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Candidate no more

May 25th, 2007 by under Uncategorized. 1 Comment.

I’m now the proud owner of an MBA degree. Commencement was held on Monday. I took the big walk and shook hands with Dean Frank. I also received a photo montage poster of various occurrences of the letter M around campus, which meant very little to me since I took my classes at satellite campuses. I look forward to receiving the actual diploma in the mail. It’s amazing how uneventful the graduation ceremony was considering how life changing the three previous years had been.

Some people go back to school to change their lives. Others go back just to add another line to their resume so they can make more money. You can tell the former from the latter by their attitude at the end of the program. I fell into the first camp and wanted to keep going. It feels like there is so much left to learn. I’d done some group work with the person sitting next to me at graduation and she definitely fell into the latter camp. She was completely burned out and couldn’t stop complaining about different aspects of the program. However, she received a 4.0 in the program, which may have been a symptom of resume-it is.

In the core, my professor for Managerial Economics and Public Policy was Charles Olson. He gave us a great piece of advice that I thanked him for at the reception after graduation. I’m going to have to paraphrase since I don’t remember the exact quote. The gist of it was that it was possible to get a 4.0 in the program without actually learning anything. A student could memorize all of the right answers, speak just enough in class to get credit for participation, and write some decent papers without learning how to become a better manager or employee. I’ve come to see just how true this is. Part of the personal growth that I went through in the program was the discovery of the major disconnect between how I viewed myself and my actions versus how I actually behave. I also learned a lot about how I am perceived by others and the impact that my actions have on how I am perceived. A lot of that growth came from the professors from the Management & Organization Department who taught me that emotional intelligence counts more than IQ when it comes to managing people.

The people who I met in the program were such a big part of the learning experience for me. We all pushed each other to learn and grow together. At the end of winter term, I published a list of names of graduates who I was sad to know I would not be seeing on a regular basis anymore. This time around the list is a lot longer, and I know I would forget someone if I simply put a list together. So, suffice it to say that I will miss most of my classmates. You were all a great group of people and I have a ton of respect for the hard work I saw everyone put into their education.

Special thanks and acknowledgement go to the members of my VCIC team. I know we’ll all keep in touch, but it was sad nonetheless to know that our shared academic experience was over. So, to Moshe, Skye, Shad, and Tom, I wish you all continued success in all of your endeavors. Hopefully, we’ll all get to work together again sometime. I would also like to wish the best to Sergio, who I worked with more times than anyone else in the program including my first and last group projects in business school. Finally, I have to wish good luck to Jason from our case competition team, who’s still working on his dual MBA/MS.

In closing, I would also like to thank Alissa Arford-Leyl for offering me this gig as the blogger for the part-time program. It was a lot of fun. If anyone reading this is interested in taking over as the part-time MBA blogger, she’s the one you want to contact.

The next chapter starts now…

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It's over

May 16th, 2007 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

So, that’s it…I’m done. My last group paper was turned in yesterday. I had my last class a week ago. It feels so odd. The three years went by so fast. Our first academic advisor at the Shady Grove campus was completely right about how quickly the program would be over.

Her words were, if I remember them right:
The MBA program is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.

I had this crazy notion that I would be able to take it easy in my final semester. I would be able to chill out with a bad case of senioritis. That didn’t happen. The last month was a brutal forced march of trying to get everything done so I would actually be able to graduate. After I got back from the VCIC, I had to finish my Ethics ELM makeup paper (since I never actually attended the ELM), a midterm and a group paper for Prof. Frels, and a group paper and presentation for Prof. Kirsch. On top of all this, I was part of a proposal team at work and was burning the midnight oil trying to get that done. Sometimes the peaks all line up.

The presentation for Prof. Kirsch was a ton of fun. He suggested Pecha Kucha format, which is like haiku for Powerpoint. The rules of pecha kucha are that you must present exactly twenty slides and you must spend exactly twenty seconds per slide. It’s a major challenge if you’re a blabbermouth or have a tendency to put ten bullets on every one of your slides. You have to communicate your findings in as concise a manner as possible and use a ton of visual aids. In my presentation, I used a bunch of these including pictures of tombstones, a great white shark, a cat staring in a toilet, Stuart Smalley, a bottle of beer, and me in my wrestling gear. Somehow all of those items made logical business sense when they were placed together.

