Memories from International Night

February 28th, 2010 by under Events, General. No Comments.

The International Week culminated with the International Night and Food Festival on February 25. However, the sights, sounds, and savors from the event still seem to linger around and tend to take me back repeatedly to the awesome night.

There was food from more than 12 countries and the passport-the ticket to the gala event, allowed the holder to visit the stall and absorb the offerings from 6 countries. Each table had a unique character, not just in terms of the food and setup but also for the students staffing the table, students who adorned their traditional attires, putting up their best to ensure that the guests left with sweet memories and came back for more.

A fashion show followed the wining and dining. Students from all parts of the globe displayed their traditional ethnic attires, bringing in some element of fun at times, keeping the audience on their toes. The star-attraction of the fashion show was a super cute and adorable little girl, daughter of Tetsuya Morito-second year MBA, wearing a kimono!

Some awesome dance and song performances followed, the audience clapping and clamoring for more. Suddenly, a short-bald Asian man in his shorts and wearing boxing gloves climbed up the stage. He introduced himself as a master of Muay Thai – Thai Kick Boxing. He choreographed some scenes from the fight with help from his students. In addition, he allowed some volunteers from the audience to come on stage and try their hand (legs actually) while he held the protective cushion. The winner was the 5-year-old son of Feras Hameedadd-a first year MBA, who got the master on his knees with just one kick!

The grand finale of the event was the Chinese Lion Dance that heightened the tempo of the place and Van Munching Hall was echoing with the beats of drums, the audience adding on to the excitement by their non-stop clapping and shouting.

The evening was truly a journey across cultures. In that brief period, the atrium of the Van Munching Hall was no less than an absolute representation of the globe, with people from every corner, however remote it may be, coming together under a common roof, demonstrating their pride and yet humbly sharing their values with the entire community. I believe that evening will always remind me of these two wonderful years at school and will remain an important milestone in my journey of life.

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International Week – 2010

February 23rd, 2010 by under Events. No Comments.

Diversity lends itself in various forms – ethnicity, religion, culture, language, age, culture, work-experience, background, etc., and I now firmly believe that a B-School is the place where it all comes together, a place where you can experience it in the most concentrated form. I cannot think of any other place other than a B School that can bring together people from such diverse backgrounds, all under one roof, and provide a crash course in understanding most, if not all, of the various forms in which diversity prevails.

With global trade and free flow of goods and services across international frontiers being the norm, comes the need to be able to understand and appreciate the nuances of working with the people from different countries and conducting businesses in those countries. Additionally, this knowledge provides the invaluable opportunity to learn from the perspectives that such differences offer and to lead life in a better way.

The University of Maryland is recognized for and ranks high in the diversity of the students and the Smith school has led the way in maintaining a healthy ratio of international students to make the MBA experience more valuable for the entire class. The various student clubs such as the International Club, the Asian MBA Association, offer such platforms where students from various countries come together to share and learn, outside of the class. This interaction further cements the long lasting ties that form naturally in school, regardless of the nationality, native language or customs and beliefs.

This week, the International MBA Association in collaboration with the Asian MBA Association are organizing the International Week, an annual event, where participants get a sneak-peek into the life of people from different cultures through an immersive experience over a period of 3 days. Starting today, the attendees of the event will be able to embark on a journey that offers insights into the etiquette, economics, and entrées of many of the countries that form an integral part of the community at Smith.

This year’s International week, organized with support from the Center for Business Education and Research (CIBER) at the Smith school, consists of an International Etiquette Night, an Economic Forum Night and an International Night and Food Festival.

On February 23, participants will be able to engage in an interactive and informative fun event where they will learn the nuances of some of the cultures, such as the proper way to hold a chopstick or how to drink with Korean executives. On February 24, Professor Carmen M. Reinhart, professor of Economics and Director of the Center for International Economics, and Professor Gurdip Bakshi, Dean’s Professor of Finance and a Fellow of the FDIC Center for Financial Research who was awarded a competitive grant to study recovery under default, will offer insights on the emerging market economies.

The third and final day of the event, promises to be the most attractive and fun filled, with the students showing off the traditional dresses from their country on the ramp, displaying their talents while the audience indulges in the food from the various countries. This year’s event will also witness performances by professional Chinese Lion dancers and see the Muay Thai – Thai Kick Boxing, live on stage.

