Monthly Archives: August 2013

Day 1

This morning, dressed in business attire, 932 MBA students gathered in the Burden Auditorium. Officially, our first day at HBS.

In addition to our business clothes we all wore an expression of stress with a hint of excitement. Nervously I arrived just three minutes before starting time, and got a seat in the back row. The dean’s welcome speech, however, blew our anxiety away in a moment.

“Our admission never makes a mistake. Everyone here has a potential to survive the two year MBA program, and to be a leader in your organization, society, and country. Yes, this is the place where we educate leaders who make a difference in the world. And this is not our goal, or your goal. This is our obligation. Welcome to Harvard Business School!”


After the welcome session, we gathered in our assigned class rooms, and met our 94 section mates, all of whom we will likely know for a life time. Commencing today, we will spend a year with our section mates, meeting almost every day, taking the same classes, and sitting in the same seats. The “section” is one of the most close-knit communities at HBS.

In the afternoon, we met another close-knit community’s members, the study group. At HBS, students are assigned to a study group consisting of six cross-sectional members from diverse backgrounds and varying experiences. Like a section, we meet with this study group every day, and prepare for classes together. I was excited to see the diversity of my study group but will be writing about this in another post.


These two communities are the core of our life at HBS, and they will deepen and broaden our perspectives dramatically.

Jacta alea est.

What I feel the day before the Day 1

After all the work involved in the admission process and the subsequent move to Boston the HBS MBA program finally starts tomorrow. Several welcome events are scheduled for the first two days and classes begin on day three. As I set out on a two year journey that will doubtlessly change my life, I have mixed feelings.


Retrospective: 10%

Since I left my previous job in February, I have spent the most lavish six months of my life. Initially the luxury of “have nothing to do” was spent relaxing but was quickly followed by spending time expanding my healthcare industry network, a field in which I shall be working (and hopefully leading) after graduation. I found the HBS network to be useful here as I was able to meet many interesting people with whom lasting relationships will be built.

Before I came to Boston, I traveled for two months and visited more than 10 countries. Definitely the highlight of first half of the year, it just may be the last long vacation before my retirement. I’d love to offer a travelogue but space requirements preclude this.

Anxious: 20%

Last Friday, I received a big bag from HBS which contained 100 case studies to be used in the first term. In the face of this overwhelming volume of cases, I suddenly lost my confidence and worried about whether I can survive the coming first year at HBS. The cases seemed longer, and more complicated than those I went through in the pre-MBA program.

Can I read three of these a day? Is there a time to sleep? Such basic questions sprang to mind.


Excited: 70%

In spite of all this, the excitement is overshadowing the anxiety. I haven’t met the majority of my 900 classmates yet, but I can’t wait. What I’m looking forward to the most at HBS, is the encounter with many lifelong friends.

Last night, we had a Boston harbor cruising party which was one of the biggest student initiated social events with about 350 students and partners participating. Many of them told me that they had the same anxieties and expectations as I do. Yes, we are in the same boat. Literally.


HBS pre-MBA program: Analytics

One of the two HBS pre-MBA programs, Analytics, is in progress. A one week intensive numerical program for students who have little or no financial/accounting background, it is arguably as demanding as the MBA program itself. Approximately 300 students are working out in this boot-camp.

The timetable -


Since HBS utilizes a 100% case study method, we do not have lectures, per se. Therefore, it is imperative students learn basic skills in accounting and finance before classes start. The program, however, is not easy stuff. I browsed my classmate’s course material and it reminded me of the new hire training at an investment bank.

I clearly remember my training days at Morgan Stanley. One day, after completing the training, I was walking in a subway station on my way home and happened to glance down at the floor tiles. They looked like an Excel spread sheet, and I even saw a moving cursor on it. I learned that extreme intensive finance training causes hallucinations.


Anyway, although Analytics is tough, especially for students who have little business background, it is a precious opportunity to make up for any deficits one may have in the hard skills and prepare for the case discussion in accounting and finance classes. I was unable to participate because I had financial/accounting background, but I would loved to have participated. Gone are the days when I was an Excel master.