In a similar fashion, all of the disparate knowledge I have gained over the last three years makes sense together. I started purging all of my readings the other night and it is amazing how much material we went through. Somehow, all of that information now has a place in my brain. Hopefully it won’t be lost as I wade through the massive “fun” reading pile that has built up over the last three years. I started with “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks.

What’s on your summer reading list?

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Milestone

May 2nd, 2007 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

I have read my last Harvard Business School case.  Hooray!  Somehow it was fitting that a few hours before the class Professor Kirsch emailed us to let us know we wouldn’t be discussing it due to all of the other things we would be covering in class. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Harvard cases, they are one of the primary tools used to teach business school students around the world.  They all have a fairly similar structure, consisting of about twelve pages of text and about ten pages of exhibits.  The goal is to provide as complete a package as possible with all of the background information necessary to inspire a classroom discussion.  The length of the discussion varies from professor to professor and in my experience has ranged from twenty minutes to six hours.  The latter was pretty brutal especially considering that it took place in class after we turned in our analysis of the same case, which we’d been working on for two weeks.  That’s called doing a case to death.

A common characteristic of the cases is the human content that is provided as a frame around the usually dry background material.  The authors must have some instruction to put in material that the reader can relate to on a personal level.  It usually starts something like this:

Bob “Brownie” Macmillan (HBS 96), the chief marketing officer of Shady Biz Graphics, had spent most of his Saturday afternoon scouring the porcelain toilet bowls in his 50s era ranch home.  He found cleaning rust stains to be just the kind of menial labor that he needed to take his mind off his troubles.  In two days, he was scheduled to present a report to the board of directors regarding the butt whooping that Shady Biz had been handed over the past six months by its main competitor, Granata Sclerata Design.  Bob’s team had spent most of the last month coming up with a bold new marketing approach that centered on the Shady Biz mascot, Trenchcoat Timmy.  The new trade dress had shown a high level of appeal in focus groups, but was it the right approach?  If the board was unhappy with Bob’s approach, he knew he’d have a lot more time to spend cleaning commodes in the next few months.

Needless to say – I am so glad to be done with case analysis.

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Competition

April 22nd, 2007 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Part-time students normally don’t participate in any of the annual MBA competitions that take place around the country. A big reason for this is that we are a lot busier than the full-time students. We work full time jobs in addition to taking classes in the evenings. Many part-time students have young children at home. Our schedules are full to the point of breaking.

With all that in mind, I still recommend that part-time MBA students sign up for a competition in their field of interest. There is no better way to test yourself in a real world setting than by going out and competing with your peers from around the world. There are competitions for every interest – entrepreneurship (social, sustainable, international, and so on), supply chain management, investing, consulting, and venture capital. If you are on the fence about a career change, these events are a great way to get your feet wet. As almost anyone who has participated will attest, the part-time MBA case competition is not a good substitute. It is not focused enough, and you’re lucky if the case analysis is in your field of interest. We were tasked with analyzing the CRM needs of Carnival Cruise Lines. How is that applicable to anything I would want to do in the real world? I don’t know if the changes that were made for this year’s competition were improvements, but I suspect that the broad focus of the subject matter still prevented the material from being relevant to many of the students who participated. That’s why I think that more part-time students should sign up for the major business school competitions. The material is relevant and give students a much better opportunity to apply what they have learned in the MBA program.

Without hesitation, I can say that participation in the VCIC was the best experience of the MBA program. Before participating, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in venture capital, but felt like I should get some more exposure to the field before I made the leap. Now I’m sure that my future lies with venture capital. Over the course of the three rounds of the competition, we got to analyze twelve different business plans, perform due diligence interviews with all of the entrepreneurs, make our investment decisions, and present them to judging panels made up of angel investors, venture capitalists, and other representatives from the private equity world. To be successful, our team had to draw on all knowledge we gained throughout the MBA program.

