Archive for September, 2006

80/20 Rule or the Justification for Happy Hours

September 25th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Full Speed Ahead!There’s a lot of talk in business school about the 80/20 rule. The basic gist of the rule is that 20% of your efforts result in 80% of your results; so focus the majority of your energies on wisely chosen activities. This is something I did not learn until recently. As an undergraduate I read every assignment, attended every class, and wrote the maximum pages for every project. I always wondered how my roommates had so much time for drinking; obviously they already knew about the 80/20 rule.

My husband taught me the 80/20 rule, and I soon started to see its application to most areas of life. In the newspaper, every article contains 80% of the pertinent information in the first paragraph. At work the meat of most projects takes only 20% of my overall time spent on the project. At the grocery store, 80% of what I need to buy is in the produce section and the bakery (as a result of my sweet tooth).

The 80/20 rule is very prevalent in business school, because there are too many activities and too little time. There are classes, homework, group meetings, corporate presentations, job applications, job interviews, club meetings, happy hours, and football games. Then there’s life outside of business school: family, old friends, the grocery store, laundry, and the gym. So time management is key, and I’ve decided to employ the 80/20 rule to get the most out of business school.

The first step is to focus on what I want from business school, which is a good job. The next step is to decide how to get that job over the next two years. During orientation several professionals with MBAs spoke about what to expect from business school; all of them said that employers had never asked for their GPAs. Another speaker, a professor for Smith’s part-time MBA program, advised that getting all As would not land that dream job. And the career management professionals advised leaving GPAs off of resumes. The take away point from this advice is that business school is not all about academics, like many other graduate schools. Does this mean that I never have to go to class or do the homework? (I wish.) No, but it does mean that academics cannot be my only focus.

After graduating from Smith, I will be able to build statistical excel models, do risk analysis, and create financial statements from scratch, but is that all I am paying for? Not really, since I could learn those same things for free on my own, at least according to the Personal MBA. Many people question the MBA and ask if the classroom is really the appropriate place for a professional transformation. Those doubters are correct that people and leadership skills cannot be taught in a classroom, and that is why much of the learning in business school takes place in the student lounge, at happy hours, at employer presentations, and at speaker events. These times outside the classroom teach students how to network, how to persuade and lead people, and how to fit into a business culture while still standing out. This unstructured learning, combined with classroom learning, is what will help me to get a better job than I could have gotten before business school.

My problem before business school was that I had little opportunity to network beyond my small group of friends and coworkers. Most of the people I knew had liberal arts degrees and rarely used quantitative analysis on the job. Smith gives me the opportunity to broaden my circle and way of thinking. Looking at where I came from and where I hope to go, the chasm between is wide and deep. Smith is the narrow bridge that I will use to cross that divide.

According to the 80/20 rule, I need to focus energy on the 20% of my activities that will yield 80% of my job offers. In other words, I need to go to a lot of happy hours. All the law students reading this post should note now that business school is not about getting a degree in partying, but rather in life skills. So the next time I’m out late at the bar, just know it’s for homework.


What Will Classes Be Like?

September 8th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

It’s only the first week of classes, and I already know that business school will be very different from my undergraduate studies. To illustrate, I will describe my first class, “Data, Models & Decisions” taught by Professor Lele. The course title is code for “A** Kicking Excel Modeling and Statistics.” During orientation the second year MBA students all smiled knowingly whenever Shreevardhan Lele’s name came up in conversation. He has a reputation for being tough, and one second year student told me that when she took his class, the average grade on the first test was a 45.

I prepared myself for Professor Lele. I got to class five minutes early and quickly opened a word document on my computer to take notes. My highlighter, black pen, and red pen were at the ready. I had installed the StatPro software on my computer and completed the homework, including an Excel tutorial (given my qualitative background, I rarely used Excel before business school.

As an undergraduate I had a constant hand cramp from hours of note taking in class. So I was shocked when Professor Lele started the class by handing out preprinted class notes. Then he began the first problem, which read:

1. The Sterling Fund and the Taurus Fund are two competing mutual funds. Each invests in exactly two sectors-industrials and utilities.

a. For the most recent quarter, Sterling has a higher (percentage) return on its industrials component than Taurus, while Taurus has a higher return on its utilities component than Sterling. Which fund has a higher overall return?

b. Instead, suppose Sterling has a higher return on its industrials component as well as a higher return on its utilities component than Taurus. Then, which fund has a higher overall return?

The answer to question 1a was obvious; it depends because there is not enough information to say which mutual fund has a higher overall return. The answer to question 1b was not as obvious, and it reminded me of Joe Bloggs and the GMAT. Everyone who did test prep with Princeton Review knows Joe Bloggs. He was the example of an average test taker; the test taker who chose obvious, too simple answers to complicated problems.

At first glance the answer to question 1b appeared to be Sterling, but it seemed too simple. No one in the class was happy choosing Sterling as the answer, but there was no clear reason to answer otherwise. So Professor Lele said we would come back to question 1b, and we moved on to the next question. I silenced my Joe Bloggs radar. After a quick read through of the next question, I began to rethink my decision to return to school for an MBA. Question two read:

2. Consider the annual salaries of 100 executives at a large modern corporation. Of these 100 executives, 50 have an MBA, while 50 do not. 29 Positions are classified as senior executive positions and the remaining 71 as junior executive positions. Among executives with an MBA, the average salary is $158, 172.00 and among executives without an MBA, the average salary is $133,616.00.