International Week - 2010

Well, I think I have written a lot about the event, and I should go and get ready for the 3-day journey across cultures, languages, and international boundaries, all under one roof. I am excited and really look forward to the three nights of non-stop fun, action and pure indulgence. Will keep you all posted!

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A second "mini" winter break!

February 14th, 2010 by under General. No Comments.

Blame it on the global climate change or whatever but the weather on the east coast has recently been acting crazy. There have been two major snowstorms within a week, and life has come to a standstill, literally. Thanks to the more than 55 inches of record-breaking snow the state has witnessed, the houses have seen their residents cuddling up in front of television sets for every single day for the past more than one week.

The state of Maryland has witnessed the highest snow in its history. The storm warnings left the people running for stocking supplies and many of the major stores such as Costco, Giant, and Safeway, all ran out of the necessary commodities such as milk and bread, the day before the storm was to hit the state. People got restless and tempers soared at some places.  The storm in way managed to wreak havoc both outside, weather and traffic wise and inside, peace wise.

The more than three feet of snow left thousands without power and heat for hours, and some even for days. The governor had declared a state emergency. The conditions were so bad that even the vehicles clearing up the major roads and highways were called off for the driver’s safety.

That I love snow is one thing, but being snowed in for days at a stretch without being able to even go out is something I am not very fond of.  Each day I waited for information on the status of the school for the next day, and ended up receiving the same news. The school ended up being closed for the entire week, making it a second mini winter break for us.

Initially, I felt very good about the school being closed, but then being inside the house, for so many days was getting on my nerves. There was a lot that I could have done, given that there was no school, yet I felt so lazy that I ended up doing nothing. I did go out to play in the snow, but the excitement died out soon. All I did over the week were sleep, eat, watch movies and sleep some more.

Now that the storm has passed, and the sun has come out, I am really looking forward to attending school this coming Monday. We will have to make up for the classes that were canceled over the past week, given the extreme conditions, by going to school over the next few weekends. However, having stayed at home over the forced second break, I will be happy to go to school, which as such will soon get over and I will be left with precious memories of all that I did and all that happened to me over these two awesome years.

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The final countdown

January 29th, 2010 by under General. No Comments.

The countdown has finally begun. I am now in the final semester of my MBA, and with graduation just few months away, I believe I have more than enough on my plate to keep me busy.

Going back home, to India, for the winter break after almost one and a half years was truly rejuvenating and gave me the much needed break from the hustle-bustle of grad school. Now that I am back, and in the second week of school already, I need to push myself to get back on my feet and focus on the important things – finding a job for instance. The economy may have shown some signs of improvement, but the recruitment scenario for MBA’s has not changed a lot. Still, I am hoping for some action over this semester, as things are better than how they were the last year.

I have just nine credits left for this semester to fulfill the 54-credit requirement for an MBA. Therefore, the workload should not be as much as in the previous terms, allowing me to allocate more time to my job search. The courses I have taken up this term look promising and the first few classes I have attended have all been awesome. In addition to the core course, the Business Plan competition, I have taken up Pricing and Revenue Management and Market Forecasting. Both of these courses are statistical, and quantitative, and the way they are structured, they would provide me some good hands on knowledge of applying the concepts to real world business problems. As such, I like DOING things, rather than just READING about them, so I am sure I would have gained some valuable skills and insights by the end of these 2-credit courses.

I think I should get back to the readings due for the next class, before I head out to hang out with my friends whom I hardly get to see now, thanks to the different electives we all have. Untill next time. Ciao!!

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The Finals for the Global Operations Conference : Case Competition at Univ. of Michigan – Ross

November 17th, 2009 by under Events, General. No Comments.

The Global Operations Conference at the University of Michigan was an amazing experience. It was my first case competition, and here we were at the finals, competing with some of the biggest names and with their best teams. It was also my first visit to Michigan Ross, and I was very excited about visiting it, and maybe going around the town a bit, if time permit.

