Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Day at HBS

7:00 AM

Up earlier than usual – off to my section mates’ apartment. An Egyptian, he has invited me to his special power breakfast. Arranged on the wooden table was a breakfast worthy of the Ritz-Carlton: steaming hot poached eggs, fresh salmon, spicy bacon, crisp arugula salad, soft croissants, freshly-squeezed orange juice, and various kinds of yoghurt.

“I didn’t know there was a three-star restaurant in our apartment.” I said.

“Even Michelin doesn’t know.” he replied.

8:00 AM

To Spangler cafeteria as usual to find my study group in the corner of the huge dining hall.

“Shall we start with Finance?”

We usually start with technical stuff such as Finance and Accounting, sharing the financial model and confirming assumptions with each other. We then spend the last 15-20 minutes on qualitative classes, such as Leadership and Marketing, and take a dry run of the actual class. This one-hour is a good wake-up exercise.

9:00 AM

Today’s first class is Marketing. Our case concerns the 2012 London Olympics, and we discuss the pricing strategy on the various events’ tickets.

“So, how would you set the price for swimming?”

Although not thoroughly prepared, I tenuously raise my hand – remembering my study group member’s comment.

“I think we should look at the Sydney Olympics as a reference point for the following three reasons…”

10:50 AM

Up next – Finance.  Theme – the corporate valuation with DCF analysis, which used to be my daily chore at Morgan Stanley. Remembering those dreadfully busy days, I remain quiet, listening to the class discussion.  At the most inopportune moment, the professor calls on me.

“How would you calculate the asset beta of this company?”

“Well, we usually take the comparable companies’ average, but considering the unique business model and the stable performance in the capital market of this company, I think we should use its own beta in this case.”

Whew!

 

1:30 PM

The last class of the day is Financial Reporting and Control (FRC). The protagonist is a board member of an American retail company. Ernst and Young, the company’s auditor, finds some fraudulent accounting practices, and requires the CEO and CFO to resign or terminate the contract of audit.

“This auditor is crazy! The CEO says it’s just a misstatement and unintentional. How may CEOs do we need to work with this auditor?” A section mate who has an entrepreneurial background argues.

“I can’t disagree more! The auditor’s request is quite reasonable. It’s just after the Enron scandal. They can’t be too conservative. They shouldn’t work with such a dodgy CEO and CFO.” An ex-accountant harshly counters the argument.

Discretion being the better part of valor, I prudently decide not to mess with the big dogs, opting to just listen to the exciting and engaging conversation.

4:00 PM

Immediately after third class, a thousand enthusiastic students run into the HBS’s biggest auditorium, Burden Hall. The attraction is a 90 minute lecture by Clayton Christensen, one of the most renowned professors at HBS, speaking on “How will you measure your life?”

This lecture is based on his latest book with the same title. He applies various business theories to our personal lives, and throws out many thought-provoking questions.

“No one aims to be a workaholic CEO whose family is dysfunctional. However, many over achievers, especially HBS graduates, walk into the same trap. Do you know why?”

Usually high-handed HBS students are now listening to the lecture like kids with shining eyes.

6:00 PM

At this time of the year, various career sessions are held for first year students, as the start of recruiting season is only two months away. Our classrooms are transformed into the companies’ presentation booths. Together with some section mates, who have the same career interest, we meander from classroom to classroom.

After the “presentation crawling”, we finally get to a light dinner at Spangler cafeteria. Today’s dinner is sushi box. Not bad.

8:00 PM

Telephone conference with Chinese company, our FIELD 2 program client. We are now developing a new design for apparel products and today’s agenda is to present our first cut draft to them. Nervously, I push the call button on Skype…

“Hi! Good morning to you! How was our first cut sketch??”

“Hi guys! Good evening to you. It was awesome! We liked that. Is that really yours (HBS students’)?”

Seems they fancy it. Breathe easy.

10:00 PM

Start reading tomorrow’s cases. Hmm, where did the day go?

 


Words of our predecessors: “If I Knew Then”

Recently, the topic of conversation on campus has been the website “If I Knew Then”, created by the HBS Alumni Class of 1963. Assuming an average age of 30 at graduation, they are now around 80. On the site, alumni look back on their lives, offering guidance on various topics – careers, family, business, leadership, wealth etc.

alumni 1963

The following advice struck me above all else on the site -

“Leadership, in my opinion, is getting others to do what you think should be done but have it be their idea.”
“There is no substitute for integrity. In a world where greed and taking shortcuts seem to be major themes, there is nothing that can replace one’s reputation. The ability to look back on life and say, “I did it the right way” is a treasure. There is no do-over when you lose your integrity and reputation.”
“Be your own man and don’t get influenced too much by friends and parents. Do your own thing. Do what you enjoy and financial success will follow your enthusiasm.”
“Exercise patience. It took me two marriages and 80% of a lifetime to appreciate the value of that word.”
“Have fun. You’ll be dead a long time.”

 

This may be easy for them to say as they have been around the block and have faced what awaits us. And hindsight IS twenty-twenty. Although we have been made aware of, and are appreciative of these sage words, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we are required to travel the same path.

However, most of the alumni are people who have achieved great success in their careers and have acquired much of what we hope for.  The caveat here – maxims of our predecessors, although deserving of our attention and consideration must be parsed for meaning and relevance to our lives, hopes and dreams.

 


Three months is long enough to cultivate arrogance in HBS students

This week, Boston saw its first snowfall of the year. Although not unexpected, it seemed that before I knew it, green leaves had changed into autumn colors and are now ready to fall. Campus is feeling very melancholy.

DSC02056

It’s not only the weather that has changed. After three months at HBS, students’ behavior is also turning  “HBSish”.

 

It was Marketing class. The protagonist of the case was making a decision on pricing of the company’s new product, and we were discussing the economic value of the product and pricing strategy. When we came to a close, a student raised his hand and said,

“We shouldn’t go for this price! Just imagine, who understand the complicated economic value of this product? We are HBS students. That’s nothing to us. But think about normal people. How can they reach the same conclusion as us??

 

It was Financial Reporting and Control (FRC) class on the same day. The company was torn between two accounting options: one showing the financial statements in good light – making the company look profitable – nice, but in this case, misleading. The other required the reporting of a loss but having no accounting basis.  As the company was reporting a loss for the second consecutive year, it was under considerable pressure from its stockholders for a turnaround. A student said firmly,

“There is no room for argument! We shouldn’t go for the misleading accounting. Remember, we are HBS students. We are the people who set the standard in the business world. Our role is not to reward shareholders, but to make a difference in the world.”

 

Arguments such as these were not heard three months ago. HBS education is apparently changing the views and attitudes of students. I don’t necessarily view these changes negatively. Such arrogance is sometimes necessary to direct our discussions in the right direction. However, we shouldn’t be overly arrogant. We know that not a small number of HBS alumni have made critical mistakes in their careers due to over-arrogance and hubris.

I can’t help but wonder – after spending two years here, will we be able to maintain good balance?