Even though we didn’t place in the International Finals, the experience was incredible. We had a chance to meet major players from all across the VC world. All of the teams were incredibly supportive of each other and we particularly had a good time interacting with the teams from Virginia, USC, and MIT. MIT had the added privilege of picking up the tab at Top of the Hill, where everyone went to celebrate with fresh brewed beer and various other mighty alcoholic concoctions.

For any teams who are considering competing next year, I strongly recommend the following electives:
BUMK740 – Marketing High Tech Products
BUMO730 – New Venture Creation
BUMO756 – Industry and Competitor Analysis
BUSI771 – New Venture Financing
BUFN758V – Venture Capital and Private Equity

You will also need to pull knowledge from a number of your core classes including Human Capital Management, Financial Accounting, Marketing, and Strategy.

As a final piece of advice, there’s no better way to prepare for a competition than by practicing in other competitions. Although the part-time MBA case competition had nothing to do with venture capital, our team’s success there gave us an edge in the VCIC. We knew how to work together and we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

If you’re thinking about competing in the VCIC next year, please keep me and the rest of the team in mind. We’re eager to act as coaches in order to help the University of Maryland not only return to the finals, but win the big prize.

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The agony of defeat

April 15th, 2007 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Well, maybe not agony, but at least a dull throb…

The weekend didn’t go as planned. That happens sometimes.

We were unsuccessful in our bid to become the VCIC champions. We tried a risky strategy that didn’t work out for us, but we believed in our approach and stand by it.

I have a midterm due on Tuesday, so I don’t have a lot of time to write about the competition. I’ll post my thoughts later in the week. Big props go out to MIT for pulling off the big win for my home state of Massachusetts. They had a great team.

Needless to say, we were disappointed in the outcome, but not in the overall process. This was the highlight of my business school experience and one of the highlights of my life. I have never worked so hard at anything before, and it all paid off. We were the first team of part-time students to ever make it to the VCIC finals. What an incredible thrill!

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TMI

April 4th, 2007 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Last week, my brain ran out of room. I couldn’t learn anything else and I wished that people would just stop trying to teach me things. I needed some time to forget some useless knowledge before I could put anything new in there. I was suffering from too much information (TMI).

All of the learning started with a marathon session of Marketing High Tech Products and Services. The class ran all day on Saturday and Sunday. Professor Judy Frels is awesome. Definitely take her class if you have a chance. She kept the class going with a good mix of lecture, exercises, and case analysis. This was the first and only “whole weekend” classes that I have taken at Smith and it was not nearly as grueling as I was expecting.

The rest of the week was another story entirely.

From Monday to Thursday I had corporate training to attend. The course was titled “Advanced Project Management – Project Planning, Analysis, and Control”. It was far less fun than the weekend class, and it was also held in all day class sessions. However, it did prove to be an excellent networking opportunity. One of my classmates arranged to have me introduced to the president of our firm’s venture capital division. That contact has already proved helpful in my VCIC preparation.

Admittedly the teacher for our training course had some good stories about having to strip naked when he was caught in a rainstorm after teaching a class for the Navy. He also told us about having his psychology students read “The Happy Hooker” in class as part of an experiment. These and other stories prompted one woman in class to shout “TMI” a number of times throughout the course.

The really rough day of the week was Tuesday. I went to corporate training from 8:00AM – 5:00PM and then followed that up with a class session of Strategic Growth for Emerging Companies from 7:00PM – 9:40PM. Ugh. I was totally burned out after having attended class for four straight days, and I still had two more days of training to go.

Thankfully, Wrestlemania was last weekend. I watched the show with some of my friends at Padonia Station. We drank some beer, and had a really good time watching the show. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my adult life, it’s that pro wrestling and beer are a good cure for information overload. If you’re celebrating Passover this week, you’ll find that four glasses of wine and some Old Testament vengeance is a suitable substitute.

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Food and Drink

March 20th, 2007 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

This week is Spring Break, which is disappointing for all of the wrong reasons. First, I will spend most of the week doing homework since we have the two day marathon in Marketing High Tech Products this weekend. There is so much reading to do. I have no idea how I’m going to remember everything from all of the cases we’re expected to read. Past students (and Professor Frels herself) have warned me that there is a lot of cold calling that goes on in the class. At least the cases are interesting. As an old loyalist to Sega’s video game systems, I really enjoyed reading about the comedy of errors surrounding the product launch of the Dreamcast.

