Archive for February, 2011

IMPROVing Our Mindfulness: Speaking with Impact Workshop Part II

February 28th, 2011 by under Professional Development. No Comments.

Developing stage presence is an important part of communication, but we learned through practice that listening is the most fundamental part. Source: Stock.XChng

While I usually face public speaking with a degree of anxiousness and a bunch of butterflies with tattered wings limping around in my stomach, I left last Friday’s public speaking workshop feeling oddly relaxed.

Broadway actor Marc Kudisch, a three-time Tony Award nominee, 2007 Helen Hayes Award winner and 2011 nominee, and the brother of Smith’s very own Jeff Kudisch, led a workshop to help us to develop what he called “soft focus.”

IMPROVing Our Self-Expression through Mindfulness

Soft focus is the willful expansion of our awareness to include the whole environment and to be mindful of our own awareness.  In contrast to hard focus that drills in on a single point to the exclusion of all else, soft focus is a mentality and philosophy of using listening skills and relaxed attentiveness to take ownership of our presence and self-expression.

Even though the workshop title was about speaking, Marc began with listening – standing in a circle, opening our awareness to the people around us, learning how to move together, and then adding to the conversation.

We did other theatre exercises such as acting out funny scenarios (e.g. going on dinner dates with different people, but scheduled at the same time in the same restaurant) in which each sentence must begin with successive letters of the alphabet.  Whether taking a boat from NYC Times Square to the Met or a giving birth as a male, we had a lot fun and really loosened up.

To me, the most valuable part of the event was the relaxed, fun, and experimental atmosphere that allowed us to forget fear and be more playful with each other.  Other classmates said that the workshop “pushed me,” “got me out of my comfort zone” and “out of my skin,” and made me feel like I had the “ability to challenge the status quo.”

Here are some photos of the workshop.

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t try to be impressive.  BE PRESENT.
  • A heightened level of self awareness can make us better focused and improvisational.
  • Feeling comfortable in your skin and forgetting about fear brings out the creative, playful, and genuine in us.

Marc’s workshop was most helpful in teaching us what the sensation feels like of monitoring ourselves – not in a self-silencing way – but in a way that nurtures our presence and expression.

What Marc said reminded me a lot of Thich Nact Hahn’s concept of mindfulness.  Nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize, Thich Nact Hahn is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who teaches that “mindfulness is another kind of energy that is in us in the form of a seed.”

I think that this event led by the Office of Career Services and the Professional Communications Club was a great help to us nurture that seed.

Afterwards, I spoke with Jeff Kudisch, Director of Smith’s Office of Career Services, about the relevance of these exercises to our professional development and competitive advantage.


I Didn’t Anticipate Powerpoint Actually Being Fun: Speaking with Impact Workshop Part I

February 25th, 2011 by under Professional Development. No Comments.

Tyser Teaching Fellow Prof. Oliver Schlake. Source: Smith School

Early this evening, the Professional Communications Club and the Office of Career Services sponsored back to back workshops on improving powerpoint design and developing poise and speaking and listening skills.

I started the day with Oliver Schlake, Tyser Teaching Fellow and Professor of Management & Organization.  He definitely knew his audience well – knowing that powerpoint is already fairly soporific, he brought squeeze toys for us to release stress and boredom.

However, his presentation was pretty engaging and we learned a lot about framing and designing engaging powerpoint.  Prof. Schlake led by example and showed how to use visualizations to support speech in a powerpoint presentation.  He also shared many of his general insights:

Observations and Implications

  • People tend to trust text over speech for relevance so the audience often feels the presenter gets in the way of reading the powerpoint.
    • BUT THIS MISSES THE POINT!  The presenter should always be the center of attention, so minimize the powerpoint text and focus on images that meaningfully convey the main idea through metaphor.  You can have a few words of text complementing each image
  • The more interesting your transitions, the more boring you probably are as a presenter
    • Keep your transition cues simple so that the audience quickly brings their attention back to the presenter
  • The best presenters know their slides cold
    • SO PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, especially if you do you mostly visual cues
  • Putting lots of text in a powerpoint is like writing an essay in a spreadsheet 
    • If it’s useful when it’s printed, IT SUCKS AS A SLIDE!

