Friday, July 18, 2008

On leaving the real world on a high note……

As I shift gears into a student lifestyle, going from being intensely goal-focused to being slightly more activity-focused, I’ve been quizzing my MBA friends about how to order from the a la carte menu that is b-school life. The consensus is that it’s not what you choose to do in b-school, but what you choose not to do. I want to have my cake and eat it too, from a personal growth and professional standpoint, and I don’t want to forego an ounce of fun. So I’m structuring my MO around heavily sampling and filtering in the first few weeks of school.

I hope the more-than-the-norm-pre-MBA years in consulting have given me a different perspective on the learning process, making it more efficient. I’m certainly looking forward to outside-the-classroom-learning, having best learned in the past from colleagues and mentors, by reading (case-studies, the Journal, HBR, McK Quarterly, Welch, Kotter, Kottler, Porter, Maister) and by doing things, stepping back to examine the outcome, and asking for feedback. LBS should be a continuation of this with student clubs and conferences, the internship, the second year project and most importantly the amazing diversity of the student body (industries, countries and perspectives on the solution).

I’m also looking forward to not waking up in a different bed every morning (your mind is in the gutter, isn’t it?) that’s inevitable in consulting. This week was a classic example - three days in sweltering Phoenix, one in beautiful and surprisingly tipple-friendly Salt Lake City and one in NYC. I remember a two week period where I was in seven different cities spanning both coasts, not including Boston where I live. I joke about how I spend the first five minutes of consciousness every morning figuring out which city I am in and if I’m late for a conference call in a different time zone. However, in spite of this I probably spend less time commuting overall, than some of my friends who have a two-hour round-trip commute to work every day.

I’m also mapping my exit strategy from school - whether to return to consulting or head the i-banking route, my long-term goal being Private Equity (in that I am so very unique). I LOVE consulting, travel notwithstanding! It’s been the most intellectually stimulating and rewarding experience I’ve had (including school) and the people I’ve met (colleagues and most clients, heh!) were fantastic. You can’t rest on the laurels of a previous engagement and BS does not fly for long – someone eventually calls you out on it. The action is fantastic and the variety of work helps. One does need to have the right temperament, and a mild case of ADD helps.

When I revealed my B-school plans to the partners I work for, I couldn’t have been more surprised. Their counter offer was simply fantastic – a staffing in Toronto to help launch the consulting practice’s Canadian office, a promotion (I’m currently an engagement manager) and the numbers thrown out were very alluring. However, they encouraged me to attend LBS, extending the timeline on their offer, should I chose to return. They also offered to plug me into their professional networks, which include some PE contacts. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to my consulting days.

My NYC trip was mostly to visit the Indian consulate and transfer Power of Attorney to my parents. I was reminded of the 20 years I spent in India. There were the usual annoyances at the consulate – people milling around without necessarily going anywhere or cutting in line, talking loudly on mobiles, kids bouncing in their strollers by themselves (and when I say bouncing I mean a full two to three feet in the air, think trampoline) and kids who, while otherwise perfectly able to say entire sentences, would unexpectedly break out into prattle-spells of gibberish. The environs are also classic India – the consular services office is a subterranean cave, with peeling paint and linoleum, service counters that have either no signs or really confusing signs and several plaques that beseech visitors to keep the area clean – except there is no sign of a trash can. There was also the usual "sepoy" at the main entrance who gave bamboozling directions (remember Life of Pi), which at times were exactly opposite to what the annoyed lady behind the counter wanted you to do. In the moment it was all very droll and amusing, until I was chided by the annoyed lady for having missed a shaded nuance of transferring Power of Attorney.

So today for the first time in many years I was a bewildered adult. I struggled to follow simple directions, felt silly for asking clarifying questions at the counter marked ‘Information’, stood in the wrong line and then hustled at the last minute to get extra photocopies and passport photos - the consulate website being inadequate at best in describing process (…. the whine you hear is my dentist drilling my molars).

