Sunday, May 31, 2009

Business School: T-72 hours until year 1 is over

I feel like I have been talking about the end of this quarter and my first year of business school for almost a month now. That is mainly because I have been talking about it for almost a month :)

Only one assignment stands between me and 3 weeks of no school (or work given recent happenings). That assignment is my Marketing final.

The final is a case on Kingsford Charcoal. It is a total of 8 short answer questions and 1 essay question all having to do with the analysis, strategy, and implementation that we learned throughout the quarter.

I have to say, though, that I have been having a very hard time getting started on the exam. I have been able to get a lot of background reading done (reading I should have been doing throughout the quarter) with my new found spare time, but not actual work... in fact I should probably be working on it right now.

This is actually the first time since I've been in business school that I have really procrastinated and for some reason it makes me feel better to be typing this blog rather than sitting on facebook or watching TV. I really should stop typing and go down stairs to my office. I mean this is it... the final assignment of the quarter and the year.

I get to bring it all together. The problem identification, 5 c's analysis (context, company, customers, competition, and collaborators), STP (strategy, targeting, and positioning), and implementation (product, price, place, and promotion). I get to show what I know, conduct in depth analysis, and talk about on how I think the Clorox Company should handle the Kinsford brand going forward from 2000...

But this couch is so comfortable and the breeze from outside feels so nice. Maybe I will just go for a walk, or go buy the new nike+ sport pack I have been wanting to get...



OK... I'm going to get to work now.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Glad to be Getting my MBA Degree

On Thursday I experienced a bit of a hiccup at work. It was a 9:30AM meeting that thrust me into the ranks of the 623,000 people that made jobless claims last week.

My location experienced a severe drop in business this year (40% to be exact). As a result, half of our management team was sliced, seven of us in all. With one exception, we were the last seven people hired. Now, the average tenure of a manager is 19 years. That number seems quite large given the normal job hopping that takes place these days.

If you've been following this blog you know that I haven't been content at work for the last 12 months or so. Regardless, no one likes to be shown the door and I am no exception.

Here's how it happened:

Wednesday afternoon...

At approximately 4:30 PM I am asked to go into my manager's office. He closed the door and asked that I attend a meeting (5 hours before a previously scheduled "all hands" meeting) with himself and our director. I immediately began clearing out my files on the company shared drive and gathering my personal things from my desk. I figured the earlier meeting could only mean one thing.

The next morning I left home at 7:00AM. The entire ride to work I kept thinking, "this is my last time making this commute". I got to the office and started my work day in the usual way. At around 9AM I got a call from another manager saying that he had received an e-mail I sent the night before, but that he was about to be laid off. He told me that I would need to find someone else to get the work done. Despite the fact that I knew what he was talking about I asked how he knew for sure. Apparently he had been informed by another member of the management team who spoke to our boss the evening before. I knew that I would be on the other end of that phone call in a short amount of time.

After he hung up, I drafted an e-mail to the people in the company I had gotten to know over the last 5 years through my time in sales and operations. The e-mail reached people across the country as far away as Charleston, Charlotte, Newark, and Houston. The message was simple. It said,

"Today is my last day with the company. It's been a pleasure working with you. In the future I can be contacted at [my personal email address]."

I saved the draft and waited for my time to go down to the director's office.

9:30 came and I was asked to go downstairs for my meeting. I walked towards our director's office, but didn't find anyone there. An admin assistant pointed me towards the conference room. I opened the door to find the west coast HR Manager, my boss, and the director of our office.

The HR manager shook my hand like it was any other time we had seen each other and my director alternated between looking at the ground and looking at me. I was asked to take a seat at the head of the table.

My manager began talking. The first words out of his mouth were, "You're here because we are laying you off...". He went into an explanation which was followed up by more info from the director. Then the HR manager went through the severance package with me. When he was finished with that he told me that I could stay the rest of the day if I wanted to, but that it was OK to leave as well. My reply? "It's a beautiful day. I think I will go home.".

So, I did... right after sending off the e-mail I had drafted earlier and pulling my lunch out of the fridge. The 30 mile commute home was strange. I had expected the layoff for several months given my short tenure compared to the rest of the management team, but I felt different than I expected. It was a bizarre combination of humiliation, relief, restlessness, and optimism.