General Takeaways and Tips

  • Maximize impact using visual cues (this does not mean tacky animations!)
  • Minimize distraction by dimming out all other points/pictures besides the one you want to talk about.
    • Place a semi transparent shape object in front of what you want to show and use fade-in and fade-out animations to reveal and block the text behind the object
  • Keep your transition cues simple so that the audience quickly brings their attention back to the presenter
  • Instead of using bullet points or number points, create unique numbers using colored and outlined shape boxes with numbers as the interior text
  • Have a fake question prepared at the end of your presentation if no one has any questions at the end.  You can say that “this is a question that comes up a lot.”  It give people time to think about a question of their own.
  • Don’t use cheezy animation clip art
  • Get some quality photos at
    • Prof. Schloke actually has a collection of 55,000 pics, including paid clip art and images from news articles organized by metaphorical meaning
  • Try using transitions that maintain the same heading without changing the entire slide
    • Use the “Motion Path” animation to move a shape object filled with image/text on and off the slide
  • Don’t commit to sharing the powerpoint with everyone
    • At the end, tell people that if they want to have a copy of the presentation to come up and give you their info/business cards afterwards.  Then, only the people who are really interested will approach you, you don’t have to waste time emailing to everyone, and you now have contact information to follow up for your own professional purposes

The day was getting intersting….next was the IMPROVing Your Speech workshop, led by award winning actor Marc Kudisch.


Smith MBA Wins Sony Case Competition!

February 23rd, 2011 by under Articles for the Smith School. No Comments.

Congratulations to Lakshmi Sankar for winning the Sony Case Competition in which students deals with real Sony business issues!

Read my article about her success and career on the Smith website!


Team McQuench Clinches the Consulting Club Competition or: Why Analyzing the Contribution Margin is Awesome!

February 21st, 2011 by under Accounting, Consulting, Data Modeling and Decision Making, Economics, Finance, Information Technology, Leadership and Managing Human Capital, Marketing. No Comments.

Team McQuench with Consulting Club Board Members and the Judges Panel. From Left: Fatih Koca, MBA '12; Richard Keith, Smith MBA Alumnus and Manager, PWC; Harinii Raghavan, MBA '12; Marc Mancher, Principal, Deloitte Consulting; Goutham Budati, MBA '12; Hugh Courtney, Dean and Professor, Smith School; Stephen Huie, MBA '12; Cara Weikel, MBA '12; Kevin Herke, MBA '11. Source: Yohsuke Ikebuchi

Last Friday, I participated in the Smith MBA Consulting Club’s first ever Consulting Case Competition…….and my teammates and I won! 

Teams competed to make recommendations on a hypothetical case: McDonalds wants to increase its profitability by introducing its own brand of cola. 

My classmates, Harinii and Goutham, and I formed Team McQuench and we utilized all the skills and domain knowledge we’ve gained from our first 1.4 semesters at Smith: 

  • How to analyze the industry structures of quick service restaurants (QSRs) and the soda industry (a la Porter’s Five Forces – thank you MicroEcon and Prof. Sampson);
  • Knowledge of the soda concentrate and bottling industry (thanks again to MicroEcon and the Cola Wars case);
  • We were able to quickly read through multiple financial statements in order to gather data on comparable companies so that we could build our financial model (thanks to Financial Accounting and Prof. Hann);
  • Analysis of the contribution margin led to an absolutely critical insight (thanks to Managerial Accounting and Prof. Cheng);
  • The Capital Asset Pricing Model and Discounted Cash Flow Analysis gave us the tools to find our proposed project’s opportunity cost of capital and calculate the net present value of the project (thanks to Financial Management and Prof. Faulkender);
  • We optimized our model and conducted sensitivity analyses using what-if analyses and data tables (thanks to Data Modeling and Decision Making and Prof. Lele);
  • We also adopted an options philosophy to our decision making.  We wanted to use a full Options Pricing Model, but we haven’t truly learned it yet and wouldn’t be able to defend it well enough in front of judges (regardless, thanks to Strategic IT and Prof. Gopal for introducing it to us);
  • Our focus on building core competitive advantage was also key: product leadership; cost efficiency; or customer intimacy (thanks to Marketing Management and Strategic IT and Profs. Godes and Gopal, respectively);
  • Thinking about the channel design, product, and pricing also helped us narrow down to our target segment (thanks to Marketing Management’s Prof. Godes);
  • Searching for Blue Ocean opportunities also helped us to figure out how we could create new markets and establish durable competitive advantage before new entrants gain steam (thanks to our Entrepreneurship class and Prof. Hallen);
  • Studying consumer behavior and experimentation gave us a better understanding of a study McDonald’s did in the 2000s which revealed that a significant number of customers would buy food at McD’s but leave to get their drinks elsewhere, resulting in lost sales (thanks to Consumer Behavior and Prof. Ratner);
  • Traveling to India and learning from Indian business people provided insight into consumer markets in rapidly growing economies, which we turned into region specific proposals (thanks to the India Global Study Trip and Prof. Mithas);
  • We learned how to work well as a team and use influence tactics to improve our presentation (thanks to Leadership and Human Capital Management and Profs. Chen and Kudisch);
  • Gaining previous experience in the Venture Capital Investment Competition was also helpful for calming my nerves about the process, although they were very different (thanks to my Drunken Tiger teammates Cara, Eric, Femi, and Jessica).