As this event was not initially on the list of events for the Supply Chain and Operations Club, there was no budget allocated for it. However, the president of the club, Rajorshi Chakroborty supported the team and requested the department to sponsor our trip. We managed to get the air-tickets sponsored while we had to cover other expenses such as stay, local travel, and food on our own, which was still not bad a deal.

We had some exams and assignments due that week, but guess it will always be the case in a B-school, and we cannot expect to get enough of free time for other things. We submitted our final recommendations, which were more in line with what the questions wanted us to answer, and directed at a particular strategy, instead of being open ended as in the first round.

We reached Michigan on the evening of November 5, and confirmed the logistics for the event with the coordinator Carlos Carrazza, MBA 2010 from the Ross school, who was very helpful and responsive all this time. We also went around the town at night, as our team member, Chia Chia, having done her undergrad from Univ. of Michigan was familiar with the place.

The operations conference on the November 6 had some awesome speakers consisting of top-notch faculty and researchers lined up, the keynote speaker being Hau L. Lee, Director of Global Supply Chain Management Forum from the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. There were some industry speakers from companies such as Autodesk Inc., Xerox, Eaton etc. as well. The sponsors for the event included Cisco, Infosys, Accenture, CPP Global, Eaton and BorgWarner. ( For more details about the event visit link Global Operations Conference )

We presented our case in front of the three judges – Andrew (Andy) Chien, President & Managing Director at Ricardo Strategic Consulting (MBA Ross School), Dan Hearsch, Manager at Ricardo Strategic Consulting (MBA Ross School), and Marc Wiseman, VP Third Planet Windpower. The judges tried to simulate the conditions, which a consultant typically faces with the clients, and thus the whole experience for us became even more valuable. Their feedback at the end of our presentation helped us even more in understanding what they were looking for and things we should focus on, going forward.

During lunch, we got the opportunity to interact with some of the industry representatives, especially with some executives from Alcoa seated at our table. The awards for the case competition were presented during lunch. Teams from the University of Michigan, Ross School claimed the first two spots and the team from Maryland -our team from the Smith School, came in second runners-up. There was no prize for the winners as such but yes the glory and pride we felt, having figured amongst the winners, was no less valuable. In addition, I was able to make some new friends. It was indeed, an experience of a lifetime.

Our team at the awards presentation ceremony - Neil Vora, Siddhartha Jain, Chia-Chia Chang, Venkata Srivatsa Kumar Sarvepalli ( L-R standing )

Our team at the awards presentation ceremony - Neil Vora, Siddhartha Jain, Chia-Chia Chang, Venkata Srivatsa Kumar Sarvepalli ( L-R standing )

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Global Operations Conference : Case Competition at Univ. of Michigan – Ross

November 4th, 2009 by under Events, General. No Comments.

With globalization reaching unprecedented levels, organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to compete in the highly interconnected and interdependent international markets.  Traditional enterprise boundaries have gone into oblivion leading to loosely connected and networked, service oriented structures formed by organizations spread across the globe. Thus, the management of such symbiotic systems has become very complex and crucial for success.  The economic downturn has further highlighted the fact that many of the firms have been able to weather the storm because of their robust business models backed by efficient operations and supply chain strategies. There has been a huge focus on enhancing efficiency and optimizing organizational processes to allow firms to stay in business, profitably.

Given the increased importance, there has been a surge in the investments by organizations for enhancing their value chains leading to an upswing in the demand for professionals with skills in this domain and many of the MBA’s are starting to look at opportunities in this industry. The supply chain and operations club at the Smith School, one of the more active clubs at the school, in collaboration with the Supply Chain and Logistics department, provides students access to resources that help them in developing competence and building knowledge in this domain, beyond the coursework.

Recently, the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at the University of Michigan, supported by the Ross School of Business, College of Engineering, and the Operations Management Club, organized the Global Operations Conference 2009 focused on redefining operations and strategies for future success. In addition to the formal conference program, Ricardo Strategic Consulting sponsored a rigorous two-round student case competition. The Supply Chain Management and Operations Club at the Smith School invited nominations from the MBA students to represent the school at this conference in Michigan.

I always wanted to participate in case competitions, but somehow had not been able to find time for it, or probably I had just been too lazy. Operations and Supply chain is not my forte, but I convinced myself to take up this challenge. I sent in my nomination and was able to not only get a spot, but was also made the coordinator for the team. My team consisted of Neil Vora, Chia-Chia Chang and myself, from the second year and Srivatsa Sarvepalli, from the first year.