When this chapter of my life closes I am confident that I will look back and say that this is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It is a chance to start over, to work on developing good disciplines, to expand my skills, and to rest.

In the last year I have done a lot of growing up and I suspect the next several weeks will be a continuation of that progress. Getting my MBA degree is a huge part of that. I will shake off the shame and begin the transition to a new life. This is going to change everything.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Looking back at the GMAT One Year After Getting Into Business School

I was just reading a article about the GMAT and Business School...

I distinctly remember someone at one of the information sessions I went to for my school asking how the program viewed the GMAT. The person leading the talk (her name was Sunny) had a response I didn't expect. What I did expect was for her to say that the test was somewhat important, but things like GPA and work experience were much more important, or that the GMAT isn't that great pf indicator of how well you will do in business school. However, what she actually said is that there is a very high correlation between an individual's GMAT score and their academic success in Business School. She went even further to say that it was the number one criteria out of nine used for admittance.

So, after one year, what do I think of all that? I think its mostly right, but probably deserves a few corrections. First of all, yes if you do well on the GMAT you probably think the right way to solve the types of problems thrown at you in B-School, but it by no means indicates that it will be easy. Second, academic success does not equal actual success in an MBA program. Cliche as it is, it is all about making the right connections and networking not only within the program, but with the community at large. Last, I know several people who had very mediocre GMAT scores that got into my school. However, they are all people that had strengths in other parts of their applications and they are some of the smartest people I've met in the program.

Is the GMAT score everything? Absolutely not, but it is important and it can make your admissions experience a whole lot better when you know you've got a 700+ GMAT score on your application. So, if your interested in Business at a graduate level... study up. Most of getting a good GMAT score is just plain practice. The Official Guide is a great place to start. Once you get it, do lots and lots of practice questions. You will thank yourself when you walk out of the test center with 20 minutes to spare and a shiny piece of paper with a big number on it.

Then, you can go back to being a human being again :)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Turning the Corner in Managerial Accounting

I'm going to admit to you that I am using this particular entry to get my mind of of the final exam I am taking in Managerial accounting right now. I have logged about 8.5 hours so far and just completed my first run through of the exam. Now I am trying to clear my head for about an hour and then I will do a review before I submit it.

The first question on this exam took me about three hours, but that was mainly my fault. Let me explain...

The question centered around the concept of EVA (Economic Value Added). It's actually a fairly simple concept that centers around the idea of subtracting cost of capital from operating income. What makes it unique is that it adjusts OI and CC by capitalizing/amortizing non-tangibles that typically don't get capitalized/amortized. An example of this is advertising expense. In any case, if the operating income exceeds the cost of capital, then economic value is said to have been added.

The only problem for me with this question is that I missed the lecture and the assignment pertaining to EVA. So I basically learned the concept during the final... after I spent an hour and a half doing it the wrong way. I guess that's why people say that 90% of success is showing up. Actually, I think Woody Harrelson said that. I think he had a point.

The rest of the exam was also pretty slow going, but none of the other questions were completely new to me. Although, I've done my fair share of referring to notes and even the text book. This is actually the first time I have used my $160 textbook.

Well, I better stop delaying and do my final review of the exam. This was a very poor attempt to clear my mind, but I'll be done soon!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Business School Gears Up: Finals Have Begun

I had my last Managerial Accounting session last night. The Professor did a very good job wrapping up the course through a series of summary slides.

Here are the basics of what we studied:

3000' view: Management Control through accounting systems and financial norms

1. Management Control Systems

2. Performance Evaluation for Decentralized Operations

3. Compensation

4. Governance

Now, having spent about 20 evenings studying the above material I am sitting down to take the course final. Today, I read through the exam once and I will hopefully finish the first question of four this evening. The strange thing is that this is an Accounting class, but almost half of the final exam is "how you feel".

Maybe it's not so strange though, because when it comes down to it numbers can be managed and manipulated, it really is about the feelings you have. This is one of the most important things I have learned in business school. Stock analysts, managers, and shareholders... we are all at the mercy of management's discretion, or lack there of...