I can’t believe we’ve learned all that in less than a year of the Smith MBA program.

I’m sure there’s much more we’ve learned that is so deeply embedded (or so I hope) that it is hard to distinguish it; I can’t wait to learn more!……really……..I can’t, because time moves forward even though I should be doing an assignment due tomorrow (actually today – it’s already morning)…..

Anyways, my point is that:

At Smith, we not only learn about business, we learn to apply business. 

Post Script: Why Analyzing the Contribution Margin is Awesome!

Team McQuench! Source: Goutham Budati

Did you think I was going to lead you hanging without telling you our proposal?  Here’s the rub of it: 

We ruled out kicking out Cola Cola and competing head to head for qualitative strategic regions: might be seen as inferior; lack of sales; need buy in from franchisees; ruin negotiating power for other beverages; etc. 

Instead, let’s look across product categories…… 

At the retail sales level, fountain drinks generally have higher profitability than bottled drinks (90% vs. 65%, respectively).  However, if you look at mainstream fountain soda vs. premium bottled soda (e.g. Jones, Reeds, Izze), which charges more per oz than mainstream fountain soda, you get a much higher margin in absolute amounts: $0.05 vs. $0.08, respectively.  This analysis of the contribution margin allows us to recognize that introducing a premium bottled product will be profitable at the gross margin even with the cannibalization of losing fountain sales! 

An industry analysis of the premium category showed that most firms are in need of capital and stable revenue to rebuild their core brands in the aftermath of the 2007 crash, so we thought a joint venture to produce a premium co-branded bottled cola (e.g. McQuench Soda by Jones) might do well. 

We constructed a DCF model based on soda sales info and operating information from the publicly traded premium bottlers.  The NPV was positive, but extremely sensitive to initial sales and operating expenditures so we recommended NO GO and provided a couple of other options to consider for future exploration.


Incredible India Part XIX: Reflection Video

February 12th, 2011 by under Incredible India. No Comments.


The Asian MBA Association hosted an ettiquite night to go over professional business manners earlier this week.  They also played interviews of my classmates and me talking about our business competition and study experiences in China and India, respectively (I wish I could embed the youtube clip, but WordPress won’t let me!!).

I can’t believe it’s already been 22 days since!!!


MBA Semester 2: Back at It

February 7th, 2011 by under Reflections. No Comments.

I’ve been back at school for two weeks now and it feels good.  For one thing, the work load feels a lot more manageable.

By a river in Goa, Salcette Taluka. Source: Stephen Huie

Jumping in one day after returning from my India trip was quite difficult, but I’m over it now.

This semester, I’m taking a class (Consumer Behavior) at Smith’s Washington DC campus.  Even though I live (although I rarely end up sleeping) in DC, I never get to walk around and explore it.  My house isn’t by a metro, so I drive in – except for a few restaurants, I really don’t know DC that well.

Luckily, there’s one bus outside my house that takes me straight down to our campus at the Reagan building.  At least now I can get a feel for the city I pay my car registration fees to.

We happened to drive by Cadbury's offices in Mumbai. Source: Stephen Huie

In other news, I confirmed my summer internship with Kraft Foods in their Consumer Insights and Strategy Group.  I’ll be working in their Glenview, IL office this summer.  I’m especially excited about it because the India trip also gave me a lot to reflect upon vis-a-vis how people shop.  (Coincidentally, this is also an important time for Kraft in India.  After acquiring Cadbury last year, it is now preparing to (re)enter the Indian market with Kraft products – I’ll write more on this later).

I also need to brush up on my Mandarin Chinese because this semester I’ll be working with a group of MBA students from different universities on a consulting project in China through the CIBER program.  Unfortunately, this means I have to leave school early and take my finals early…..shouldn’t I be studying right now?…