We got the case the next day and had a week to send in the recommendations on 10 power-point slides. The case was about a fictitious wind turbine component manufacturer that was facing some problems in the business – low profitability, high manufacturing costs, lower than expected growth, high defect-rate and warranty costs etc., and the board wanted to know whether the firm should become be an OEM, and if not, what direction it should adopt.

Our schedule that week, like in most other weeks, was hectic. We had our mid-terms and some finals that very same week. Thus, it was difficult to meet and spend a lot of time working on this; still the team met a couple of times and prepared the recommendations. We were not strongly convinced on our recommendations, especially because the recommendations were tough, and not in line with what the board of the company would have liked. With some last minute touches to the slides, we submitted our slides and forgot about the whole thing.

A week later, we received an email from the organizers, and it was not a “Thanks for participating” note, as we had anticipated, but a congratulatory note announcing that we made it to the final round, and the details for which would follow. Out of sheer curiosity, and excitement, I inquired about the teams that had participated in the event, and the number qualifying for the final round. We found that 28 teams had participated in the event, including the ones from schools like Northwestern Kellogg, NYU Stern, UCLA Anderson, in addition to the 15 teams from University of Michigan Ross School of Business. The five finalists were two teams from Ross, a team from MIT Sloan, one from Chicago Booth, and one – ours, from the Smith School.

I am glad we made it to the finals, as this in itself is very gratifying, for we beat some teams from very good schools. Now, we need to work on the second part of the case, and present the recommendations at the event in front of the board on November 6, 2009.

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Job search and placements 2009

October 26th, 2009 by under General. No Comments.

It is almost the end of the third semester and I am nearing the end of my MBA. Studies have been taking away most of my time but just like my classmates, I’ve been juggling around trying to keep up with the work, the job search and spending some time with friends.

I have been spending considerable time on searching and applying for jobs but the interviews have been hard to come by.  Recruitment seems to have come to a standstill, and the news of the unemployment figures has been even more depressing. The stock markets are still volatile and even though some of the financial figures reported by some companies sound rosy, with many firms posting profits for the first time since the recession began, some people still believe that the worst is not yet over, not yet.

There have not been many companies on campus this year. Most of the students are still struggling to get their first interview call. The worst part is that it is the same across campuses in the U.S.  I have visited 3 career fairs this fall – the Asian MBA conference in New York, the Black MBA conference in New Orleans, Louisiana and the Hispanic MBA conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The situation at all the fairs was not very encouraging, although the Black MBA conference saw the most companies putting up stalls at the fair. However, most of the employers did not have a clear picture about the recruiting this year and wanted us to check on their websites sometime in January. Yeah, that is a big relief.  Anyways, I did make some good friends at these fairs and got to see some places that I may not have otherwise visited. I also had some good conversations with some of the recruiters. It has been a good experience overall.

Recently, the Office of Career Services released the recruitment statistics on the MBA class of 2009, and I was a bit surprised, especially because it did not look as grim as I thought it would be. BusinessWeek too recently published some statistics on best and worst MBA recruitments across the schools in the U.S. I was amazed to find that our school figured amongst the schools with relatively higher employment figures after 3 months of graduation.

The complete list can be found here – “Business Schools: Best & Worst MBA Job Placement

At number 6, the Smith School of Business had around 13% of the students without a job offer 3 months post graduation with a median starting salary of $85,000. The median salary was lower as compared to the other schools in the list, but that was in line with the historical figures for our school. So, I believe, our school did pretty well, given the dismal economic  conditions.

I would have expected lower figures but guess things may have improved a bit. There has not been much change in the economy as such; still the markets seem to be improving. Employment typically lags the stock markets, so I am hoping that the job markets will improve too. I am starting to get worried, but am hoping that things will improve in Spring ’10. Fingers crossed!

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Diwali celebrations & the end of term

October 19th, 2009 by under Events. No Comments.

