Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A disgruntled Union, A Marketing Case, and a Night off From School

I went into this week knowing it was going to be tough to get through for a number of reasons...

1) My wife has been sick for about the last 10 days. Part of her illness has included coughing through the night, which has left me wanting for sleep.

2) I began to come down with something on Saturday and haven't felt 100% since.

3) My group just finished another meeting on the Marketing Airbus case last night. I like school, but this is getting a little crazy.

4) 2 cases due this week in Accounting and 1 more in Marketing.

5) The union that works with my company is upset over some lay offs.

I was right. This week has been crazy. It started out with me and another manager in an office firing one of our regulars and ended today with me pouring lightly salted water up my nose with a neti pot. Don't worry, it came out the other side.

But, the best part is that I am skipping class for the first time since I started the program. I didn't think I would do this at all during the first year, but I have reached a point where I just need to get a full 10 hours of sleep.

So goodnight, and thanks for reading. Hopefully the next time I write I will be allergy free and hard at work.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Online MBA

Over the past decade or so higher education has really embraced the virtual learning model. This evidenced by the proliferation of schools like the University of Phoenix, Kaplan College, and Capella University. There are varying levels of quality and cost with these online schools and recently they have become a viable option for serious students.

Admittedly, when I first decided to go to B-School I didn't consider an online MBA program. This is mainly because I'm young in my career, I don't have an established professional network, and I don't have kids. But my situation is increasingly a unique one for MBA students. There are several individuals in my program that don't share my demographic advantage and consequently are getting floored by the program. Many second income parents have quit working to cope with the time commitment and others have found the networking of little use or inconvenient to their schedule.

The idea of being able to get the same eduction by an accredited school without having to go to class at a certain time or meet at certain times seems very appealing. I'm sure the workload is just as heavy in an online MBA program, but the decreased commuting time alone must make it easier. In addition, getting an opportunity to work virtually with professors and students seems like very good experience for an increasingly global business environment. The online programs are also more flexible with the number of classes that you take and when you take them.

I recently heard from a VC analyst in one of my classes. He said that the brick and mortar schools are really becoming a thing of the past. In order for everyone to have access to higher education there has to be another way. The online programs are really filling this need. And making quite a bit of money while there at it. Who knows, maybe elementary schools will be going virtual soon.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Marketing is Sucking Us Dry

I took my midterm in Managerial Accounting yesterday and managed to finish the exam without my ears turning the slightest shade of red. I will say though, that I had to correct my work twice in order to fix all of the mistakes I made on the first time through. I think I spent about 2 hours taking the test and 3 hours checking it. I finally submitted it on blackboard at about 2 AM.

I woke up this morning with a small sense of accomplishment that would soon disappear. My next task was Marketing. Each week we are doing case studies in different business scenarios. Last week, we read about a company called Biopure that made a blood replacement for people and for animals back in the 90's. This week our case centered around Air India's RFP with Airbus and Boeing in 1985.

The basic idea of the case is to determine competitive advantages between the two airplane manufacturers. Generally speaking, Boeing was the old guard with tons of experience, money, and brand recognition. Airbus, despite being relatively new on the scene, had the backing of three major European governments. It turns out that leveraging their political clout is what eventually won Airbus the contract.

Anyway, that's the boring part. The interesting part is the group dynamics of today's meeting. These cases have been taking my group about 8 hours a weekend spread out between Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. This is after 1-2 hours of individual preparation. Spending all of this time on this one class and together has been slowly driving us all a bit nutty. Today, it culminated with one of our group members taking a nap, another one checking out the Football draft, while another one was downloading hip hop ring tones to his G1 phone. I was reduced to web surfing during the meeting out of sheer boredom. I never thought it would come to this.

I'm hoping that the group can gather its strength and hit these next couple weeks hard. Especially since we have a group presentation in the course on May 12. We'll see how we do. At this point, we are all sleep deprived, studied out, and constantly beaten down by our significant others for being too busy.

Who knew Marketing could be so brutal.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Business School Ramps Up: Midterms... Again

I am officially in my fourth week of the final quarter of my first year... and midterms are starting to ramp up again. It seems like every quarter of Business School I have had the same thought around this time... "How are we already taking midterms?".

It seems like just a few weeks ago I was writing about the classes that I am taking this quarter and explaining the quirks of the new professors. It mainly seems that way because it was a few weeks ago. But, here I am the 22nd Day of April, and I have a midterm the day after tomorrow.

The good news is that I am ready for this one. It is for my managerial accounting class and it is a take home exam. This particular class has been a repeat, for the most part, of a course that I took during undergrad. So far, we have studied cost plus, activity based, and incremental accounting.
The material hasn't been too challenging. I'm hoping that this translates into an easier time on the midterm. In other words, I am not expecting my ears to be very red. I hope that proves to be true.

So , I've got class tomorrow and then the exam. Lucky for me the Marketing course I am in does not have a midterm exam. However, we have weekly cases and a major presentation the second week of May. I guess this in lieu of the midterm...

5 weeks to go... then I will be a second year Business School student. Yee haw!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Business School Doesn't Always Help: Schnuckerman Snickers

For the last 11 days my wife has been out of town on business. It has been a long 11 days that culminated with me eating alone at a restaurant yesterday. This is slightly less sad than it sounds because its one of my favorite places to eat...

