Monthly Archives: September 2013

Eighty minutes

“So, what should the CEO do to deal with the issue?”

A class at HBS begins with a professor’s straightforward question.

The professor then calls on a student and they are required to answer the question as an opening remark. This is called a “cold call”, and this is the moment when we feel the most tension.

The cold called student has to briefly explain the case and elaborate on his or her decision and the logic behind it. The professor then relentlessly throws out follow up questions.

“What is the financial impact of the decision, how do you manage the additional cost?”

“What do you expect as your competitors’ reaction to the plan and how do you respond, and why?”

The cold called student has to cope with the shots, thinking quickly on their feet. The nerve-wracking pressure does not let up for 10 to 15 minutes.


“OK, are there any other opinions regarding this plan?”

The professor then opens the discussion to the class, and at that moment, dozens of hands shoot up.

“I totally disagree with the plan!”

Before the class, all students are required to read the case and develop their own analysis and conclusion. Usually the issues are boundary pushing and divisive. We are encouraged to respectfully disagree and lock horns with each other.

The professor is silent for the most part, speaking only to carefully direct the class’s discussion. Being familiar with all the students’ business backgrounds, the professor knows when best to call on them.

The class discussion is extremely dynamic. Some students throw out simple but thoughtful questions which totally change the direction of the discussion. Some students share their experiences, speaking of a time when they dealt with a similar issue in trying circumstances. Such discussion rarely brings consensus in the class but does broaden and deepen our perspective.

At the end of the class, in most cases, the professor shares what happened to the protagonist and the company, as well as the takeaway from the case. Sometimes the protagonists come to the class in person and share their thoughts and experiences, which is one of the most exciting moments of the class.

The eighty minutes go by with lighting speed.

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Operating a circuit-board factory

One of my favorite classes is Technology and Operation Management (TOM). It’s fun. I love this class. I have almost no experience in production, technology or operations, so everything is new to me.

Today, all HBS first year students were gathered in the gymnasium, divided into teams of 10, and each team was assigned a task in the production process of a circuit-board, much like assembly line workers in a factory. It may seem like a workshop at an elementary school, but the reality was quite different.

The product itself was not complex, but when it came to the development of the production process flow, it was, in point of fact, very difficult to develop an efficient production line.  We were also evaluated based on the team’s revenue and cash flow.

Fortunately, yesterday we had a case based on Toyota, and had just learned the essence of one of the world’s greatest production system. Utilizing what we had just learned, we carefully developed our own production line, assigned a role to each team member, and ran the first 20 minute operation.


“Hey, this wire position is wrong!” “No, this specification is wrong!” “Stop ordering new materials! Inventories are piling up!!” Our team’s operation ended in dismal failure with negative cash flow. However, we are hugely competitive HBS students and it added fuel to feed our combative spirit.


Skipping lunch, we had an urgent internal meeting.

“Let’s divide the wire mounting process so that we can reduce our cycle time 3 seconds.”

“Why don’t we incorporate a self-check process so that we can reduce the defect rate 5%?”

After a largely iterative two hour conversation, we renovated our production process flow.


The second operation was completed triumphantly with a huge positive cash flow. It was just a simulation of the manufacturing business, but a great opportunity to understand the principles of production management. Textbooks and classes teach the concepts and terminology in operations and technology, (e.g. throughput time and capacity utilization), but it’s hard to appreciate the difficulties inherent in the manufacturing business without such a simulation.


Since I’m getting busier and busier, I am finding that a “reengineering of my life” is called for in order to increase my productivity.

We are still skewed to consulting and finance

Traditionally, many business schools have been dominated by consultants and investment bankers, and HBS is no exception. According to HBS’s official report on students’ pre-MBA industries (class of 2015), 31% are from financial services (including investment banking and VC/PE) and 19% are from consulting. This means non-consultant or non-bankers account for only half of the class size.

These numbers grow when we look at the proportion of students who have experience in consulting or banking, because many students, whose pre-MBA industries were not strictly considered consulting or banking were actually employed by consulting firms or investment banks but are listed by their latest industry.

Based on my section’s profile, I calculated the proportion of students who have experience in consulting or finance.

Class Profile

As can be seen, approximately 70% of my section is dominated by consultants, bankers, or old soldiers in these fields. While this only represents one section, I feel it accurately represents the entire class. After the financial crisis, HBS is still skewed to consultants and bankers.

These facts have two implications:

One is that it’s difficult for consultants and bankers (both applicants and students) to differentiate themselves just because they have consulting/banking experience. They have sophisticated PPT/Excel skills, setback experiences and great achievements in difficult projects, but the majority of their classmates have similar experience. If you are a consultant or a banker in the application process, many of your self-perceived strengths may not unique. In the classroom many classmates raise their hands when you raise your hand. You need to differentiate your strengths apart from your work experience in order to stand out from the crowd.

The second implication is that non-consulting/banking students have great value in their study group, section and other communities at HBS. For the majority of students, their thoughts and experiences are always new and worth listening to. They bring creative ideas to the communities, and their insights deepen discussions among consulting/banking students which tend to be stereotypical. If you are an applicant and have a background other than consulting/banking, you should be proud of it and make the maximum use of your work experience.

HBS is always refining its admission strategy, and I hope the number of students from non-traditional industries continues to grow.