The school has been in full swing for around 2 months now and it feels as if the work load has been continuously increasing by every passing day. Last week the first term of the semester concluded, which was good in some ways as some courses would end, but it also meant final exams for some courses, mid semester exams for others and reviews and submissions of group projects that we had been procrastinating working on up until now when they were due.

I used to think that the second year of my MBA would be less challenging and would give me more time to engage in activities outside academics, and not to mention get the full 10 hours of sleep I was accustomed to before coming for the MBA. Well, I do agree that there is much less to read in the second year compared to first year, but somehow there is so much more to do now. It feels like you are always working on some assignment, group project or participating in some activity, and you’ve ended up with actually lesser time than in first year.

Anyways, so all this was supposed to end, at least temporarily, with the end of the term. The first years too had been going through their high, with all the mid-terms and finals in the same week. A break was what we all needed. Thankfully, it was Diwali – the Indian festival of lights, and the International MBA Club organized an event to celebrate it. The event was organized on Thursday, right after the day the exams ended for most people. The atrium where the event was organized was filled with the smell of incense sticks and awesome Indian food, and decorated with the traditional “diyas” and fancy “dupattas”. There was a happy hour, with hits from Bollywood playing in the background, followed by some song and dance performances.

One dance performance to the tune of Slumdog Millionaire’s – Jai Ho, was especially amazing, because except for one, all other performers were non Indians who adorned traditional Indian attire and put up an extraordinary show. Building up on the tempo from the performances, the audience jumped in and formed a group and tried some Indian dance moves, with a lead guiding them to the tune of the latest Hindi pop songs.

Dance Performance to the tune of Jai ho from Slumdog Millionaire

Dance Performance to the tune of Jai ho from Slumdog Millionaire

The audience jumping in to learn the moves

The audience jumping in to learn the moves

It really is amazing to see how an event can bring together people from such diverse cultures and backgrounds and make them participate and enjoy the sounds and sights of another culture. The energy and fun everyone had was visible in the way people were just doing their own thing even in smaller groups and all over the place, just relieving themselves of the pressure that had built up over the past few weeks. This sure was a perfect ending to a term before we move on to the next, starting today!!!

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Exploring the value of interdisciplinary courses

October 3rd, 2009 by under On MBA courses. No Comments.

The second year of my MBA has brought about a tremendous change, not just in my thought process or the perspectives I have developed but also in the dimensions along which I think about issues. During the first year, we focused on developing the core business knowledge and skills, learning about the major components and functions of business, in addition to developing competencies in some of the tools and frameworks that are applicable across businesses. The second year on the other hand, has been more experiential and more application oriented, with an increased focus on understanding and actually working on problems across functional domains.

Most of the courses in the MBA programs across schools focus on the economic aspects, primarily because the sole motivation of businesses is to generate profits and create value for the stakeholders. For the most part, MBAs work on cases and solve problems to allow businesses to strengthen the bottom line of a company. However, there has been an increased focus on teaching ethics and social responsibility to business students, especially because recent events have shown that leaders have not being paying much heed to being responsible towards the society while fulfilling their fiduciary duty towards the investors.

The ethics course in the first year had exposed us to the idea of thinking about business problems across three dimensions – Economic, Ethical and Legal. The course provided us frameworks that could guide us in taking decisions, making us cognizant of the ethical aspects of engaging in businesses and the value of acting responsibly, especially when the conditions are tough and the stakes are high.

This year, I came across another unique course, which offers tremendous insights and from an entirely new perspective. This interdisciplinary course, titled Technology Law Seminar, has graduate engineering students, MBA students and undergraduate students in their fourth year. The course introduces students to legal issues commonly faced by management in a technology company, exploring various topics relating to intellectual property, with an emphasis on patent law and trade secrets. The cross-disciplinary nature and the value of the course is amplified by the very participation of students from different backgrounds – business, engineering and others.

Through reading assignments, and case discussions we are developing a general understanding of intellectual property and other areas of technology law, and feel challenged to develop strategies for both identifying and solving problems that intertwine issues concerning technology, business management, and law.

Having spent a year with people who come from different backgrounds and are very ambitious and business oriented, I find this class especially insightful, for the value it provides, both in terms of the content and the nature of the perspectives that students share in class discussions, and also the integration of the legal perspectives associated with conducting businesses.