In any case, I made my order and then picked up a copy of a local weekly newspaper to see what was happening in the area. After flipping through a few pages of art gallery exhibits, concerts, and organic food festivals, I saw a very peculiar ad for a famous candy bar company. The ad was a picture of a snickers bar, but instead of the bar saying SNICKERS, it said SNACKSQUATCH. This is part of the the SNACKLISH campaign that they are pushing on there completely off the wall website.

Before I tell you what I think of this campaign, take a look at the picture...

Isn't this the dumbest thing you have ever seen? If its not, you really need to start a blog posting really dumb stuff you've seen.

I mean really, didn't anyone in that company go to Business School. Did they discuss the idea of a target market. Who is this thing aimed at? The best I could come up with is that they are focusing this advertising on annoying junior high kids. I'm not really a candy bar guy, but this makes me want to go out and buy a Hershey bar just to speed the dissolution of a product that has obviously lost its positioning. Do you remember the old slogan? It was, "Snickers Satisfies". This sounds tempting. We all crave sugar and chocolate and Snickers satisfies that craving, but "Snacksquatch" and "Sncklish"?. It just goes to show you that all the Business School or other school in the world won't always stop the mighty power of a really dumb idea.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wiggio: Where have you been all my life... or at least since I started an MBA program?

I think I have told you before that the MBA program I am in places you in groups or five or six students before the first day of class. The idea is that each student will belong to the same group for completing team assignments throughout the core part of the program. This is about 18 months and includes 12 courses.

My group is amazing. Really. We all come from different professional backgrounds including software sales, financial analysis, union labor management, and consulting. We also all come from different parts of the country and even the world in one team-mates case. But the variety is not what makes the team so cohesive. Its the fact that we are all just very laid back. No one usurps authority, nobody whines, and we are not fussy. I feel very fortunate.

Anyway, as a way to facilitate the activities of the group we decided to start a group website before the first quarter began. Since I am such a huge fan of google (blogger is owned by google), I decided to set us up on a shiny new Google group site. At first it was OK, but after a while the chinks in Google's armor began to show. The site was very ugly looking and was missing some key features like version control, folders for stored documents, a conference calling service, and more. We used Google groups through last quarter, but after much frustration , I decided to look for something better.

...And I found it. It tuns out that we aren't the only MBA candidates who have been fed up with the group sites out there. One team was so fed up that they started their own group web site. It's called Wiggio, and it is amazing. It has version control, a filing cabinet with in browser viewing and editing documents, a free conference call service, chat rooms, polling, and even a calendar that sends reminder text messages for group meetings. One of the coolest features is a unique e-mail address that sends a message to everyone in the group and then stores a copy as a conversation thread on the home page. What else could you ask for? To top it all off, I have had a few suggestions since I've been using the site and the developer team has responded to them personally - one even got implemented.

So there it is... I didn't need much to be happy. Just a free conference call service and the ability to poll my group with colorful graphics. I love you Wiggio. Please don't change or get bought out by Google.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Back to Business School... Year 1, final quarter

Last week I returned from my very relaxing and amazing vacation to Santa Barbara and other parts of socal, then began the last quarter of my first year in Business School.

This quarter I am taking Managerial Accounting and Strategic Marketing Management. Let me give you a brief run down of the professors and the classes:

Managerial Accounting

This is the second core course in Accounting, but unlike our first class, it is more focused on internal accounting (as opposed to GAAP). So far, we have been looking at different costing systems like cost-plus, activity based costing, etc. The work load is actually pretty moderate. We mainly just have to read a case for each class and submit answers to a poll on a class site twice a week. Everything else is participation in class and the exams. Our midterm is actually coming up in two weeks. I am still amazed at how quickly quarters go by.

So, nothing too crazy right? Wrong. The Professor in this class is crazy. He's actually a very good teacher, but he is very unorthodox. For starters, he's a morning person, so the only way he can make it through an evening is to get all hopped up on Caffeine before the class. This causes him to do things like speak extremely quickly, write on the whiteboard without looking at it, and throw whiteboard markers accross the room when he is too far from something he wants to point at... interesting fellow.


The Marketing class has been great as well. The course is basically designed around learning all aspects of researching, developing, and implementing a marketing plan. The plan was given to us the first day. It goes something like this:


Learn about and research the customer, the context, collaborators, competition, and company.


stablish target market/segments and set the product position.


Product, price, place, promotion, distribution.

There it is... I'm 2 weeks into it and I've already got it nailed. Well, not quite, but I think I've got a good start.

The Professor for this class has an excellent background. She started off in a marketing firm in Manhatten and stayed there for about 25 years. She has worked with marquee companies like American Express, Meryll Lynch, Coca Cola, etc. She actually lives in Las Vegas and flies up to campus on Tuesdays (leaves on Friday morning). Must be nice. Anyway, the class is great and I am beginning to see the big picture of marketing. The coursework is a bit heavy though. It includes major case assignments each week that takes my group 4-5 hours to complete. Yeehaw.

There you have it. I'm back in business school and loving it!