At times I wonder to myself why I’m such a control freak and do everything I can to mitigate risk. I uncovered the answer to this today while alternately waiting and hustling at the consulate. It is the years of living in India under Murphy’s Law! In the India I remember, everything that can go wrong does indeed and then some! So Indians like me who left the country a decade ago tend to have developed an acute internal what-could-go-wrong thought process which factors in the most insignificant of possible risks, weighting them almost equally with the most probable of risks. It’s a regression analysis worth conducting.

The high point in my day however, was getting coffee with a college buddy who is a Cornell MBA and now works for UBS’s i-banking division covering the healthcare sector (I do love having to Never Eat Alone). I did miss the NYC LBS’ers Happy Hour at Union Bar on Park and 18th owing to my 7 PM Acela which unloads me two blocks from home in Boston. Tomorrow, I get my biometrics done for my UK Student Visa – a much simpler process.

Friday, July 11, 2008

On B-school essays

I think back to the Fall of 2007 and the B-school app process. I'm elated that I won't ever have to write another B-school essay again. Although, the one essay that I did enjoy writing was NYU Stern's Essay #3. I created a mini-blog and submitted it as my essay. In the interest of filling chronological gaps for my family and friends, I've decided to post it.

NYU Essay #3 - Personal Expression: Please describe yourself to your MBA classmates. You may use any method to convey your message (e.g. words, illustrations). Feel free to be creative. If you submit a written essay, it should be 2 pages maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font

If I had maintained a blog for the past three years, these would be some of the entries:

January 2005: I am passionate about travel and art. I have discovered a unique dynamic interrelationship between them that lets me explore the world around me and better relate to people. Whenever I am in a new city, I visit its art museums. The art I see, in addition to my travel experiences provides the subject matter and inspiration for the canvases I paint on returning home. I finished my new “masterpiece”(right)! It conveys that as humans, we share a unifying theme and blend into each other seamlessly, even though we may look different.

March 2005: I deconstruct what I see around me and then reassemble it using a vivid palette. (A) is a mosaic of a person’s face, (B) is a butterfly,(D) is a building on the Chicago skyline (‘The Corn Cob’ Marina Towers), (E) is a night-time view of traffic in Bombay’s congested streets and (F) is a tree. My memories of a lighthouse in the fog in Nova Scotia inspired me to paint an abstract representation of this seascape (C). My (ethnically diverse) group of friends came over for wine and cheese and panned my new paintings. The best part was listening to their interpretations. Their differing worldviews affect their experience of art and I discover so much about them by listening to their interpretations.

May 2005: Exciting news! I helped Mark, my client, present results from a four month program we co-led – the program improved his site’s operational performance by over 25%. Our audience (the executive team of his Fortune 300 company) was impressed, and now the CEO wants the program to be replicated across the division.

October 2005: Venice was exciting. My girlfriend and I discovered this fantastic home-made wine sold at little shops all over the city (in used Pepsi bottles). We enjoyed our “to-go wine” as we took in the sights.

December 2005: Business is booming out East. My father is on a whirlwind business trip to N. Africa and the Middle East after which he will ‘stop by’ his Malaysia office before returning home to Bombay. Finished reading ‘Freakanomics" by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and ‘The World is Flat’ by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. The latter made me think about how the West and East have perceptions of each other that differ so much from reality. A huge gap exists. I renewed my desire to use my multi-cultural lifestyle to bridge this gap.

April 2006: I ran workshops on basic consulting skills for seven new recruits at a company retreat at Cambridge University. We simulated business cases, data analysis and delivering Powerpoint presentations. Visited Stonehenge and St. Paul’s cathedral (London). I have now seen the world’s four largest churches (Rome, Florence, Milan and London).

June 2006: Returned from Bombay! I could barely recognize the city I grew up in and last visited two years ago. Sam R. (one of my mentees) called to inform me of his promotion. He thanked me for the daily coaching I gave him during his first project.

