book, about what it would be like for the U.S. to be "China for a Day" in order to get the ball rolling on the new revolution.

Obviously he was referring to the now famous ability of the Chinese President/King to wave a magic wand and control industry. The best example to date of the magic wand is the shutting down of factories 2 weeks prior to the Olympic games in Beijing.

So what would it be like if the U.S. President could/would wield absolute power on industry and government in terms of a move towards alternative energy and innovation? Well, I think we would see the bypassing of congress to implement instant tax credits and write offs for companies using clean energy, a carbon tax, mandatory shifts to production of non-petroleum vehicles for the U.S. car market, and several wind/solar plants being built in the next year. We would also see some major public dollars invested in science education, alt energy start-ups, and grant money for the submission of new ideas for alternative energy.

If the above were to take place, not only would we see a revitalization of our employment and dedication to innovation (the single greatest factor that led to American domination of the 20th century), we would create an entire industry in which we would be the captains. We could engineer, manufacture, implement, test, and SELL, SELL, SELL the new technology. In addition to the advantages to our foreign policy, national security, and education system it would be the greatest business accomplishment of our generation.

Friedman agrees... when approached by young Chinese who tell him that America got to "go dirty" for 150 years and now its their turn, he tells them to go ahead and take their time. Why? Because within 5 years America will be able to develop these clean power sources and when "China is choking" on its own pollution, we can sell the new technologies to them.

Thank you Thomas Friedman for the business education. Although, I don't think the U.S. president will ever be able to speak as a dictator (nor should he), I can only hope that our country wakes up! Because if we do, and we own this revolution not as an obedient people, but as a free group of citizens, we will win big.