So, here I go... head first into the end of another quarter. I finish Accounting this week and my other class next week. I've got June 02 in my sights and with it the end of my first year of business school. As my British cousin says... steady on.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Last Group Meeting of the Year – Getting Closer to my MBA degree

It is just starting to hit me that I am almost finished with the first year of completing my MBA degree. Today my group met for the last time of the year. The assignment that we were working on is the final team case in our Managerial Accounting class. We began our meeting at 9AM which has become somewhat of a standard time for us lately . The meeting was a mixture of waffles (breakfast to start), some joke telling, and some goofing around. One thing that has definitely changed in our group is that we don’t really move slowly anymore. Don’t get me wrong, we goof off plenty (today we took a break for 30 minutes to play ping pong), but when we are focused on an assignment we have become extremely goal oriented. We banged out most of this final case in about 3 hours.

I’m now wondering two things. First, is this just me? I mean am I the one that is so goal oriented. And second, whether or not it is just me, is this a good thing? I am thinking that it is not. When the group started at the beginning of the year, we sat down together and set up a team charter. The purpose of the charter was to voice all of our expectations, goals, and desired norms for the group, the program, and us. In this charter more than one person expressed a desire to really enjoy the process of going to school. This should include group collaboration on work since a large majority of our time is spent as a team doing work.

This is definitely something that I need to give more thought and be willing to correct in myself if I am the root cause or even a participating member. Something to think about over a

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Business School made me buy a Blackberry

For the last year I have been attending classes in business school with individuals who have some of the latest technology in mobile phones. I see Iphones, Blackberries, the G1, and more on a weekly basis. I watch as students surf the web, check e-mail, play music, and even watch TV on their mobile phones. And I’ve seen all of this while holding a standard LG phone in my pocket. No mobile web, mobile TV, push e-mail, or touch interface.

This past week I decided that I have had enough and that I must join the 21st century mobile phone revolution. Lucky for me I was up for my “new every two” upgrade with Verizon wireless, yes I’m part of THE NETWORK. This upgrade allows me to take $50 of of the 2-year agreement price. With such a steep discount I was free to choose from a small selection of smart phones.
After a few minutes of deliberation I decided to go with the Blackberry Curve. So why the Curve? Well, if you’re familiar with Verizon than you know that there selection is small… very small. It turns out that the Curve is the only smartphone with a camera for under $200, even with my discount. Plus it has everything that I wanted in a phone.

About thirty minutes after I told the sales guy that I would take it I was walking out the doors with my new hi tech device. I had decided to use public transportation that day so I had a chance to play with the phone quite a bit. I’ve now added about 5 apps, activated my push e-mail, and logged about 2 hours on the browser (Opera mini 4.2). It may also be worth noting that I have also killed the battery twice.

So now I am a genuine product of business school. I have my laptop, a sharp suit, and now a shiny new Blackberry to pull out of the jacket pocket.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lesons from Business School: The Balanced Scorecard

It's been a while since I have posted an entry... please forgive the gap. I have been trying desperately to get over a horrible cough and have otherwise been swamped by personal and school activities. Yesterday, things began to slow down a bit and I am starting to feel better, so I think it is a good time to write now.

I actually wanted to tell you about the final exam in my managerial accounting class. The exam is two parts. One part, in true business school fashion, is a team case and the other part is individual. This week my team is completing the team case portion. Essentially, it is a company that is growing aggressively and is starting to feel there size in addition to dealing with the growing pains of a recent acquisition. The assignment is to identify the root cause of the problems facing this firm, generate some recommendations, explore the pitfalls of those recommendations, and offer a method for mitigating the pitfalls. Then, after the analysis is complete, the second part is to create a balanced scorecard.

So what is a balanced scorecard? Well, if you follow the link above you will see a picture for the bones of one. Most companies translate this info into a single table, but its the same idea. Essentially you are balancing financial goals (ROI, revenue targets, profit targets, etc.) with operational goals (defect rate, capacity, customer satisfaction, etc.). The process dictates that you come up with objectives, and identify how you will measure your success, what your target is, and what you ultimately want it those objectives to accomplish. This s of course done after you have identified problems and set goals for the company (i.e. strategy).

The bsc is a document than guides the organization at all levels of leadership. Ideally, an individuals performance is directly evaluated based on some part of the scorecard.

My team begins meeting on this tomorrow, and then on to the Accounting individual final and Marketing final. 20 days left until my first year of business school is complete, but who's counting...