April 2007: I helped my friend, Kathy organize a Forsyth summit, where scientists from Forsyth, Harvard and MIT presented latest research in combating oral and dental conditions to Forsyth donors.

May 2007: My friend Lauren and I participated in Project Bread’s ‘Walk for Hunger’, a 20 mile pledge walk in Boston that raises funds for Massachusetts food pantries and soup kitchens. Sore after five and half hours, we renewed our determination to spend more time at the gym. However, we were glad to have raised money for a worthy cause.

July 2006: Lauren, who works at a US investment bank was having trouble motivating her counterparts in India to meet project deadlines. She turned to me for insight into differences in communication styles, upon which I suggested being more formal when communicating deadlines and expectations to her Indian counterparts than she would with her US colleagues. She used my suggestion and saw a dramatic improvement in their response. I am glad that my dual cultural background helps me explain Indian business culture to my non-Indian friends and vice-versa, a skill which I would bring with me to business school.

July 2007: Love living in downtown Boston! Love my new job! My Friday commute involves an elevator ride down 10 stories, a 30-second walk through a mall and an elevator ride up 23 stories.

August 2007: I was at a presentation to the client CEO (at a multi-billion dollar PC company). Halfway through, he asked for my assessment of the performance of manufacturing operations currently outsourced to China. I had my response prepared. My recommendations will be implemented, saving over $10M for the company.

October 2007: Visited a client site in S. Dakota, which leaves N. Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii as the three states I need to see to have visited all 50. I have seen world-famous buildings like the Guggenheim and The Louvre, but nothing prepared me for this. My client site is an enormous white building surrounded by cornfields and painted with black spots – like a gigantic Jersey cow.

December 2007: I find that talking about what people are interested in is the best way to bond with them. I often go out to lunch and dinner with my clients, giving me opportunities to get to know them personally. I am always pleasantly surprised by what I learn about them – one of my clients is related to Amartya Sen, an economics Nobel Prize winner. He gave me a signed copy of Sen’s book of essays titled ‘The Argumentative Indian’. That makes for three books in my library signed by a Nobel Prize winner.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Back in the Saddle -- Part Deux

This is a do-over of sorts....phoenix rising from the ashes and other such metaphors....

I'm considering having a go at resurrecting my blog........I've cleaned out most of my previous posts.....they were shockingly mediocre......The most important update is that I (re)applied to B-schools this year and had admits from LBS and NYU Stern.... and as The Clash say, its London Calling....I'm leaving behind a great big contingent of friends and family Stateside in moving to London...although it'll be fun to hang out with my cousin and his wife who live there....

I'm superexcited about LBS and doubly so because of the 2008 FT rankings. Other things I am currently superexcited about include -

using this blog to communicate with family and friends
facebook (which is an evolutionary upgrade from myspace)
not waking up and then having to figure out which city I am in (consulting does that to you!)
Simian Mobile Disco
learning a new language (french or chinese?)
tennis weather
new friends
m&a/private equity
emerging markets
secular parties
youtube actually hitting its stride and being a useful app (leave britney alone! wtf was that?)
by the time I'm done with LBS the dollar may actually gain against the pound (faster b-school loan repayment)
europe (the continent, not the band)
the genre of books that includes midnight in the garden of good and evil, city of falling angels, the monster of florence, the mistress of the art of death

I will be experimenting a bit --- I think B-school blogs are old hat and I'm not much for sharing details about my excursions to the most likely this blog will be about specific events and ideas and the meaning of 'is'.....and about the people I meet......and an opportunity for me to vacillate between being a wiseacre and a smartmouth....and a place to post pics that I don't post to Facebook......once in a while I plan on posting a scintillating story from my adventures......other times I'll try to coax my trenchant wit from under the dry humor that blankets it.....we'll see, shall we!