Hey, HBS Crew!

The first round of the HBS Class of 2016 application process has just started and a number of the applicants have been visiting HBS recently. When they first come to HBS, many people are surprised to see the beautiful, well-maintained campus remarking, “Oh, it’s such a nice place!”

Actually, the HBS campus is always immaculate and operating efficiently. The lawns are always neatly manicured. The walls are never in need of paint. Black boards are cleaned mirror-shiny immediately after every class is finished. The cafeteria provides a wide range of choices and operates at peak efficiency. It goes on and on.


“Do you know the name of the guy cleaning your classroom’s black board?” When a second year student asked me today, I found myself taking the blessed environment for granted while busily spending the days as a student. I knew all my section mates’ names, professors’ names, but didn’t know his name even though I see him every day.

At HBS, hundreds of crews are supporting our comfortable life style and while it’s true that HBS is spending a lot of money for that support, it’s also true that the crews’ quality of work is surprisingly high. Today looking at our campus with fresh eyes, I re-realized that I’m in such a great community. What makes HBS is not only the students and faculty, but also the hard-working, conscientious crews. When I graduate HBS two years from now, they will be a part of the group of people I considered my comrades.

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What is “Post-Interview-Reflection”?

Some applicants recently asked me about the “post-interview-reflection” process in the HBS MBA application. Since this is a new process, it may worth sharing my thoughts. As a disclaimer, the following thoughts are my own opinion and not HBS’s.


The post-interview-reflection was introduced in 2012 (for the class of 2015) and requires applicants to write a letter after their interview process (therefore, it’s relevant only to applicants who are invited to the interview process). The admission office is implementing the process this year, as well, saying, “We liked it”.

However, this process may be a little confusing to some applicants since it doesn’t specify the length or format. What we know from the website is:

  • It’s not intended to be another formal essay
  • You should think of it as an email you might write to a colleague or supervisor after a meeting
  • The deadline is within 24 hours of the conclusion of your interview
  • They will be relatively generous regarding typos and grammatical errors
  • If there is any indication that it was produced BEFORE the interview, it will raise a flag

So, how would you deal with this? What do you write? And why? Here is my opinion.



This is a business school and you are required to write an email to your colleague or supervisor after a meeting. In an actual business situation, after your meeting, why would you do this?

One reason is to confirm what was discussed in the meeting. As you know, a meeting can often result in misunderstanding and ambiguity among the participants. What you wanted to convey might not be understood by the participants as you had intended. The participants might not have clearly understood what you said in the meeting. Time constraints may have made it difficult for you to deliver your full message. In such cases, your email will be effective to supplement the message you wanted to deliver in the meeting.

The other reason is to share the meeting with others who didn’t participate. The participants may need to sum up the discussion and report to their colleagues or supervisors. If they have a concise, clear and comprehensive memo of the meeting, it will be useful to deliver your message to them. In this case, of course, “they” are the other admission officers.


In most cases, it will be the first time you meet with your interviewer. Therefore, the first item should be, of course, a thank you message. But make it concise.

Next should be a summary of your interview. What did you talk about, what did you want to add, and how did you feel when the interviewer asked the question and you answered. I recommend that you make a short caption on each topic to make it easier for the admission officers to skim it.

As a closing, you may address your key messages again. Depending on the Q&A you had in your interview, the content can vary: your aspiration to HBS, your overall impression of the interview, etc. But still, you should try to make it concise. Since it’s similar to a business letter, it should be to the point and straight forward. HBS doesn’t like long, flattering, flowery essays. In my case, I wrote a 2-page, 800 word letter.

Thank you letter

Again, this is just my opinion and there is no one right answer. However, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this post-interview-reflection process. While they are reducing the number of essay questions, they added this process and decided to continue it this year. It must have significant meaning.

Required Curriculum (RC) at HBS. What’s going on?

A week has elapsed since the official start of the HBS MBA program.

It’s busy.

Really busy.

Before coming to HBS, I had heard it was one of the most demanding MBA programs, but the reality has far exceeded my expectation. In addition to classes and study groups, social events seem to run full time! School-wide events, section events, club events, etc. It’s just too much to attend all the functions.

HBS is, of course, intentionally putting us through this grueling regime, but I will be touching on this in another post.


The first year at HBS is called Required Curriculum (RC), in which all students take the same classes. The second year is called Elective Curriculum (EC) where a wide variety of elective courses are offered and students have free rein. The RC’s fall term (September-December) consists of:

  • LEAD (Leadership and Organizational Behavior)
  • MKT (Marketing)
  • TOM (Technology and Operation Management)
  • FRC (Financial Reporting and Control)
  • FIN (Finance)
  • FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development)

The last one, FIELD, was added in 2011. Students experience various team-based assignments, international field work and business startup. This course complements the other case method classes, enabling us to utilize the skills we have learned.


My major concern in all this is time management. Study-life balance is essential to absorb the learning in the classroom and benefit from the various social events, but I’m struggling to find the best balance. For now, I’m spending too much time on case preparation and missing some fun events.

Some HBS alumni told me that life at HBS is far easier than that of investment banks and consulting firms, but CR’s first week seems to be an exception. I already miss the days of pre-matriculation, sleeping and waking up on my own time.