Last Vacation

At the conclusion of the pre-MBA program, there were still two weeks until classes officially start and so I decided to spend my last vacation before school in NYC and Napa, California. In response to the past few weeks’ monastic life, I spent most of my time drinking.



When I returned to campus, it was not the same. Just two weeks ago, it was a calm and peaceful place. However, while I was away, many first year students moved into their on-campus apartments. Now, more than 300 students are participating in the other pre-MBA program, Analytics. They appear very busy going through the Accounting/Finance boot camp while settling into their apartments. The campus is suddenly alive.

Campus will be even more crowded this week as most of the second year students are expected back from their summer vacation. The beginning of the semester is just around the corner.

HIT Ended

The HBS International Transition (HIT) program ended yesterday.

This pre-MBA program was beneficial in acclimatizing me to the case method learning environment.

During the past three weeks, we went through 18 cases, which means we made 18 critical business judgments on behalf of the companies’ CEOs.  Some were in crisis situations and some were in political situations. Some were ethically tough and some were numerically tough. But I remember all the decisions and discussions as if I were the principal character.

In the beginning, everything was new to me; how to prepare for the case, how to participate in the class and how to learn from the discussion. But thanks to a finely organized program, I’m now feeling ready to start the coming semester.


However, above all else, the most valuable take-away were the strong ties I developed with my classmates. Every day from 7am to 10pm, I spent all my time with my classmates studying, eating and drinking together. Once classes start in September, we will be separated as we follow our own paths but these relationships will be strong support in helping me ride out the coming two years.  Last night we had a celebration in honor of completing this intensive program.


Twenty-three students, twelve different countries and one close-knit group.

On the lawn

A two and a half hour drive north of downtown Boston is a music venue known for its annual summer music festival – Tanglewood.

I had long wanted to come here and finally achieved that today. It was a perfect day; fine weather, comfortable temperature, and an All-Beethoven Program.


At 12:30, two hours before curtain, we arrived at Tanglewood’s huge parking lot. When we passed through the gate, there were already many people on the lawn, sitting on camp chairs with wine and cheese. We somehow got a position in the front row and opened our lunch boxes.

The price of the lawn seat is only $15. Although there are regular roofed seats ($20-92) right in the front of stage, I recommend this lawn seat since that’s the best part of Tanglewood.


The two hour program finished all too soon. It was the first time I listened to live orchestral music in such a nice place. I’m not sure if I will have a chance to come again once my classes start, but I’m sure this is one of the best places every visitor to Boston can visit.

An afternoon at Fenway Park

Opened in 1912, Fenway Park is the home ballpark of the Boston Red Sox, and the oldest Major League Baseball park still in use. Because of its low capacity (less than 40,000 spectators), it is not easy to get a ticket. In fact, since May 2003, the Red Sox have sold out every home game, an MLB record.


A few days ago I received an email from two of my ex-colleagues at BCG, saying they had just left BCG and were coming to Boston to attend a week training program at Bain Capital, their new company. Thinking it would be a nice opportunity to get together for the first time in 6 months, and since I had never been to Fenway Park, we decided to go to the Red Sox – Diamondbacks game on Sunday. The price of our grandstand seats was $150/person.


Grabbing a hotdog and a beer, we watched the game surrounded by hundreds of enthusiastic Red Sox fans. Although our eyes were chasing the white ball, our conversation was mostly about our days at BCG and our careers after consulting. They told me that they were going to apply to business school next year. Such a career path (2-3 years at a consulting firm or investment bank, 2-3 years at a private equity firm, and 2 years at business school) is called a “fast track”, and right after they graduate from business school, most of them will become board members of companies they invest in. “How much are you going to earn?” I asked. “Far less than those Red Sox players,” he answered.

The Red Sox won 4-0. We left the stadium in a chipper mood.

Business school application: Interview

Last year, I was surprised to see so many applicants blew their chance of admission at the last stage of the application process. If you get an interview invitation from HBS, you have to remember that your chance of admission is still lower than fifty-fifty.