The second reason I’m disappointed that it is Spring Break is that we won’t be having class tonight in Strategic Growth for Emerging Companies. For the last two weeks, we have been treated to some outstanding food and drink in the service of learning about growth strategies. Last week, Chap Gage from Susan Gage Catering came in to discuss human resources issues and brought a massive selection of cookies and pastries prepared by his in-house chef. The previous week, Matt Fleischer of the Hook and Ladder Brewing Company came by to discuss the recent success of his business and he brought a case of beer. It was good stuff. I was thrilled to hear that they will be opening a restaurant in the old fire house on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. Both Matt and Chap are Smith alumni, but that doesn’t factor into my recommendations of their products. They both took care of us. Unfortunately, I think that’s the last of our guest speakers who will bring anything delicious.

I’ll be filling up my normal class time tonight with more practice for the VCIC. We’re in this to win, and any extra preparation is worth it. It’s like taking a third class, but it is worth it. When it is all said and done, I’ll need a pint of Hook and Ladder Golden Ale to celebrate.

It’s two months to graduation. How time flies.

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The Final VCIC Bracket

March 13th, 2007 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Here’s the tournament overview
VCIC Bracket

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We're going to the finals

March 12th, 2007 by under Uncategorized. 2 Comments.

“Whoo hoo!” – Skye Manders, in an email to Professor Kudisch on Saturday night after we found out that we placed second in the Southeast Regionals for the VCIC.

I can’t state strongly enough how much my sentiments echo those that Skye expressed on Saturday night. Our second place finish guarantees us a trip to the International Finals of the Venture Capital Investment Competition, which will take place in April at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Congratulations go out to team from Virginia that came in first place and the UNC team that took home the Entrepreneur’s Choice award. Both teams shared our joy in the ACC sweep of the Southeast Region. We faced stiff competition from Emory, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Indiana, and Wharton.

Our victory marks the first time that Maryland will be represented in the finals since 2001. As far as I know, it also marks the first time that a team of part-time MBA students has ever made it to the finals. If we work as hard as we did in the regional competition, we’re sure to do well. Along with Virginia, we’ll be facing Brigham Young, Chicago, Colorado, IESE, INSEAD, USC, Harvard, and MIT.

It was hard work indeed. I arrived in Atlanta on Wednesday night and stayed at the home of my roommate from my Johns Hopkins undergrad days. On Thursday morning, I swung by the airport and picked up Moshe, Skye, and Tom. Shad hooked up with us later. That night we headed over to the Georgia Tech College of Management for orientation. We got lost along the way, but managed to make it just in time for dinner and introductions. Each school was assigned a nom de guerre based on one of the streets nearby the GT campus. This is intended to prevent any bias in judgment that might occur due to the reputation of the schools. We ended up being called the Ponce de Leon Fund.

At 7:00 we received the business plans and fund profile, and then headed off to our breakout room to look over the plans. They were a motley assortment of entrepreneurial inspiration. We had to choose one company to invest in from a group that consisted of a Web 2.0 company creating a community for the 50+ demographic, a video gaming hardware manufacturer, a medical device firm, an internet retailer of kits for electrical hobbyists, and a designer of health monitors for the elderly and infirm. We spent a few hours reviewing the plans and then headed back to the hotel to come up with a list of questions. At the end of the night, we had narrowed down the list of investments to two. While we were working, we hit the snack room a number of times. Georgia Tech did a great job of keeping us fed and caffeinated. There was a never ending supply of Coca Cola, Mountain Dew, Cheetos, Doritos, candy bars, cookies, nuts, and fruit for us to enjoy.

On Friday, we were due at GT at 1:00 to see the entrepreneurs deliver their pitches and have some lunch (pretty decent sandwiches). A number of the entrepreneurs pandered to the schools which were present, talking about how much they enjoy cheesesteaks, how if they weren’t wearing shoes they would have tar heels, and so on. Surprisingly, no one mentioned anything about Maryland. I wonder if the entrepreneurs at the finals will pander to the European schools. I can just imagine them saying how much they enjoy paella and real champagne, and then turning around to say that it is also OK to be a teetotaler just to be inclusive for BYU.