Ok, so far so good, although I would have liked to see a bigger difference between the average salaries of MBAs and non-MBAs. The question continued:

Among the junior executives, the average salary of those with an MBA is $120,431, while the average salary of those without an MBA is $124,867. Among the senior executives, the average salary of those with an MBA is $199,058, while the average salary of those without an MBA is $212,360. How is this possible?

As the professor read this last section aloud, rustling and whispering sounds filled the class. By now I was ready to go ask the bursar’s office for a refund. But then Professor Lele asked us to take another look at the question.

As a class we reasoned that since the averages in the problem were weighted, the proportion of employees with MBAs at the senior level was much greater than the corresponding proportion among the senior employees without MBAs. The benefit of having an MBA was getting promoted, not having a higher salary than employees without MBAs. Professor Lele explained that the seeming inconsistencies in the question were examples of Simpson’s Paradox.

While Professor Lele was discussing the second question, I kept thinking back to the first question. I suddenly realized that even though Sterling had a higher return on its industrials component as well as a higher return on its utilities component than Taurus, Simpson’s Paradox made it possible for Sterling to have a lower overall return than Taurus.

In this first class, I learned what business school classes will be like. Professors will ask that I solve problems with my classmates and then independently apply those lessons. My next two years at business school won’t be spent taking notes and memorizing theories. It will be active learning, and I’m looking forward to the next class.


Orientation and the Girl Named Peach

September 4th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Testudo, our mascotLast week was orientation week for first year MBA students at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. No one wants to make a bad first impression, so students were on their best behavior. I kept waiting (and secretly hoping) for someone to start a fist fight or chew with their mouth open, but no one did. I am now completely convinced that all my classmates are practiced professionals and well-balanced individuals.

Everyone asks the same three questions at orientation: 1) “What’s your name?” 2) “Where have you been?” 3) “Where are you going?” If you plan to attend any orientations in the near future, take detailed notes on the following, and make sure to prepare your own concise answers to all three questions.

“What’s your name?” is a relatively simple question if your name is Joe Smith. Most of the students I met during orientation were not able to give such simple answers. Thirty seven percent of the full-time Smith MBA class is from abroad, and that means many have names difficult for Americans to learn and pronounce. Most international students were kind enough to introduce themselves by their given names and then simplify them. For example, a Chinese student might say, “Hi, my name is Chuntao, but you can call me Peach.” Peach is a great name and so much easier to remember than Chuntao; I picture a big peach in place of this woman’s head and am able to remember her name.

Other foreign students introduced themselves by an American name that they had adopted, whether independently or in English class in their home country. For example, one foreign student introduced himself as Nicholas, which had no relation to his given name. He said that his Chinese English teacher had given him this name. His story reminded me of my high school Spanish class, and my “Spanish name” Irma. If I were to study in Mexico, would my name be Irma? As Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Nicholas must agree with Shakespeare.

The second question, “Where have you been?” consists of two parts. People ask this question to find out what geographical location you came from and what you did before business school. At first I told people that I was from Texas, but then they assumed that I was new to the area. Then I told people I was from Washington, D.C., but then they assumed that I had been spending my Easters rolling eggs down the White House lawn. So I finally settled on a two part response: I grew up in Houston, Texas, but have spent the last eight years living in Washington, D.C. I wasn’t the only one having problems with this question. One student told me that his passport said that he was from Switzerland. This was a mysterious answer that I did not question.

The second half of the “Where have you been?” question has as many pitfalls as the first half. When I answered this question with a short description of my work with asylum seekers at an immigration law firm, most students stared blankly at me. Other students’ jobs were more familiar than mine. I met a pilot, a factory manager, a market researcher, and an electrical engineer at orientation. The factory manager told me that he had supervised manufacturing for several types of products, from the silicone packets in new shoes to small metal pieces in storm windows. I had never thought about the silicone packets in shoe boxes before, but talking with him forced me to consider the construction of every manmade object surrounding me. Even the flimsy paper folder I held at that moment was a livelihood and daily occupation to someone. This thought was too deep for me at eight o’clock in the morning, so I didn’t ponder it for too long, but it did make me appreciate life’s many layers.

The third question people always ask at business school orientation is, “Where are you going?” In other words, what do you plan on doing with your MBA? People never ask this question during undergraduate orientation because they assume that most students have no idea what they will do after graduation. Even though many MBA students have no plan for after school, few will admit it. As I repeatedly told people about my plans to work in commercial banking or corporate finance, I kept thinking, what happens if my plans change? What if I don’t get an internship? What if I don’t get a job? Uncertainty is a huge part of life and business school, and career uncertainties often become career anxieties during orientation. One honest student made me laugh when I asked him what he planned to do with his MBA: “I want to make big money,” he said. That’s one thing we can all say we want to do with our degrees.