I believe that more of such “truly” cross-disciplinary integrative classes should be incorporated in the curriculum of an MBA program, especially because such classes provide the platform to engage with people with different motivations and value sets. In addition, such courses enable you to be a better leader, a leader whose actions are motivated not just by economic profits, but are also guided by the ethical and legal implications of their actions on the society, thus allowing for the creation of  value in a responsible way.

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Leveraging assessment tools and personality tests

September 15th, 2009 by under General, On MBA courses. No Comments.

My MBA experience has been an eye opened in many ways. Set aside the learning, I have come to meet many people from different cultures and backgrounds, and have gained some insights about the way  some people think and act and how best to work with them in a team or in general as well. In addition, I have been able to understand myself better, about how I work best, what motivates me, what are my strengths, and my personality type.

This has largely been possible because of the plethora of assessment tools and tests I have taken over the past year. Through some of the classes I took, and otherwise as well, I got an opportunity to asses myself on various fronts – personality type, motivation drivers, behavior, characteristics, strengths and what not.

I first came to know about the value of such assessment tools in the first year in the Leadership and Managing Human Capital class, which touched upon the various personality types and how to work with them effectively in a team. We also discussed the advantages/disadvantages of leveraging such tools for recruitment, team building, appraisals etc.

The Myers Brigs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) is one such tool that I liked a lot, especially because it provided me insights about how I perceive the world and make decisions, and this helped me understand what kind of tasks/roles/environments I would be comfortable and effective in. I feel that this kind of an assessment can help one understand and better prepare for the career one is looking forward to, and thus provides another opportunity for reflection and introspection. Recently, I gave the MBTI again, this time as an optional exercise for the Negotiations class. Prof. Russell gave us the professional version of the test, which gave me inputs on my attitude, psychological functions, life-style, along with a detailed explanation of my type and outlined things I do better, my motivation and drivers.

Another assessment that I took as part of the Negotiations class recently is the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), which is a motivational assessment tool.  Compared with a behavioral assessment tool, SDI is a great tool for understanding one’s own behavior and identifying the values and motivations for that behavior, and it allows us to involve our friends and families and understand how they perceive us. This input is invaluable as self-assessment may be biased, as we perceive ourselves in some way, but people may take our actions and behavior differently. This tool allows us to understand what motivates people and what values drive their actions, so that we are sensitive to their needs and behavior, and thus are better able to manage conflict or communicate effectively.

The other assessment I took recently was the DISC, which is an acronym for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. This assessment examines the behavior of individuals in their environment or in a specific situation, thus allowing us to be aware of and leverage the characteristics of the various personality styles. I took this assessment for the Integration and Teamwork class, which is a core class in the second year and it helps bring together all the aspects and functions of business and allows the students to leverage the knowledge and skills, working in a team, to solve a cross-functional business problem. The tool was used for the class to identify the characteristics of individuals and the results were used to not only form diverse teams to work on different real-life projects but also to make us aware of the characteristics of the other individuals and how to leverage the skills they bring to the table.

Over the summer, while working at the Office of Marketing Communications, I got the opportunity to take the Strengths Finder 2.0, an online assessment developed by Gallup Consulting based on extensive research and the underlying philosophy that individuals should focus on leveraging their strengths and not worry too much on their weaknesses. I think that the concept is interesting, especially because it contradicts some of the ideas we had discussed in the Leadership class and I personally felt were correct.  I always thought that I should work on my weaknesses, as my strengths are anyways well, my strengths, and the weakness are the ones that can potentially hold me from doing something I want to do. However, the idea to focus on strengths makes sense, as it does not ask one to lose focus of her weaknesses, and in fact encourages working on the weakness to get it to a level that it no longer is a weakness. At the same time the philosophy encourages that you not spend too much time on improving on your weakness, as spending half the time on further developing your strengths would yield much higher returns.

I believe I have taken many assessment tests over this past year and that the experience of learning about myself, understanding the implications of my characteristics , values and personality type, has been equally, if not more, insightful as has been learning about other people and cultures. In fact, I feel that self-discovery has been one of the biggest value-add of coming back to school, and more so because I have especially taken time off from work to introspect and develop myself for new challenges, opportunities, a new environment and a more meaningful life.

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