After the presentations, the entrepreneurs and judges split up and went to the due diligence (interrogation) rooms. We went from room to room to meet each entrepreneur individually. A judge was assigned to each room to assess our performance. Some of the Q&A sessions went better than others, but in the end we felt we had done a great job. We had a pretty good feeling about which investment was the most appropriate. At 5:00 we joined the other teams for some GT tacos and then headed back to the hotel. That was a big mistake. We returned to discover that the internet in the hotel had crashed. We still needed to find our comparables! So, we headed back to the school and stayed there til about 11:00 PM, when we found out that the network had been restored at the hotel. We still hadn’t found anything good. When we got back to the hotel, we finally came up with some comps and then the real work started. We stayed up til 3:00 AM (and some til even later) working on valuation, term sheets, an executive summary, and a presentation. After three hours of sleep, I was up at 6:00 AM on Saturday to finish things up. Our deliverables were due at 10:00 AM and somehow we managed to get them in on time. We had another two hours to finish up our Powerpoint slides.

At noon, we headed over to the Georgia tech hotel where we had a great buffet lunch. I avoided the cola and sugar during lunch since we weren’t scheduled to present until 3:00. By 2:00 I was downing all the Coca Cola I could get my hands on and consumed a few cookies as well. By 3:00, I was bouncing off the walls, which was surprising considering how little sleep I had gotten. The presentation went well, but we did get hung up on a few questions. We were seventh in line, so we only had a chance to see UNC present after us. When they were done, everyone headed out to the hall while the judges deliberated. After they had made their decision, they came out and joined us for some snacks. Reg Greiner of Southeastern Capital Partners came over to talk to our team for a bit and we asked if he had guessed where we were from. He had narrowed it down to three and guessed Carnegie Mellon. We were quite happy to have concealed our identity so well, unlike some schools (I’m looking at you, Wharton). We then returned to the auditorium for the announcement of the winners. I was so thrilled when we were announced as the runner up. We received a plaque and a big novelty check for $2000. After the awards were handed out we had a round robin debrief session with the judges. There was plenty of beer to be had, and I made the mistake of having a single bottle of Heineken, which hit me hard since I was working with so little sleep.

We went out to celebrate and ended up at a great Asian seafood restaurant called Silk. I had a very nice piece of sea bass, but it was Tom who really went to town. The Alaskan king crab he ordered looked and tasted great (he was kind and shared a bite).

Getting up to go home on Sunday was painful. The time change didn’t help at all. However, it was all worthwhile. We had an amazing time. We met some great students from the other teams. Our hosts from Georgia tech put in so much hard work to make this event a success, and it showed. The entrepreneurs and judges were a source of inspiration. This was truly the highlight of my time as an MBA student, and I get to do it all again next month.

In conclusion, if you happen to have classes with Moshe, Shad, Skye, Tom, or me, please stop by and wish us luck. We’ll be going up against some of the top schools in the world next month, and we could really use your support.

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On our way

March 7th, 2007 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

I’m heading out in just a few hours for the competition.  I can’t wait.  Unlike the case competition last year, this really feels like the true test of what I have had to learn so far in business school.  The VCIC requires the team to exercise skills ranging from human capital management to marketing to finance to management of technology.

The past few weeks have been a blur.  Since we advanced to the next round, I have been working non-stop.  Between classwork, corporate sponsored project management training, and finishing the first phase of a development effort at work, I have not had time to think (or blog).

This week’s trip will be a stark contrast to last week’s.  My coworkers and I went to the Indiana University Cyclotron Facility to perform radiation testing on our hardware.  I was like a kid in a candy store – bright eyed and smiling non stop.  I was trained as a “radiation worker” and got the chance to use a Geiger counter for the first time in my life.

There’s no telling what the radiation did to me.  I grew up reading The Incredible Hulk comic book.  I have high hopes that the radiation exposure will give me superhuman mental abilities like the Leader – one of Hulk’s arch-nemeses.  So, if my skin turns green and my brain expands, Wharton, Darden, and all the rest better watch out!

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