Business People Sitting Nervously

There is no one best way to prepare for the interview.  It totally depends on your style and the school you are applying to. The HBS interview is arguably one of the most difficult schools to prepare for. Unlike some other schools, it is very difficult to anticipate the questions HBS’ AdCom may ask (schools such as Stanford and MIT Sloan are known for their “behavioral question” style).  Some of the features of HBS’ interview are:

    • It is conducted by an AdCom member
    • It finishes in exactly 30 minutes
    • Your interviewer reviews all your application material before the interview

It is difficult to provide general advice on HBS’ interview because the questions can vary depending on your background. However, from last year’s experience, I would say these are the four most important tips all applicants should remember:

    1. You must be able to explain every single detail on your application information (except for recommendation letters)
    2. Your answer must always be concise and straightforward (remember that there are only 15-18 questions in the 30 minutes)
    3. You must prepare for multidimensional follow-up questions for each of your answers (why? how? What else?)
    4. You should look professional

I actually spent considerable time preparing for the interview. I made a long list of expected questions, recorded each question on a voice recorder, and randomly played them back in order to practice by myself.  I also had several mock interviews just before the actual interview.

It is just 30 minutes. But the 30 minutes can change your life. Let’s practice!

Business school application: Recommendation letters

Recommendation letters are as important as essays. The role of recommendation letters, when paired with essays, is to give your application some depth. Recommendation letters need to highlight your key messages from viewpoints other than your essays.

Therefore, it is important to discuss your application strategy with your referees before they start writing, in order to attain uniformity in the key messages you want to deliver. Although you shouldn’t “ghost-write” for your referees, it is important to maintain consistency between your essays and recommendation letters. If you “ghost-write” the letters, it will be obvious.

Outstanding Evaluation

Also, there are various opinions as to whom you should choose as your referees. Here is my opinion:

  • Your referee MUST be a person who knows you well
  • You SHOULD try to find a referee who knows the school you are applying to well (e.g. alumni)
  • Your referee MUST NOT be a big name or a person in a high position who doesn’t know you well

Just like your essays, your recommendation letters also need to deliver your qualities with specific examples, facts and logic. Long flowery words cannot help you but rather will cast doubts on the relationship you have with your referee. In my case, my three referees on the HBS application were:

    1. A senior partner at BCG. She is an HBS alumna and has known me for three years
    2. A vice president at Morgan Stanley. He is an HBS alumnus and has known me for six years
    3. A member of the board of directors at my family business. He has known me since I was born (non-MBA)


Anyway, you should remember the MBA application process requires a comprehensive strategy, and that recommendation letters are one of the components you should use to deliver your key messages to the AdCom. They are not a formality – they are important.

Business school application: Essays

It goes without saying that essays are the most important components in the application process. Applicants cannot spend too much time on them.

Before you start writing, ensure you spend sufficient time on the groundwork. You should have a clear and concise idea of your application strategy. This process should take the following steps:


1. Carefully consider who the MBA Admission Committee (AdCom) is looking for

The essay is a form of communication. The most common mistake is to push your own agenda without an understanding of the attributes the AdCom is looking for. You can get an appreciation of the AdCom’s thoughts from various sources, such as the school website, info sessions, MBA admission experts’ comments, etc. After assimilating the information, you should create a short list of questions the AdCom may ask through the entire application process.

2. Shape the key messages you want to deliver

Once you understand what they want to know, then you can start formulating what you should say. The essay is also a form of marketing. You need to differentiate yourself from thousands of brilliant applicants; some who have founded their own companies, and some who have led hundreds of subordinates on the battlefields in Iraq.  You need to shape the key messages you want to deliver to the AdCom. Each message should be backed by specific examples, facts and logic.

3. Allocate your key messages to each component

Essays are not the only place you can deliver your key messages to AdCom. Your resume, recommendation letters and interview also play the same role in the application process. You need to think about where you want to deliver each message. In other words, you shouldn’t include all the key messages in your essays. It dilutes the message and your essays become fuzzy. The MBA application process requires a comprehensive strategy. Before starting to write your essay, you need to consider all the components of the process.


These steps will produce your essay and application strategy. Just for your reference, below is the worksheet I developed before I started writing HBS essays. The format may take various shapes, but the important thing is to spend enough time on this groundwork before plunging into the writing endeavor.

Sample worksheet for essay writing

Once you organize your strategy, then start writing!